Ben Zobrist’s name surfaced in the news over the last few days, as a tweet from Heritage Auction Sports claimed that Zobrist’s World Series ring from the 2016 Cubs was going to be up for bids in August. However, Zobrist’s agent Scott Pucino told Paul Sullivan of The Chicago Tribune that the ring wasn’t going to be sold, and that Zobrist told him that ” ’Why would I sell this ring? It makes no sense. I’m never going to get rid of this ring — never, never, ever.’ ”
That would seem to put that curious matter to rest, and Pucino also confirmed what has seemed increasingly obvious over the last two years: Zobrist has ended his playing career. Though Zobrist has not officially retired, Pucino said that Zobrist is focusing on taking care of his children while going through a divorce. “He’s a devoted dad and grabbing the bull by the horns and taking hold of the situation,” Pucino said.
Zobrist last played in 2019, his 14th Major League season. He only played in 47 games during that final year, as his divorce led him to spend much of the season on personal leave — the money surrendered by Zobrist for his time on the restricted list allowed the Cubs enough luxury tax wiggle room to sign Craig Kimbrel, so Zobrist’s impact is still being felt on the Cubs to this day.
Of course, Zobrist had already long since made his mark on Chicago baseball history due to his role in the Cubs’ curse-breaking 2016 championship run. Signed to a four-year, $56MM free agent deal in the 2015-16 offseason, Zobrist hit .272/.386/.446 over 631 PA during the regular season, and then won World Series MVP honors by batting .357/.419/.500 over 31 PA during the Fall Classic. That came on the heels of another big performance for Zobrist in the previous year’s World Series, as Zobrist was acquired by the Royals before the trade deadline in 2015 and then helped Kansas City capture the title.
Over 14 MLB seasons, the switch-hitting Zobrist batted .266/.357/.426 over 6836 PA for the Rays, Athletics, Royals, and Cubs. The Astros initially drafted Zobrist in the sixth round in 2004, and after being dealt to Tampa in July 2006, Zobrist went from being mostly a full-time shortstop into the super-utilityman position that defined his career.
Through far from the only “Swiss Army Knife” of a player in history (Jose Oquendo and Tony Phillips stand out for fans of 80’s and 90’s baseball), Zobrist’s name became synonymous with on-field versatility in this generation. He made 794 of his 1503 career starts as a second baseman, but also 363 starts in right field, 196 starts at shortstop, 107 starts in left field, as well as time as a center fielder and at both corner infield slots. Between his multi-position ability and productive switch-hitting bat, Zobrist could be moved around the diamond and utilized in a number of different fashions by Rays manager Joe Maddon and future skippers throughout Zobrist’s career.
While Zobrist ranks third in fWAR (behind Evan Longoria and Carl Crawford) on the Rays’ all-time franchise list, it can be argued that Zobrist might be the “greatest Ray ever” for both on-field value and symbolic reasons, as he exemplifies how the Rays have looked to mold a seemingly endless array of multi-positional players since Zobrist’s time with the franchise. Beyond just Tampa Bay, teams all over baseball in recent years have looked to maximize bench depth by having super-utility types on the roster.
From 2009-16, Zobrist generated 40.5 fWAR, a total surpassed by only eight players in baseball during that eight-season span. These prime years saw him reach three All-Star teams, finish as high as eighth place in AL MVP voting (2009), and capture those two World Series titles with the Royals and Cubs in consecutive years.
MLBTR wishes all the best to Zobrist in his post-playing days, and congratulates him on an outstanding career.