Friday, July 5, 2013
Best deadline deal ever: Rays
By David Schoenfield
Over the next month, we're going to present 30 deals in 30 days: the best trade deadline deal ever made by each team.
THE TEAM: Tampa Bay Rays
THE YEAR: 2006
THE SITUATION: It was July 2006, and the Rays -- actually, still the Devil Rays then -- were well on their way to another losing season, their ninth in a row with at least 90 losses (it would become 101 that year) since the birth of the franchise. Aubrey Huff had hit .311 with 34 home runs for Tampa in 2003 and .297 with 29 home runs in 2004, but hadn't quite matched that production in 2005 and was hitting .283 with eight home runs in '06. As an impending free agent, it was time to deal.
The Astros had reached the World Series in 2005 but weren't getting much production from their outfield. At the All-Star break they were 43-46 but only six games out of first place in a weak NL Central. Roger Clemens had just rejoined the rotation, and they were looking for some offense.
THE TRADE: The Rays sent Huff to the Astros for two minor leaguers: pitcher Mitch Talbot and shortstop Ben Zobrist. Zobrist wasn't considered a top prospect -- Baseball America had ranked him 16th in the Houston system before the start of the season -- although he'd hit over .300 since being drafted in 2004. But he didn't have much power, with three home runs in Double-A at the time of the deal, and was already 25 years old. New Tampa Bay GM Andrew Friedman undoubtedly saw a player who had consistently posted high on-base percentages, however.
THE AFTERMATH: Huff played right field and third base for the Astros and did OK (.250/.341/.478, 13 HRs, 38 RBIs in 68 games) but the Astros fell 1½ games short of the Cardinals in the division race. Zobrist reached the majors with Tampa in 2006 but didn't contribute much until 2008 when the renamed Rays surprised everyone and won the AL East and reached the World Series. He has become one of baseball's most valuable assets in recent years, moving between second base and the outfield and even playing a little shortstop, while adding power that he never showed in the minors. Since 2009, Baseball-Reference ranks him as the third-most valuable position player in baseball with 29.6 WAR, behind only Miguel Cabrera and Robinson Cano and just ahead of teammate Evan Longoria.