Most fans will relish in the fact that they have one of the games top 10 position players on their respected team. They will talk about that player as if he were the best player in the game, debating it without hesitation.
Rays fans already have one of the consistently best players in the game in Evan Longoria to back the fans up in this debate. The Angels just spent upwards of $260M to land one in Albert Pujols so Angels' fans can join the debate. The Tigers fans have Miguel Cabrera. The Rockies fans have Troy Tulowitzki. The Reds fans have Joey Votto. You get the point.
But, the one guy who rarely, if ever, seems to make the argument for best player in the game also plays for the Rays and his name is Ben Zobrist.
Zobrist did not come with high praise or star potential already attached to his name. He was a 6th round draft pick by the Houston Astros who was later dealt to the Rays as a weak hitting shortstop with patience for Aubrey Huff. He did not play for a big college or earn top prospect status while in the minors. He was, and still is, a laid back kid who happens to play for the Rays and does not smoke, drink, or do drugs.
Simply put, Zobrist has never been in the spotlight and has never dove head first trying claim his spot in the limelight. That is not who Zobrist is but he does deserve to be there.
In 2009 Zobrist lead the Majors in fWAR with 8.7 and finished second in the American League with 7.1 rWAR, hitting .297/.405/.543 with 27 homeruns, 17 stolen bases, and a +22.8 UZR. Did it earn him the respect he deserved? I didn't think so. He finished 8th in MVP voting and made an All-Star appearance but he deserved much more.
2010 came and Zobrist only hit .238/.346/.353 with only 10 homeruns and 24 stolen bases. People started writing his 2009 season off as a fluke and calling his 2010 performance a let down. While it was no 2009 season he still hit 3% better than the league average and posted a +11.2 UZR and was worth 3.9 fWAR and 3.1 rWAR. If that is a let down season then I'll take it every time. His BABIP dropped from .326 to .273 that season.
2011 came and expectations were tempered a bit for Zobrist. If he could simply repeat his near 4 win performance from 2010 I would have been very happy. Zobrist easily exceeded those expectations hitting .269/.353/.469 with 20 homeruns and 19 stolen bases, good for a 131 wRC+, and posted a stellar +10.2 UZR. Zobrist was worth 6.6 fWAR and 5.1 rWAR. Zobrist's BABIP came back up to .310 this year.
Zobrist does everything well since becoming a regular player in 2009. He has put up the third highest fWAR total in the entire game, just below teammate Evan Longoria and new Angels' first baseman Albert Pujols. His +44.1 UZR over the past three seasons is the third highest mark in the game. His 9.0 BsR is 17th best in the game. And his 128 wRC+ is bested by only Chase Utley and Robinson Cano at the keystone position.
Zobrist has proven his worth over the past three seasons and it is time Rays fans started throwing his name into the argument of best position player in the game without hesitation.