Let me begin by saying that I am a fan of Ben Zobrist. He is a switch-hitter who can play a multitude of positions and he has a great attitude. Overall, Zobrist is a solid baseball player and a great person. However, that does not mean the Rays should have given him a three-year contract extension worth up to $30 million.
Sure, the Rays have team options for the 2014 and 2015 seasons. In other words, the Rays are only liable for $18 million if they decide to part ways in the future. It almost sounds like an NFL contract with the guaranteed dollars. This still is a large amount of money to put forth for a small-market team who is trying to retain upcoming free agents Carl Crawford and Carlos Pena.
The Rays would have been better off if they had first locked up Crawford to a long-term deal, and then decide on whether they could afford Zobrist as well. In this case, they clearly had their priorities reversed. It is unlikely the Rays would have been able to sign both Pena and Crawford, but the signing of Zobrist may prevent both of them from remaining in Rays uniforms.
Honestly, I would not lose much sleep if Pena left. Pena is a great clubhouse guy and defensive first baseman, but he is currently hitting .203 and will only depreciate at 32 years of age. He has peaked. Dan Johnson may not be able to replace him in terms of defense, but he will surely be able to replace Pena's power.
The loss of Crawford will be devastating to this franchise. Yes, Desmond Jennings is a similar player, but he can not duplicate Crawford's accomplishments. He is a four-time all-star, legitimate MVP candidate, and has been a Ray since the team's inception. He is a Rays icon.
Crawford is currently having his best year yet as he has the highest slugging percentage of his career along with his usual .300 average, 15 home runs, and nearly 50 stolen bases.
The signing of Zobrist, who had a career year last season, may lead Crawford to sign with a large market team such as the Yankees or Red Sox. Zobrist's numbers are average at best. Although he has 23 steals, he is batting a sub-par .247 with a measly 10 home runs.
Baseball is not all about statistics, but when you add Zobrist's numbers, defensive flexibility, and leadership together, it still does not add up to $30 million with $18 million guaranteed.