With a 694 and 923 record during the 00’s or the aughts or the 2000’s or whatever the hell you want to call this decade, one would think it would be pretty hard to put together an all decade team. For a team that had some faces that stuck around through most of the lean years, and some true studs that are helping us into the future (including our run to the Series) there were easily enough spaces to fill out a mini roster. I can’t lie, there were a few positions like CL and C that were very tough to figure out, and one position in particular, 1B, had too many candidates.
I will place one position player from every position (3 OF’s, not done positionally) one UTIL IF who didn’t have to be a UTIL, one extra OF with the same premise, 3 SP’s, 1 RP and 1 CL for a 15 man all decade roster.
Without further ado…
C Toby Hall
This honestly pains me to do, as Hall was pretty average, and honestly the slowest person I’ve ever seen run a base path, but in a 10 year span that saw a real dearth of anything quality at this position for the Rays, Hall gets the nod.
Honorable Mention – Dioner Navarro
1B Carlos Pena
This was easily the hardest position over the last decade to choose a true winner for the Rays. Aubrey Huff was with the Rays for longer than Pena, but in fewer seasons Pena has displayed much more power in the middle of the lineup. Couple that with the great glove he shows at 1B and the awful glove that Huff displays anywhere he plays on the field, and you end up with a winner. For all the great things that Andrew Friedman has done since taking over the team, the signing of Pena and the luckiness that is sometimes involved in any sport (Pena only was resigned after injury) might be his largest coup yet.
Honorable Mention – Aubrey Huff, Travis Lee, Fred McGriff
2B Akinori Iwamura
There were literally no other legitimate choices to put here other than Aki. This guy was a slick fielder, above average hitter, good clubhouse guy, and showed the occasional pop as well. His time with the Rays wasn’t long, but it coincided with the Rays turning around their franchise and making the World Series. For that reason alone he would be worthy of this spot.
Honorable Mention – None
SS Julio Lugo
I so desperately wanted to put Jason Bartlett here as he may have been the MVP of the team for the past two seasons, but the statistical accomplishments of Lugo in his 4+ seasons with the Rays outweigh those of Bartlett. Lugo got a 2nd chance with the Rays, and for awhile, was possibly our best player. He stole bases, hit for a little bit of power, and was adept at getting on 2b. If this list were made two years from now, undoubtedly the spot would go to Bartlett.
Honorable Mention – Jason Bartlett
3B Evan Longoria
This was another tough choice. Should I reward Aubrey Huff at another position he played for the Rays and his longevity (as he may arguably be the best Ray of the decade) or should I put a guy who is the new face of the franchise and has a chance in his career to put up Hall of Fame numbers. Huff got beat out by Pena because of the numbers and he can’t beat out Longoria even though he has Longo beat in the numbers. Longo just has a chance to be too special for the Rays to leave him off the list. Just like Aki, his being called up, coincided with the Rays making it to the dance. There is no better defensive 3b in all of baseball. He already has two 20 MVP campaigns under his belt, and he only has a little over 1k AB’s for his career.
Honorable Mention – Aubrey Huff
UTIL IF Aubrey Huff
Huff played 3b, DH, 1b and OF for the Rays, so giving him this spot is only fitting, especially being as though it was so tough to leave him off the starters at either 3b or 1b. He was an average defender at best at any of those positions, but the fact of the matter remains, our managers felt confident enough to put him out there, which is always a bonus. Huff had a top 25 MVP campaign in 2003 when he finished with 34 HR and 107 RBI. As I mentioned in Longo’s writeup, he may be the best Ray of the decade.
Honorable Mention – None
OF1 Carl Crawford
While Aubrey Huff might be one of the best Rays of the decade, Carl Crawford is the best Ray of the decade. He has been with the team since 2002 on a full time basis, and has produced every single season he has been up. He is the premier defensive LF in the game, has been to 3 All Star Games and been a top 26 MVP candidate once. He has amassed over 350 SB’s in that time, 185 2b’s and a staggering 92 triples. He just completed maybe his best season as a Ray and hopefully we will continue to watch the 28 year old Crawford blossom into one of the premier players in the game. Regardless, best Ray of the decade and without a doubt the fan favorite.
OF2 Rocco Baldelli
One of the all time crowd favorite Rays, Rocco just had a way of making the average baseball fan appreciate his skills and demeanor on the field. He never fully fulfilled the massive potential that he looked to have because of injuries, but nonetheless, he was a productive player when healthy. He had a solid mix of gap power, hr power, speed and defense. He finished 3rd in Rookie of the Year voting in 2003 in what may have been his best season as a pro. If injuries wouldn’t have derailed his career, I think he would be a fringe All-Star candidate every season, think poor mans Grady Sizemore.
