Oakland A's

Newly acquired Ben Zobrist gives A’s defensive options in 2015

Ben Zobrist was the centerpiece of a five-player deal Saturday in which the A’s sent catcher John Jaso and two minor leaguers to Tampa Bay for the versatile 33-year-old and shortstop Yunel Escobar.
Ben Zobrist was the centerpiece of a five-player deal Saturday in which the A’s sent catcher John Jaso and two minor leaguers to Tampa Bay for the versatile 33-year-old and shortstop Yunel Escobar. AP

New A’s acquisition Ben Zobrist had one of the stranger experiences of any player, home or visitor, at O.co Coliseum last season.

In the 10th inning of an August game against the A’s, Zobrist, then playing left field for the Tampa Bay Rays, chased a foul ball into the corner – only to come face-to-face with a possum that had wandered onto the field.

“I looked over, and it was this baby possum just staring right up at me,” Zobrist recalled during a conference call Monday. “I stood there frozen for a second thinking, ‘Where in the world did you come from?’”

The A’s ended up winning the game later that inning.

“Apparently that was a good omen for the A’s,” Zobrist said with a chuckle. “Not so much for us.”

This season, the possum will be on his side. Zobrist was the centerpiece of a five-player deal Saturday in which the A’s sent catcher John Jaso and two minor leaguers to Tampa Bay for the versatile 33-year-old and shortstop Yunel Escobar.

Zobrist projects as the A’s everyday second baseman, though he has made a career out of bouncing between several positions, including shortstop and the outfield. That, and Zobrist’s ability to switch-hit, led general manager Billy Beane to refer to him as “almost a perfect type of player for our club,” given the A’s penchant for defensive platoons and matching up against opposing pitchers.

The Rays employed similar strategies during Zobrist’s time in Tampa, and Zobrist said it is “exciting” to join an A’s team that “thinks the same way about me and what I can bring to a club.” At the same time, Zobrist said it’s “bittersweet” leaving the Rays, with whom he debuted in 2006 and played his first nine major-league seasons.

Zobrist, though, will be far from the only new face with the A’s in spring training this year. A career .264 hitter with a .354 on-base percentage, Zobrist is part of an offseason roster makeover that has included the A’s overhauling their entire infield.

“I think it’ll help a little bit,” Zobrist said of adapting to his new team. “Every year there is a little bit of a culture change in every clubhouse. Certain guys are staples in Oakland that have been there for a few years, and we’ll kind of take our cue from the way they do things.”

It also should help ease the transition that Zobrist is coming over with the player who will be his regular double-play partner in Escobar. Second base was Zobrist’s most frequent position the past two seasons, so he and Escobar have worked on developing chemistry up the middle.

“Yunel is a slick-fielding Latin guy who makes it look pretty, and I am not that,” Zobrist said. “I get to the ball and get rid of it, and hopefully it’s on the money. It’s not going to look pretty, but I get the job done.

“We’ve found a comfort level as far as his feeds, my turns at second base. And since we have communicated the last couple years, I think it’ll be much easier to make the transition over there.”

Chavez signed – The A’s agreed to terms with right-hander Jesse Chavez on a one-year contract. Chavez, 31, went 8-8 with a 3.45 ERA last season, beginning the year in the starting rotation before moving to the bullpen as a long reliever.

Entering spring training, Chavez projects to fill that long-relief role. Beane indicated the A’s only two rotation locks are Sonny Gray and Scott Kazmir, while Drew Pomeranz and recently acquired right-handers Kendall Graveman and Jesse Hahn have “the inside track” on the remaining spots. Jarrod Parker and A.J. Griffin, both recovering from Tommy John surgery, are projected to return in midseason.

The A’s have eight remaining players eligible for arbitration: pitchers Parker, Fernando Abad and Ryan Cook; infielders Brett Lawrie and Eric Sogard; and outfielders Sam Fuld, Craig Gentry and Josh Reddick.

Call The Bee’s Matt Kawahara, (916) 321-1015. See his baseball coverage at sacbee.com/mlb. Follow him on Twitter at @matthewkawahara.

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