OAKLAND, Calif. — After spending much of the offseason dealing away stars, Oakland Athletics general manager Billy Beane added one for a change.
The A’s acquired versatile two-time All-Star infielder Ben Zobrist and shortstop Yunel Escobar from the Tampa Bay Rays on Saturday for catcher John Jaso and two minor leaguers in a trade between teams that have been real busy this offseason.
“He’s really kind of a perfect fit with his skill set,” Beane said of Zobrist. “You could probably say that about 29 other clubs. He’s a pretty unique player.”
The 33-year-old Zobrist helped the Rays make the playoffs four of the past seven seasons, including an improbable run to the World Series in 2008. He hit .272 with 10 home runs and 52 RBIs last season, and made starts at second base, shortstop, all three outfield spots and designated hitter.
Zobrist gives the A’s a switch-hitter with power and patience who can be used at a variety of positions on a team that prizes versatility. He will start off at second base in Oakland.
Zobrist became expendable after the budget-minded Rays finalized a one-year, $7.5 million contract with former Cleveland infielder Astrubal Cabrera, who will either play shortstop or second base, with another recent arrival — Nick Franklin — getting an opportunity to earn the other spot.
“These trades are difficult, but they’re a necessary part of how we operate,” Rays president of baseball operations Matt Silverman said of moving Zobrist, a fan favorite who’s entering the final year of a contract that pays him $7.5 million in 2015.
The Rays obtained Franklin from Seattle last July in the multi-team trade that sent pitcher David Price to Detroit.
The left-handed hitting Jaso returns to his original team. He played parts of three seasons with the Rays in 2008, 2010 and 2011. Silverman envisions him contributing mostly as a designated hitter, while also adding depth as a catcher.
“He’s the kind of (offensive) player our lineup has been missing” against right-handed pitching,” Silverman said, adding another key to the deal was an opportunity to acquire Robertson, a 20-year-old prospect the Rays believe has a chance to develop into an everyday player.
Jaso hit .264 with nine home runs and 40 RBIs. The 31-year-old went on the disabled list on Aug. 25 because of a concussion and missed the rest of the season.
Tampa Bay also got infielder Daniel Robertson, outfielder Boog Powell and cash in this trade. The deal was first reported by the San Francisco Chronicle.
Escobar batted .258. The 32-year-old shortstop had seven homers and 39 RBIs and has been a target of the A’s for many years.
Despite making the playoffs for a third straight season, the A’s have overhauled their team this offseason. They have traded five of their seven All-Stars from last year, including an in-season deal that sent popular outfielder Yoenis Cespedes to Boston.
The dealt away third baseman Josh Donaldson, starter Jeff Samardzija, first baseman Brandon Moss and catcher Derek Norris and lost Jon Lester, Jason Hammel, Jed Lowrie and Luke Gregerson in free agency.
The acquisitions of Zobrist and Escobar will move second baseman Eric Sogard to the bench as the A’s will likely have new starters at all four infield spots. Brett Lawrie, acquired in the Donaldson trade, is slated to start at third base, and new acquisitions Billy Butler and Ike Davis will likely share duties at first.
The deal also could allow Oakland to use Marcus Semien, acquired from the Chicago White Sox in a deal for Samardzija, as a versatile substitute at numerous positions.
“What we don’t want to do is get in a situation where we waited too long,” Beane said. “We’ve always had to be somewhat aggressive in our marketplace and proactive, because if we wait too long it’s not so easy to turn it around. We felt like it was necessary.”
The Rays have been busy, too, reshaping the roster in the wake of finishing below .500 for the first time since 2007 and losing manager Joe Maddon to the Chicago Cubs and former executive vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman to the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Last month the Rays, Padres and Nationals pulled off an 11-player trade that sent 2013 AL Rookie of the Year Wil Myers from Tampa Bay to San Diego and outfielder Steven Souza Jr. from Washington to the Rays.
Tampa Bay also received catcher Rene Rivera, pitcher Burch Smith and minor leaguers Jake Bauers and Travis Ott in the deal.