Putting together the Rays All-Time 25th Anniversary squad
Center Fielder: No. 2, B.J. Upton
B.J. Upton seemed poised to be a superstar for the Rays following a 2007 campaign where he slashed .300/.386/.508 with a 136 OPS+, 24 home runs and 22 stolen bases, especially when combined with his terrific defense in center. Yet, over 12 seasons in the Majors, he received zero accolades.
While his career didn't quite pan out the way his age-22 season did, there's a strong argument to be made that because of that, he's the most underrated Tampa Bay Ray of all-time. A staple of the era, B.J. played for Tampa from 2005-2012, and put up 232 steals and 118 home runs.
However, it's his 2008 postseason that confirmed his spot in Rays lore. B.J. hit seven home runs between the ALDS and ALCS, hitting .304 in the process against Chicago and Boston. B.J. was integral in advancing the Rays to their very first World Series appearance.
Left Field: No. 10, Corey Dickerson
The main return for the Rays in the trade that sent McGee to Colorado, Dickerson came in with a lot of question marks regarding how he'd adjust away from the Denver air. He did rather well, setting a career high with 36 doubles in his first season, though the on-base and average took a dip. It was 2017, however, where Dickerson popped off.
Dickerson started the 2017 All-Star Game as the American League's designated hitter. His knack for hitting bad ball pitches and doing it well led to a 27-homer campaign and a .282/.325/.490 slashline and 64 hits that went for extra-bases. Yet, he was still unceremoniously designated for assignment at the season's end, a move that's still a headscratcher to this day.
The bench adds power in the form of Dickerson and Ramos, speed in the form of Upton and Bartlett, and an all-around threat in Lowe. It also fills in depth slots that always create flexibility for the other roster members on the diamond. Of course, when it comes to putting pieces in the right places to complete a puzzle, you need the right manager.
Manager: No. 70, Joe Maddon
As fantastic as the Rays have been in the current chapter of their story, Kevin Cash's two Manager of the Year honors that matched Joe Maddon's in Tampa has not been enough to pull away in the conversation for best Rays manager. Everything we've grown accustomed to, from the way they utilize their bullpen to playing position players in every position to lineup construction, started under Joe Maddon.
His lineup choices were weird on any given day. One tim,e he hit Drew Sutton cleanup because he felt as though it'd make him more comfortable, and Sutton went 2-4 with an extra-base hit in the win. Once, the Rays hit starting pitcher Andy Sonnanstine in the three-hole in an American League ballpark, and he rewarded Maddon with a game-winning double. He was right about Dan Johnson in huge spots. Twice.
Maddon was the first manager to shift at least 200 times in a single season, doing so in a year where the second-most was 54. He pioneered the shift, more or less, and innovated on a lot of the shifts that MLB just made rules to restrict
His pitching methods? Lefty/righty conventions out the window, relievers faced everybody. Three aces on a staff heading into the playoffs? No, the Rays will start Matt Moore, a rookie, and he'll go seven shutout innings.
Most importantly, he gets players to buy in. He started the trend of themed roadtrips to keep players loose during his tenure with Tampa Bay, for example. He dyed his hair black, Johnny Cash-style, during a 2009 slump to help the players get their minds off of the team's struggles.
He's an oddball, and that's what worked. Beyond the stat sheet and his unconventional methods to win, he had the hunch of an all-time great manager, a winning track record to go along with it, and was inarguably the best people person the Rays ever employed. You need a manager that will win, but also get the players to buy in 1000% and that's Joe Maddon.
Manager: Joe Maddon.
LF Carl Crawford
RF Randy Arozarena
DH Fred McGriff
1B Carlos Pena
3B Evan Longoria
2B Ben Zobrist
SS Wander Franco
C Dioner Navarro
CF Kevin Kiermaier
Bench: Corey Dickerson, Wilson Ramos, Jason Bartlett, B.J. Upton, Brandon Lowe.
SP1 David Price
SP2 James Shields
SP3 Blake Snell
SP4 Scott Kazmir
SP5 Chris Archer
Bullpen: Fernando Rodney, Danys Baez, Tyler Glasnow, Jake McGee, Rafael Soriano, Brad Boxberger, Alex Colome.
What do you think of our 25th anniversary Rays squad? Who would you replace on this ballclub? Is there any era of the team underrepresented? Be sure to let us know on my Twitter @TheJameus.