Bill Chastain recently teamed up with VP of Communications Rick Vaughn and St. Pete Times beat writer Marc Topkin to pick the Rays all decade team. I agreed with most of the choices outside of Aubrey Huff’s inclusion mainly because of his attitude leading up to his eventual trade. Then again, without Aubrey Huff, the Rays never have Ben Zobrist so it could be argued that Huff might be one of the most important players of the past decade for the Rays franchise. Given I am in a great mood after a solid performance review at the real job, the fact the Rays are 11-3 in Spring Training including two wins against Boston, and I’m inching closer to my fun trip to New York City next weekend, I want to pick the All-Decade Duds for the Rays. As I often say, you cannot truly appreciate the present without remembering the past.
Catcher: Pete LaForest (2005). LaForest was quite the minor league slugger for the Devil Rays slugging over .400 in each of his stops up the ladder as a catcher including a strong .567 in 201 at bats for the Durham Bulls in 2003. LaForest was a much better bat than he was a glove which is why Toby Hall had to catch 135 games in 2005 as LaForest and the all-glove/no-bat Kevin Cash served as his backups. In 14 minor league seasons, LaForest owned a .253/.353/.474 slash line but only got 148 at bats in his major league career in which he hit .196/.268/.277.
First Base: Travis Lee (2006). Lee initially played in Tampa Bay on a 1 year deal in 2003 and did well enough to garner a contract from the Yankees – who subsequently bought out his deal the following year after he missed most of 2004 with a torn labrum. Lee came back to the Devil Rays in 2005 and was roughly league average for his position but fell off the table quickly in 2006 when he put up a .224/.312/.364 line in 343 at bats before being released early that September. Lee would often put on quite the show in batting practice but that power rarely showed up in games in 2006. Obviously, power has not been a problem at that position for the franchise since Lee’s departure.
Second Base: Brett Abernathy (2002). Abernathy was picked up from the Blue Jays organization in a trade that sent Steve Trachsel and Mark Guthrie north of the border. He had been a pretty good minor league hitter than ran well and showed some promise in 2001 hitting .270 and stealing 8 bases in 79 games but 2002 was a different story. His .242 batting average and .599 OPS made him 22 runs below replacement level for a second baseman and his only saving grace that season was his strong fielding. That skillset was given 463 at bats in 2002 because his backup was expansion pickup Bobby Smith who didn’t field well and struck out 59 times in just 175 plate appearances that year himself.
Shortstop: Felix Martinez (2000). Another all glove and no hit player. His OPS+ in 2002 was a 55 (100 is average) yet he was given 299 at bats to hit .214/.305/.298 that year. Martinez gave way to Chris Gomez who eventually gave way to Julio Lugo. At least at this position, the Rays have improved statistically nearly every season.
Third Base: Damian Rolls (2003). Rolls was a Rule V pick the Rays got in a trade from the Royals who never really got enough time in the upper levels of the minors. He was handed the 3rd base job in 2003 and hit .255 with a .666 OPS – fitting for a Devil Ray. While is seems like forever since Rolls played in the big leagues, he is still just 32 years old and was hanging on in the independent leagues as recently as 2008. Vinny Castilla is probably the easy choice here but the Rays absolutely had to play him because of the contract they gave him and really had no choice. Not to mention, even his Wikipedia page authors would rather just forget his time in Tampa Bay ever happened.
Outfielder: Jason Tyner (2001). On the surface, it is difficult to put a guy who swiped 31 bags and hit .280 on this list but consider that he had an OPS+ of 70 that season and only scored 51 times. 98 of his 113 hits were singles which is a big reason why he failed to score more than 51 times. The big novelty with Tyner was whether he would would ever hit a major league homer which he failed to do in 737 at bats for the Devil Rays but did eventually pull off as a Minnesota Twin in 2008.
Outfielder: Damon Hollins (2006). Hollins got 333 at bats in 2006 and hit 20 doubles and 15 homers, but hit .228/.269/.423 in that time frame proving to bbe more of an all or nothing guy at the plate. He did play all three outfield positions but was let go after that season to make way for most of the talented outfielders that are on the roster today. These days, he is still hanging around minor league baseball in the Royals organization.
Outfielder: Russell Branyan (2006). Branyan saw 169 at bats in 2006 and hit 12 homers in that time which helped fuel a .473 slugging percentage. The problem was when he wasn’t hitting homers, he was striking out, a lot. He struck out 62 times in those at bats and hit just .201 on the season. I’d still take Russell the Muscle back on the team today though and am bummed he chose the Indians over the Rays last month.
Designated Hitter: Robert Fick (2004). Fick was a defensively challenged catcher/first base type with quite the hard-ass attitude. He was an all star in 2002 and signed with the Braves after that who released him after just one season because of his attitude problem which included the bush-league play in the playoffs that year where he slapped at Eric Karros while running to first base. Fick spent just once season with the Rays, mostly at DH and hit .201/.273/.327 for a .600 OPS and an OPS+ of just 59 in 214 at bats before earning his release.