Welcome to the wacky world of Tampa Bay second basemen. Yes, these are the Rays and thanks to the magic that was Joe Maddon and the cunning that is Kevin Cash, the middle infield assignments at Tropicana Field have been nothing short of lively. With my Rays-loving heart leading the way, here are this fan’s picks from worst to first of the High-Five of Tampa Bay second basemen.
Briefly, normalcy visits the 2B High-Five as No. 4 arrives on the scene. This player was not part of any platoon. He spent no time fielding balls at shortstop or shagging flies in the outfield. No. 4 was an old-fashioned everyday second baseman for Tampa Bay. In fact, he was the very first Devil Ray to ever hold the job. Ladies and gentlemen, here comes Miguel Cairo.
No. 4: Miguel Cairo
The Tampa Bay Numbers
Home runs: 9
Batting average: .275
Games played at 2B: 373
Fielding percentage: .982
From the very beginning, there was Miguel Cairo.
Major league baseball began in Tampa Bay on March 31, 1998. Hitting second in that opening day lineup, in front of Wade Boggs and Fred McGriff, was a kid from Anaco, Venezuela by the name of Cairo.
That ‘kid’ had been signed by the Los Angeles Dodgers as an amateur free agent in 1990. Cairo had only appeared in 25 big league games, however, before the Devil Rays drafted him from the Chicago Cubs as the 8th pick in the 1997 expansion draft. Tampa Bay handed the rookie second base position, and Cairo owned it through the majority of the 2000 season.
In those three years, Cairo played 373 games at second base. Only one other man ever played more games at the position for Tampa Bay (but we’ll come to him later on the High-Five). In 3,096 innings and 1,889 chances, Cairo recorded 747 putouts and 1,108 assists while taking part in 287 double plays.
During those three seasons, Cairo committed 34 errors. In 1998, he bungled 16 plays to finish with the fourth most of any American League second baseman. However, Cairo turned his defensive woes around in 1999. With only nine errors to his name in 637 chances that year, he finished third in the AL with a .986 fielding percentage.
Offensively, Cairo hit for average, not power. In 1998, he had 138 hits and a respectable .268 batting average, but only took five balls out of the park. Just as he picked up his game defensively in ’99, improvements came to his bat as well that second full season In Tampa Bay. In 120 games, Cairo collected 137 hits on a .295 BA. While his home run count dropped to three, his OPS improved from .674 to .703.
Additionally, Cairo was a rare threat on the bases. He stole 69 bases during his time with the Devil Rays while only being caught 22 times. In fact, his 28 steals in 2000 was seventh best in the AL that season.
In November of 2000, Tampa Bay released Cairo. His third season with the team had not lived up to expectations so ownership decided to look elsewhere. Cairo would go on to play 12 more seasons in the majors, before retiring in 2012.
On other clubs, Cairo’s numbers as a second baseman would have teetered between satisfactory and marginally good. On the Devil Rays’ squad, Miguel Cairo’s stats were not only good, as the years passed and the platoon system came along, his numbers became unique. For these two reasons, the ‘kid’ who hit second in front of Boggs and McGriff on that first opening day is No. 4 on the Tampa Bay High-Five of Second Basemen.
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Next time, another rookie takes No. 3.