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20 years of Rays: Worst signings, trades and deals

20/20 Vision: Worst moves in Tampa Bay Rays history.
Devil Rays general manager Chuck LaMar, left, and Josh Hamilton, right, hold up Hamilton's jersey after Tampa Bay made him the first overall pick in the 1999 draft. [Times files]
Devil Rays general manager Chuck LaMar, left, and Josh Hamilton, right, hold up Hamilton's jersey after Tampa Bay made him the first overall pick in the 1999 draft. [Times files]
Published Mar. 24, 2018
Updated Mar. 25, 2018

With the Rays planning a year-long celebration of their 20th anniversary, the Times is taking a look back – with 20 lists of 20 things about those first 20 seasons.

Here are the 20 worst moves in Rays history:

1. Stuck with 1999 top pick OF Josh Hamilton through the disappointment of multiple drug suspensions and got him back on the field, only to massively miscalculate and leave him unprotected in the December 2006 Rule 5 draft. Hamilton became a five-time All-Star and AL MVP with Texas, which twice beat the Rays in the playoffs.

2. Drafted Tim Beckham first overall in 2008 rather than Buster Posey, as you may have heard.

3. Made a 1997 expansion draft deal to take young OF Bobby Abreu, who went on to live up to his promise as an impact bat, and swap him for Phillies SS Kevin Stocker, who didn't do much.

4. Came off the 2008 World Series and signed Pat Burrell to a two-year, $16 million deal to add a big bat in a DH role he didn't want, and it showed as he hit just .218 with 16 homers and 77 RBIs and was released six weeks into 2010.

5. Built the 2000 season around The Hit Show, which took on an added letter on the middle word when it failed miserably. They traded inaugural All-Star RHP Rolando Arrojo (to whom they had given a $7 million signing bonus) for Vinny Castilla, and signed Greg Vaughn to a four-year, $34 million deal to join Jose Canseco and Fred McGriff. They looked good, but injuries to Canseco and Castilla limited them to 70 homers total and the team didn't win any more games than the year before. After hiking the payroll from $37 million to $60 million plus, they reversed direction and started slashing.

The Devil Rays’ “Hit Show”, from left, Jose Canseco, Vinny Castilla, Greg Vaughn and Fred McGriff. [Times files (2000)]
The Devil Rays’ “Hit Show”, from left, Jose Canseco, Vinny Castilla, Greg Vaughn and Fred McGriff. [Times files (2000)]

6. Drafted RHP Dewon Brazelton with the No. 3 overall pick in 2001. Yep, third overall.

7. Signed prep pitcher Matt White for a then-amateur record $10.2 million bonus as a draft loophole free agent in 1996, and he never pitched in the majors due to injuries.

8. Got 2014 first-round pick INF Trea Turner from San Diego as part of a nine-player deal featuring OF Wil Myers, but then flipped him (and RHP Joe Ross) to Washington to fill an immediate need by getting OF Steven Souza Jr., who was traded this spring.

9. Took LHP Tony Saunders with the top pick in the November 1997 expansion draft only to see him — horrifyingly — twice break his arm throwing pitches.

10. Traded All-Star OF Randy Winn for the rights to bring Lou Piniella home in 2003 to manage the team into contention but didn't spend for good-enough teams to compete, leading to acrimony and eventually a negotiated departure by the end of 2005.

Lou Piniella watches from the dugout during a Devil Rays game against the Red Sox in 2005. [JAMES BORCHUCK | Times]
Lou Piniella watches from the dugout during a Devil Rays game against the Red Sox in 2005. [JAMES BORCHUCK | Times]

11. Signed RHP Juan Guzman to a two-year, $12.5 million deal after also negotiating with RHP Aaron Sele and saw Guzman get five outs in his 2000 debut before leaving with a career-ending shoulder injury.

12. Signed OF/DH Manny Ramirez as part of a package deal to get Johnny Damon for the 2011 season and spent all spring planning on Manny being Manny only to see him "retire" after five games amid reports of another failed drug test.

13. Had a first-time owner in Vince Naimoli hire a first-time GM in Chuck LaMar hire a first-time manager in Larry Rothschild to get things started with no experience. The only member of the original senior management team who had done his job in MLB was PR man Rick Vaughn.

14. Failed to find a way to keep manager Joe Maddon in October 2014 after the departure of Andrew Friedman triggered an out clause in his contract. (This would be higher but Maddon had a say in the outcome as well, and nine years was a long time, and they do like Kevin Cash, his  replacement).

15. Dumped C Stephen Vogt off the 2013 roster to make room for Shelley Duncan as a temporary fill-in for injured DH Luke Scott and saw Vogt became a starter and All-Star with Oakland. (Also let C Robinson Chirinos go.)

16. Drafted Tampa native Elijah Dukes (third round 2002) knowing he had behavioral and discipline issues, then eventually dumped him in a trade with Washington because he had behavioral and discipline issues.

Rays executive vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman, left, speaks with Elijah Dukes in the dugout before a 2007 game. [Times files]
Rays executive vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman, left, speaks with Elijah Dukes in the dugout before a 2007 game. [Times files]

17. Sold for $50,000 to Kansas City in June 2004 an infielder/outfielder they had claimed three weeks earlier from Baltimore, which had taken him from Pittsburgh in the previous Rule 5 draft, named Jose Bautista.

18. Signed back RHP Grant Balfour to a two-year, $12 million deal for 2014 after a deal with the Orioles fell apart over a failed physical, but he struggled ended up being released in May 2015.

19. Released veteran RHP John Burkett in spring training 2000; he went to Atlanta and became an All-Star.

20. It's too early to say it didn't work out — and OF Denard Span might end having great year and INF Christian Arroyo an All-Star career and dumping the money was wise — but it just seemed wrong to trade 3B Evan Longoria.

Check out the rest of Marc Topkin's coverage here, on:

20 words on the 20th anniversary
20 numbers to remember
The 20 weirdest moments
Tampa Bay's 20 'Forrest Gump moments'
20 years of Rays and 'the things we've loved' about them
Greatest moments in franchise history
Best signings, trades and deals
20 players who surprisingly finished with them
20 players you forgot ever played for them
20 most notable draft picks
20 Things we've hated over the years
The 20 best players
The 20 best quotes
Recounting the 20 most memorable injuries
The 20 worst players
Ranking every season