The Rays needed so many things to go right in 2008 to make the World Series. One of those things was for Gabe Gross to break out.
Gross, a 6’3″, 200 outfielder, was the 15th overall pick in the 2001 MLB Draft by the Toronto Blue Jays out of Auburn University. Gross posted a .910 OPS with 10 doubles, 7 homers, and 26 RBI in his 46-game 2001 pro debut as he worked his way from High-A to Double-A. After managing just a ..712 OPS at Double-A in 2002, Gross came back with a .299/.407/.472 line in 2003 with 39 doubles, 5 triples, 12 homers, and 74 RBI in 137 games between Double-A and Triple-A. After a .835 OPS in 103 games in 2004, Gross made his big league debut, posting a .621 OPS with 3 homers and 16 RBI in 44 games with the Blue Jays. Gross played in 40 more games with the Blue Jays in 2005, posting a .671 OPS. But with no room in their outfield, the Jays traded him to the Milwaukee Brewers in the deal that brought Lyle Overbay to Toronto.
With the Brewers in 2006, Gross was an excellent backup outfielder, posting a .274/.382/.476 line with 15 doubles, 9 homers, and 38 RBI in 252 plate appearances. But Gross slipped to a .238/.366/.414 with 12 doubles, 7 homers, and 24 RBI in 210 PA’s in 2007, and after posting a .631 OPS in 16 games with the Brewers, he fell out of their plans. They traded Gross to the Rays for pitching prospect Josh Butler.
A regular for the first time with the Rays, Gross gave the Rays his best effort. He posted a .242/.333/.434 line with 13 doubles, 13 homers, and 38 RBI. In the postseason he would hit just .053. Gross slipped to a .227/.326/.355 line with 16 doubles, 6 homers, and 36 RBI in 115 games in 2009 and signed with the A’s for 2010. After a .601 OPS in 105 games, Gross’ MLB career was over at age 30.
The 2008 Rays needed a solid outfielder. Gross gave them exactly that. His success was temporary. But that one simple trade turned out to be the final piece of the puzzle for that one year that we’ll always remember.