Wednesday, February 21, 2018
Tampa Bay Rays

One team's trash is Tampa Bay Rays' treasure

Brandon Allen may not get another hit for the Rays as big as his first, a two-run pinch-hit walkoff homer that won Thursday's game.

Heck, he may not get many more hits.

But the acquisition of the first baseman/outfielder — claimed off waivers from Oakland — already is considered a positive, the latest in a string of curiously good decisions in bringing in players discarded or ignored by others.

"Our Rays scouting department, I think, is the best there is," manager Joe Maddon said after Allen's game-winner. "It doesn't surprise me. When we put our mark on somebody, it's normally with good reason."

The gold standard always will be Carlos Peña. A one-time top prospect whose career appeared to have fizzled, if not flamed out, Peña was signed to a minor-league deal before the start of spring training 2007 and went on to hit 46 homers that season, make the All-Star team in 2009 and average 34 homers and 97 RBIs over 2007-11.

Another prized find was Dan Wheeler, a middling middle reliever with Houston who came over in a July 2007 trade (for Ty Wigginton) that Maddon still refers to as a key move in the launch of their run of success.

There are many others who, for whatever reason, fit in better with the Rays, or were used in a better way by the Rays, than elsewhere. (And certainly some misses along the way.)

Eric Hinske, Gabe Gross, Willy Aybar, Casey Kotchman on the offensive side. J.P. Howell, Grant Balfour, Joaquin Benoit, Juan Cruz and Joel Peralta in the 'pen.

"It seems to be the way things work around this organization; that they seem to find guys that just do the right things at the right times," catcher Chris Gimenez said. "There must be an art to that."

Identifying and acquiring players who can help, and fit in their limited budget, is the product of extensive work by the pro scouting staff and what the Rays call their Baseball Research & Development department.

Having them fit in and feel comfortable and using them in the right spots is on Maddon and his coaches.

"This team is just great to be around," pitcher Brandon Gomes said. "It really does bring out the best in everybody."

Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]

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