Putting together the Rays All-Time 25th Anniversary squad

Evan Longoria, 3, with Carl Crawford, 13, following the 2008 ALDS.
Evan Longoria, 3, with Carl Crawford, 13, following the 2008 ALDS. / Jamie Squire/GettyImages
1 of 22

Though arguably MLB's least historic team on paper, the Tampa Bay Rays have led a baseball revolution since entering Major League Baseball ahead of the 1998 season. As the Moneyball concept introduced by Billy Beane with the Oakland Athletics continues to take over the sport, it's perhaps the Rays that have perfected the notion. While teams such as the 2015 Kansas City Royals have ridden the concept to a World Championship, it's the Rays who have strung together the most consistent run of success with the approach since the arrival of Joe Maddon as the team's skipper in 2006.

The Rays have entirely changed the game and how front offices operate around baseball, allowing the game to fully immerse itself in 21st century ideology. As the Rays continue their cost-conducive efforts to win, and do so at a high level, their savvy executives are sprinkled around the league, to the point where even the Los Angeles Dodgers, with former Rays General Manager Andrew Friedman at the helm, are winning championships with the strategies introduced by the Rays.

Naturally, with an organization notorious for pinching pennies, however, there's been a rather high turnover rate on their roster over the course of the first 25 years. All of that said, that allows us ample options when putting together an all-time Rays 26-man roster for the first 25 years.

It should be noted that this isn't a list of the best players to wear the uniform. So, for example, six-time All-Star (including his sixth and final selection with the Rays in 1999) Jose Canseco won't make an appearance on the roster because he only played in one season with the ballclub, whereas outfielders with more tenure and more of an impact on the club and community will be considered. Certain pivotal moments in the franchise's history will be heavily considered, and do matter when choosing between similar players. However, there has to be more impact than a handful of singular at bats. Thus, as fun as the team's 2020 playoff run is, neither Michael Brosseau nor Brett Phillips will be appearing for their clutch hits that October. The team will be introduced in order of lineup, bench, rotation and bullpen.

Without further ado...

Left Field: No. 13, Carl Crawford

Carl Crawford
Carl Crawford, 2007. / Otto Greule Jr/GettyImages

Aptly nicknamed the Perfect Storm, the leadoff hitter on our Rays 25 Team is the team's first superstar: Carl Crawford.

Drafted in 1999, Crawford caught eyes around the league for his athletic prowess in the summer of 2002, despite only so-so rookie production. In 2004, at age 22, No. 13 had officially made his presence felt in the heart of Tropicana Field, 315 feet away from the home diamond as the everyday left fielder.

Crawford became the best baserunner in baseball, leading the league in triples and stolen bases four times over the course of his nine seasons in St. Pete, including 59 stolen bags in the '04 campaign. He averaged 50 bases swiped over a typical 162-game stretch from 2003-2009, but offered so much more than his speed at the dish. The southpaw slugger is one of only six Rays to reach triple digit homeruns (104) in a Tampa Bay uniform, as well as having more doubles and triples than homeruns. Crawford's .296 batting average just edges out former first baseman James Loney among players with at least 1,500 plate appearances. It's the highest cumulative batting average for a Rays player. His .781 OPS is well-established within the top ten of the franchise leaderboard, though his 107 OPS+ does indicate he was only 7% better offensively than the average Major League Baseball player during his stint with the team.

Crawford has appeared in more games than any Ray not named Evan Longoria and has more hits while wearing the uniform (1,480) than every player in Rays history. Crawford is second in runs created, runs scored and runs driven in, providing some of the most consistent run production that the Rays have ever seen.

While the way Crawford departed for Boston left a sour taste in the mouth of quite a few fans, Crawford was a dynamic player with the Rays. He was elected to four All-Star games, the most of any player representing the Rays, while also winning a Gold Glove and Silver Slugger. For many, Crawford not only presented a reason to watch the product, but the first representation of a quality ballclub.

Crawford will be inducted into the Rays Hall of Fame as part of the inaugural class in 2023.