OF3 BJ Upton
If Randy Winn would have played for the Rays a few years later than he actually did, he would be my sure fire 3rd OF. I thought it would be easier to fill the OF with Rays, but BJ might have to be the third choice. Once the Rays finally realized that BJ was not a 2b, but a Gold Glove caliber CF, he began to blossom. I think he is still only beginning to realize the potential he has as a defensive OF. He has regressed offensively over the last 3 years, but still has as high of a ceiling any player on our roster, including Evan Longoria. His mix of speed and pure power is impressive to say the least. He showed some glimpses last June of that potential, but has to put it together for a full season for the Rays to make it back to the World Series. He must cut down on the strikeouts in order to maximize that potential.
UTIL OF Randy Winn
Winn only played 3 seasons for the Rays in the 00’s, but was better statistically every season until he was finally traded to the Mariners in 2002. One of the games consummate professionals, Winn has always been an asset to any team he has played for. One of the best seasons of his 12 year career came with the Rays in 2002 where he was named to the All Star team. Another guy with a good mix of everything you’d want from a player, Winn makes the list as our all decade Util OF.
SP1 Scott Kazmir
Scott Kazmir is one of the first players to honestly give Rays fans hope for the future. That sounds extreme, but when the Rays traded Victor Zambrano to the Mets for Scott Kazmir in 2004, we felt our fortunes as a franchise were going to change. Kazmir is the Rays career leader in ERA, IP, H p/9, K p/9, K’s and Games Started. He is a 2 time All Star and finished 9th in the ROY ballot in 2005. In 2007 he accumulated 239 K’s in 206 IP for the Rays and had a 3.48 ERA and 13 wins for an average team. He was traded to the Angels after the All Star Break in 2009 for cost cutting reasons, but will always be remembered as one of the great All time Rays.
SP2 James Shields
Shields, who was drafted in the 16th round in 2000, came a little out of the blue in the summer of 2006. The Rays saw the potential for a real workmanlike SP in their rotation with Shields. To this day, he possesses one of the nastiest changeups in all of baseball. He will soon hold just about every career record for the Rays that Scott Kazmir now owns. He has pitched 200+ IP in all three of his full seasons as a Ray, and finished with an ERA under 4.25 in all of those seasons. He’s never going to win a Cy Young or lead the league in K’s, but ask any Manager and I gaurantee they want a horse like Shieldsy on the squad.
SP3 Victor Zambrano
Zambrano makes this list for two reasons: first, he’s in the top 3 in just about every statistical category for Rays pitchers in their history, and secondly, he was the player who netted the Rays the best pitcher in our brief history. People once thought Zambrano had the chance to be something very special, but he just lacked the overall control to be a great pitcher in the MLB. He led the league twice in BB, once in HBP, and once in WP. He always had a respectable ERA for us, and to his defense, we were awful when he was supposedly our best pitcher. His numbers as a Ray are a little better than even I remembered in my head.
Honorable Mention – Matt Garza, Joe Kennedy
Relief Pitcher JP Howell
This was a really tough choice between Esteban Yan and JP Howell. Yan has a more prolonged career with the Rays, and is even in the top 4 all time with 25 wins and 1st all time with 266 games played. They both had a few awful years with the Rays so I tried to take their best two years during the 00’s and once I did that, Howell was the easy choice. The last two seasons Howell has proved to be one the best late inning guys in all of baseball. He might not be a closer, but as far as 7th or 8th inning guys go, he is as good as it gets. He did save 17 games for the Rays in 09 so it isn’t as though he can’t save games. When he came into the league I thought he was a poor mans Casey Fossum, a potential long reliever and spot starter, but his ability to mix up his delivery and pitch speeds has made him the perfect guy to follow the hard throwers that the Rays start.
Honorable Mention – Esteban Yan
Closer Danys Baez
This was a really hard position to pick for the Rays, being as though we haven’t really had a closer for a whole decade. Roberto Hernandez is our all time saves leader, but he accumulated the majority of those saves in 1998 and 1999. Based on the fact that Baez may have been (until the trade for Rafael Soriano) the only bonafide closer the Rays have had this decade, we’ll give him the nod here. Baez is 2nd all time to Hernandez in saves for the Rays with 71 (kind of sad). His 41 saves and a 2.86 ERA in 2005 earned him an All Star berth. The Rays eventually used him to acquire Edwin Jackson, so he holds even more value in my book.