MESA, Ariz. -- If you look around the locker room of the Oakland Athletics, you might be forgiven if you think you’re Superman. How so? With three former Tampa Bay Rays players likely for the Opening Day lineup and two more in the rotation with Scott Kazmir and Jesse Hahn likely to toe the rubber, everyone in the clubhouse gets ex-Ray vision.
Speedster Sam Fuld looks around and laughs before noting, “Last year, with me and Vogt and Jaso, there was already a little bit of a Tampa feel. And now, with Zo [Ben Zobrist] here, it just continues.”
“I honestly did not see that coming,” Zobrist said. “That said, once I found out, it obviously made sense, because of the type of team they are and what they look for in a player. And I kind of fit that mold as well.”
Zobrist and Hahn came over in separate trades this past winter, and Vogt was purchased as part of a conditional deal in spring training in 2013. After pitching parts of six seasons with the Rays, Kazmir had his career collapse with the Angels, but resurrected himself with the Indians with the help of pitching guru Ron Wolforth (who subsequently helped Barry Zito’s current renaissance); he signed as free agent before the 2014 season. Fuld took a route to Oakland so circuitous even Terrence “Magellan” Long would admire it, as he signed with the A’s before last season, was lost on a Twins waiver claim in mid-April, and came back in a deal for lefty Tommy Milone at the trade deadline.
Manager Bob Melvin had a straightforward enough explanation for the presence of so many Rays.
“We look at things kind of similarly to the way they do," Melvin said. "They value some of the same things that we do, maybe a little bit differently from other clubs. You’ll see times when the Rays waive some of their players, we’ll claim some of theirs, and typically we’ll make some trades with them too.”
That’s reflected in the fact that both the Rays and the A’s are routinely identified among the organizations most likely to rely on sabermetric performance analysis to evaluate players while simultaneously dealing with budget constraints and comparatively weak local revenue streams.
“I think they’re similarly built organizations,” Fuld observes. “I think both organizations encounter the same challenges in terms of market size and payroll. They both do an excellent job of finding inefficiencies and having players who go under the radar a little bit while providing value. It’s not surprising that we get shuffled back and forth a little bit.”
Fuld is looking at his first clean shot at earning a starting center-field job in spring training -- probably in a platoon with Craig Gentry -- in his age-33 season. That would tie him with Angel Pagan of the San Francisco Giants as the oldest regular center fielder in the majors this season.
“It’s a little unorthodox,” Fuld said. “Not a lot of guys get a real opportunity to play a lot there at the age of 33. It doesn’t happen very often. I personally feel like I lucked into a good opportunity here. I had three good years in Tampa, but it seemed like just a better opportunity here. And it’s the same case for Vogt.”
Vogt’s opportunity is very much like Fuld’s in that he’s another player on the other side of 30 and only just now getting a shot at a major-league job at his primary position. And like Fuld, it will probably be in a platoon, although in Vogt’s case he should be paired up with former White Sox prospect Josh Phegley. But Vogt also has two very strong factors in his favor: A bat that has cranked out an .833 OPS in the minors and a .694 OPS in almost a full season’s worth of PAs in the majors (spread across three years), and an arm behind the dish that has thrown out 36 percent of opponents trying to steal in the minors and 26 percent in the majors.
Christina Kahrl writes about MLB for ESPN.com. You can follow her on Twitter.