ST. PETERSBURG — To both Ben Zobrist and the Rays, agreeing on a five-year contract extension was a "no-brainer."
Tampa Bay got to lock up one of its most valuable (and versatile) young players potentially through 2015. And Zobrist, 28, who spent several years trying to stick in the big leagues, parlayed his 2009 breakout, All-Star season into long-term security for his family, a deal, officially announced Friday, that could bring him close to $30 million.
"I'm just extremely grateful," he said. "I got my first shot in the big leagues with the Rays, and the Rays gave that to me. I think back to that time, how far we've come."
Zobrist is guaranteed nearly $18 million in the deal, which kicks in next season, and he could earn close to $30 million if the Rays pick up his 2014 and 2015 options. He gets $14.5 million in salary for 2011-13, a signing bonus of $561,900 (which makes for an even $1 million with his $438,100 salary this year) and either a $2.5 million buyout or a $7 million salary for 2014. There's another $7.5 million option for 2015, or a $500,000 buyout.
"This is a dream that a lot of players would love to do in their career," Zobrist said. "It was definitely a career goal of mine to be able to stay somewhere for an extended period of time. For Tampa Bay to be that place for us, it was a no-brainer. We wanted to be here, we love it here."
Zobrist earned the Rays' 2009 MVP honors from the Tampa Bay chapter of the Baseball Writers' Association of America after hitting .297 with 27 homers, 91 RBIs and an All-Star berth.
In the final days of the season, executive vice president Andrew Friedman said he broached the subject of a long-term deal with Zobrist; talks continued through the winter, and heated up in spring training before getting recently finalized.
"The talent is something that we believe strongly in," Friedman said. "And once you add on top of that the positional versatility, it makes him extremely valuable, and then the work ethic and determination and the selfless nature. I can go on and on and on about the attributes that made it something that for us was a no-brainer."
What made the moment more special for Zobrist was his journey. Drafted by the Astros in the sixth round in 2004 out of Dallas Baptist University, Zobrist was shuffled between the minors and big leagues several times with the Rays before he stuck for good in August 2008. Now he and his wife, Julianna, and 1-year-old son, Zion, feel like they've found a home.
"You think back to Triple-A when you get demoted, and you're wondering, is this really the path I'm supposed to be on?" Zobrist said. "You get injured, and things don't happen the way you want them to happen, and you keep pressing and persevering.
"And a couple of years later, a blessing like this happens. I can't thank the Rays enough for this opportunity."
MEDICAL MATTERS: OF Matt Joyce (elbow strain) said a meeting with Dr. James Andrews this week in Alabama brought both good and bad news. The good was that there were no tears, and surgery isn't required, but after abnormalities were found in the ligament of his elbow, he has to rest for 3-4 weeks (no hitting or throwing). "I'm just trying to stay positive with it," Joyce said. "Honestly it's frustrating to watch the guys on TV. You want to be out there with them."
LHP J.P. Howell (shoulder weakness) continues to be encouraged by his progress, saying he felt good after throwing from 120 feet Friday; he plans to throw a bullpen session either Monday or Wednesday, with mid-to-late May still the target return date.