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KEY MOMENTS ON THE PATH THAT GOT THIS TEAM WHERE IT IS TODAY

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June 2, 1999 June 5, 2000 June 4, 2002 June 6, 2004 July 30, 2004 Oct. 6, 2005 Nov. 15, 2005 Jan. 14, 2006 June 20, 2006 June 27, 2006 July 12, 2006 Dec. 15, 2006 Jan. 29, 2007 July 27, 2007 July 28, 2007 Nov. 8, 2007 Nov. 28, 2007 Nov. 30, 2007 Dec. 3, 2007 Dec. 17, 2007 Jan. 17, 2008 Feb. 6-7, 2008 April 11, 2008 April 18, 2008 April 23, 2008 Aug. 7, 2008 Aug. 31, 2008 Sept. 13, 2008
OF Carl Crawford, a spectacular athlete with unrefined baseball skills, is a surprise second-round draft pick. OF Rocco Baldelli drafted in first round, RHP James Shields, above, a steal in 16th. After the Pirates make RHP Bryan Bullington the No. 1 overall pick, Rays draft B.J. Upton, above, (and get Jason Hammel in the 10th round). First-rounder RHP Jeff Niemann is the big story, but OF Fernando Perez is a smart seventh-round pick and RHP Andy Sonnanstine, above, a lucky 13th. In a trade still discussed heavily in New York, LHP Scott Kazmir, above, is swiped from the Mets by former GM Chuck LaMar for RHP Victor Zambrano. Stuart Sternberg, above, takes over ownership, names Matt Silverman president, and puts Andrew Friedman in charge of baseball operations. Hiring of Joe Maddon, above, following the negotiated departure of Lou Piniella, starts makeover of organization and is the first tangible step toward success. LHP prospect Chuck Tiffany was considered the big name, but RHP Edwin Jackson, above, is acquired from Dodgers in deal for Danys Baez and Lance Carter. LHP J.P. Howell, above, acquired from Royals for OF Joey Gathright. Another key building block is added with acquisition of C Dioner Navarro, above, (plus OF Justin Ruggiano, and RHP Jae Seo) from Dodgers for Toby Hall, Mark Hendrickson and cash. Trade of free-agent-to-be Aubrey Huff (and cash) yields versatile and valuable INF/OF Ben Zobrist, above, plus RHP prospect Mitch Talbot. Signing of free-agent INF Akinori Iwamura, above, is overshadowed by BostonÕs mega-million deal for Daisuke Matsuzaka but pays off big for Rays. 1B Carlos Pena, above, signs a minor-league deal with an invitation to spring training, ends up the team MVP and a cornerstone of its turnaround. RHP Grant Balfour, above, acquired in a deal with Milwaukee noted more for the trade of Seth McClung. Acquisition of reliever Dan Wheeler, above, (from Houston for Ty Wigginton) is a major step in essential overhaul of bullpen for 2008, and Rays prove it by keeping him. ItÕs a new Ray in Tampa Bay as the team unveils new colors, uniforms and name, and with it comes a new identity and attitude. Rays unveil plans for new stadium, but later trade for SS Jason Bartlett, above, and RHP Matt Garza from Minnesota for OF Delmon Young turns out to be more monumental news. RHP Troy Percival, above, agrees to two-year deal, the biggest free-agent signing of the Sternberg regime. Minor-league P Glenn Gibson may never pitch for Rays, but heÕs still a key as the player they got back by trading troubled OF Elijah Dukes, above, to Washington. DH Cliff Floyd signs as free agent, adding key bat plus much-needed leadership and perspective to clubhouse. In another small-at-the-time deal that pays off big, INF Willy Aybar, above, acquired from Atlanta for LHP Jeff Ridgway. Late offseason signings of LHP Trever Miller, above, and INF/OF Eric Hinske, who both play big roles. 3B Evan Longoria, the top 2006 draft choice sent to Triple A at the end of spring training, is called up and turns out to be a smash. Dan Johnson is claimed off waivers from Oakland; six months later it pays off as his pinch-hit homer helps topple Boston. In what seems like a minor deal at the time, OF Gabe Gross is acquired from Milwaukee and goes on to play major role. Reliever Chad Bradford, above, acquired from Baltimore, ineffective (but expensive) Al Reyes is released. Minor-league acquisition of C Michel Hernandez, above, proves to be important when backup C Shawn Riggans is injured. LHP David Price, the top pick in the 2007 draft, is called up to join the bullpen.

Up next:LOOKING BACK

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