Before we get too deep into the Rays' 16th season, we thought it would be appropriate to acknowledge the first 15, and pick an all-time Rays team from the squads that went a combined 1,102-1,324. The criteria was relatively straightforward — what the players did during their time with the Rays:
Leftfield Carl Crawford
Four-time All-Star, three-time team MVP, Gold Glove and Silver Slugger winner, still leads in many offensive categories. Arguably the best player — to date — in team history.
Runnersup: Greg Vaughn, Desmond Jennings
Centerfield B.J. Upton
Randy Winn was an All-Star, Quinton McCracken and Gerald Williams team MVPs, Rocco Baldelli an all-around standout, but Upton was a key in their long run of success.
Runnersup: Baldelli, Winn
Rightfield Ben Zobrist
Tremendous team player is close to perfect fundamentally, and has the requite range, arm and overall ability to be an All-Star, and on this squad, in rightfield or at second base.
Runnersup: Aubrey Huff, Dave Martinez
Third base Evan Longoria
Three All-Star selections, two Gold Gloves, Silver Slugger and rookie of the year awards. Often the best player on the field, and always the most valuable to his team.
Runnersup: Aubrey Huff, Wade Boggs
Shortstop Jason Bartlett
Provided stabilizing defense at troubled position, added offense and veteran leadership, was appropriately voted MVP of 2008 team that started the ascension to contender status.
Runnersup: Julio Lugo, Chris Gomez
Second base Miguel Cairo
With Ben Zobrist elsewhere, the toughest spot to fill. Cairo was there first, played the most games (Aki Iwamura played 3B his third season), had a reasonable amount of success.
Runnersup: Jorge Cantu, Iwamura
First base Carlos Peña
Years: 2007-10, '12
Yes, he struck out a lot. And Fred McGriff was pretty good, too, and also an All-Star. But Peña's contributions, with the bat and glove, made more of a difference to team success.
Runnersup: McGriff, Travis Lee
Catcher Toby Hall
Played the most games behind the plate — including five opening day starts — and played the best overall of what is not exactly a deep pool of candidates.
Runnersup: John Flaherty, Dioner Navarro
Designated hitter Aubrey Huff
From the long list of 100-plus players (topped by Pat Burrell) who took their swings and failed miserably, there have been some moments of success, and Huff had many of them.
Runnersup: Jose Canseco, Jonny Gomes
RH starter James Shields
Acknowledged leader, by example, of the pitching staff that became AL's best, was an All-Star, is the franchise leader in wins, innings, starts, strikeouts before trade to Royals.
Runnerup: Matt Garza
LH starter David Price
All he's done in four-plus seasons is record 61 wins, post a 3.16 ERA, make three All-Star teams, take over as team ace and win last year's American League Cy Young Award.
Runnerup: Scott Kazmir
Closer Roberto Hernandez
Fernando Rodney and Rafael Soriano had better single seasons, but Hernandez's body of work is better, with 101 saves, and an All-Star berth, pitching on some really bad teams.
Runnersup: Danys Baez, Rodney
Manager Joe Maddon
The three playoff berths, the two AL manager of the year awards, the long list of players raving about him all make it obvious he hasn't done just a good job, but a great job.
Runnersup: Lou Piniella, Larry Rothschild