Utilitymen Need a Rays Connection

By Robbie Knopf

We know that the Rays love versatile players. But as it turned out, a bunch of utility players who you would associate with the Rays do have Rays connections.

Miguel Cairo, now in his 17th MLB season, was only a starting player for multiple years with one team: the Devil Rays. Cairo was actually a solid player for the D-Rays from 1998-2000. In 1998, Cairo, then 24, posted a .268/.307/.367 line with 26 doubles, 5 triples, 5 homers, 46 RBI, and 19 stolen bases in 150 games including 148 starts at second base. He tied for second on the D-Rays’ inaugural team in steals. The next season, Cairo improved to .295/.335/.368 with 15 doubles, 5 triples, 3 homers, 36 RBI, and 22 steals in 29 tries. His 22 steals were tops on the team by a considerable margin this time- current Rays bench coach Dave Martinez was second with 13. 2000 would be Cairo’s final year with the D-Rays and he played decently, posting a .261/.314/.328 line with 18 doubles, 2 triples, 1 homer, 34 RBI, and 28 steals in 35 attempts. His 28 steals were more than double the next closest D-Ray, Gerald Williams, who had 12. Those 28 stolen bases are still the record for most steals in a single season by a Rays season baseman. Following the 2000 season, the Rays non-tendered Cairo rather than allow him to be arbitration-eligible for the first time. He has been a utility player ever since, being a team’s primary starter only with the 2004 Yankees. Ironically, the D-Rays are the only team that Cairo ever played 10 or more games for without playing multiple positons.

Matt Diaz was a 19th round pick by the Rays in 1999 and played all of 14 games for the team despite a couple outstanding minor league seasons. In 2003 between Double-A and Triple-A, Diaz posted a .354/.412/.529 line with 39 doubles, 13 homers, 86 RBI, and 15 stolen bases, and in 2004 at Triple-A he posted a .332/.377/.571 line with 47 doubles, 21 homers, 93 RBI, and 15 steals again. The Rays exposed him to waivers for no apparent reason following the season and we have seen him carve out a nice career as a power-hitting bench player for the Braves and Pirates.

In that same 1999 Draft, the Rays drafted Mike Fontenot in the 21st round. Wow. Fontenot has played “just” the infield the past few years for the Cubs and Giants.

Seeing Ryan Raburn playing 7 positions for the Tigers the past few years, you had to think he was an ex-Rays draft pick, right? He was in fact, in the 18th round out of Durant High School in 1999 as well, one round before Diaz. Raburn was actually born in Tampa and grew up in Plant City, Florida. Raburn is a free agent following the 2013 season, and it wouldn’t surprise me at all if he came to Rays for a homecoming. Given his versatility, I’m sure the Rays would agree.

These players are just the start. Look for more utility players who began with the Rays or were drafted by the Rays to sprout up sooner rather than later.