The previous team MVP recaps have covered an array of pitchers and utility players, young and old, who made an impression on Devil Rays history. But this edition of our team MVPs recap gives much focus to one of Tampa Bay’s most beloved and successful stars: Carl Crawford. CC’s power in both the outfield and at the plate, along with another deserving MVP, Jorge Cantu, make for another exciting edition of our look back at some of the best Rays to play with the franchise.
2004: Carl Crawford
In his second full season with the Devil Rays, Carl Crawford stole fans’ hearts with his offensive dominance and speed on the base paths. Hitting .296, Crawford led the Devil Rays in hits, 185, and runs, 104, for the season. Although he only notched 11 home runs and 55 RBIs in 2004, Crawford’s 19 triples gave him the most in the American League. But the highlight of 2004 for the speedy lefty batter was stealing a total of 59 bases, earning him not only the top spot in stolen bases in the American League but also marking a career high record for Crawford. With a fielding percentage of .996, a WAR of 4.6, and an appearance in the 2004 All-Star game, the left fielder undoubtedly deserved the BBWAA’s team MVP award. The combination of Crawford’s arm in left field and plate discipline, along with other top performers like Aubrey Huff, helped the D-Rays finish in 2004 with a 70-91 record. It was the first season Tampa Bay ever finished in fourth place, instead of last place, in the AL East, while the 70 wins represented a franchise-best as wel.
2005: Jorge Cantu
After signing with the Devil Rays out of Mexico in 1998, Jorge Cantu’s first full season in the majors was 2005, and what a season it was. Cantu finished the season hitting .286 with a .497 slugging percentage, belting 28 home runs among his 171 hits and setting a team record (since broken by Carlos Pena) by driving in 117 runs. Cantu also set a D-Rays record for the most multi-homer games with four. Dividing majority of his time between second and third base, Cantu supplemented his offensive efforts by bolstering the D-Rays’ defense after the sudden retirement of All-Star second baseman Roberto Alomar during spring training. Although Tampa Bay finished with a record of 67-95 in 2005, Cantu’s solid performance behind the plate could be witnessed during the D-Rays’ hot streak following the All-Star break, when they won 12 out of 16 games. Cantu’s breakout season made him an easy choice for the team MVP vote.
2006: Carl Crawford
Although 2004 was an eventful season for the left fielder, Crawford’s career reached new heights in 2006. Hitting a career high .305 with 18 homers, Crawford became the second player to ever increase his batting average and homerun totals in five straight seasons after the Cardinals’ Rogers Hornsby was the first player to do so from 1918-1922, as reported by MLB.com’s Bill Chastain. History likes to repeat itself, and Crawford led the American League in stolen bases, 58, and triples, 16, that season just like he did in 2004. But the team MVP was not the only award Crawford won during his powerful season, as he also earned his first Fielding Bible Award for his work in left field. Leading the American League in put outs in left field with 302, as well as a fielding percentage of .990, Crawford’s dynamic defense earned him a much deserved honor. Crawford would go on to win Fielding Bible Awards in 2008 and 2009 as well as he combined his impressive speed and hitting ability with incredible defense on his way to becoming one of the best players the Rays have ever seen.