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Where does Nelson Cruz rank among Rays’ biggest trade acquisitions?

Rays Tales | Getting Fred McGriff and Vinny Castilla seemed like big deals. Acquiring Ben Zobrist and Scott Kazmir turned out to be. Plus, rumblings.
Have the Rays every made a bigger acquisition than Nelson Cruz?
Have the Rays every made a bigger acquisition than Nelson Cruz? [ Associated Press ]
Published Jul. 23

CLEVELAND — The Rays have traded for some big-name players.

But have they every made a bigger acquisition than Nelson Cruz?

In terms of name recognition, maybe. They have brought in some familiar faces and star quality players before, such as Fred McGriff, Dwight Gooden, Vinny Castilla, Tino Martinez, Denard Span, Rey Ordonez and Sergio Romo.

Though age can’t be the delineator, since Cruz is 41, most of the veterans the Rays acquired over the years were looking back at their most successful years. But Cruz was acquired Thursday because he is still having them, hitting .294 with 19 homers, 50 RBIs and a .907 OPS in 85 games for the Twins this season, and averaging 45 homers and 119 RBIs over 162 games during the last five years.

The Rays also have acquired players as prospects or unheralded youngsters who established themselves in Tampa Bay to reach some level of prominence. Players such as Ben Zobrist, Scott Kazmir, Matt Joyce, Chris Archer, Austin Meadows, Tyler Glasnow and Nick Anderson. (Jason Bartlett was a bit more established but also grew into a bigger role with the Rays.)

Here’s a look at some of their bigger deals:

Name recognition

Tino Martinez and Fred McGriff spent time with the Devil Rays at the end of their careers, but both had MVP-caliber seasons for other teams in the 1990s.
Tino Martinez and Fred McGriff spent time with the Devil Rays at the end of their careers, but both had MVP-caliber seasons for other teams in the 1990s. [ MONICA HERNDON | Tampa Bay Times ]

Among the established players acquired by the Rays in trade, it’s hard to top one of the first, the 1997 expansion-draft deal to get McGriff from the Braves for $20,000. McGriff, with the added bonus of being a Tampa native (and the favorite player of then-Rays GM Chuck LaMar’s son Charlie), hit 97 homers for the Devil Rays in 550 games over 3½ seasons before being dealt to the Cubs. Castilla, acquired from Colorado to team with McGriff, Greg Vaughn and Jose Canseco in the misnamed “Hit Show,” had the chance to have a huge impact but was a total bust who never seemed to be in Tampa Bay. None of the others did much wearing Rays purple, green or blue.

Raise ‘em up right

Ben Zobrist was a nondescript Double-A shortstop in the Astros organization when the Rays traded before him.
Ben Zobrist was a nondescript Double-A shortstop in the Astros organization when the Rays traded before him.

Going by baseball-reference.com’s overall WAR rating, the player who had the most impact for the Rays after being acquired in trade was Zobrist. A nondescript Astros Double-A shortstop when the Rays got him and pitcher Mitch Talbot from Houston for future political commentator Aubrey Huff, Zobrist turned into an All-Star and the game-changing model for the modern-day utility man. A not-so-close second is Kazmir, who was acquired from the Mets with a bit more hype attached, and eventually lived up to it, making two All-Star teams as a Ray. Archer is also up there, debuting as a Ray, with two All-Star selections and top five finishes in rookie of the year and Cy Young voting. Plus, for what he got the Rays in return — Meadows, Glasnow and prospect Shane Baz.

Deadline deals

Veteran reliever Dan Wheeler helped set the stage for the Rays' breakthrough season in 2008.
Veteran reliever Dan Wheeler helped set the stage for the Rays' breakthrough season in 2008. [ BORCHUCK, JAMES | St. Petersburg Times ]

Most of the big names in deadline deals involving the Rays are being shipped out, such as David Price and Archer. Among those coming in, Meadows has been an All-Star and Glasnow would have been if not injured, that wasn’t known at the time of the July 31, 2018 deal. Tommy Pham was acquired the same day, as the Rays were otherwise selling, and he didn’t last long. Reliever Chad Qualls helped some in 2010. The Rays went for quantity over quality in July 2017, adding Romo, Dan Jennings, Lucas Duda and Steve Cishek. Getting Anderson at the 2019 deadline from the Marlins was huge; other acquisitions Trevor Richards, Jesus Aguilar and Eric Sogard not so much. Unheralded at the time but often cited now by former manager Joe Maddon as major factors, were the July 2007 acquisitions of veteran relievers Dan Wheeler and Grant Balfour, setting the stage for the 2008 breakthrough.

And then there were these

The Rays acquired manager Lou Piniella in a trade with the Mariners for All-Star Randy Winn.
The Rays acquired manager Lou Piniella in a trade with the Mariners for All-Star Randy Winn.

Arguably, among the biggest names the Rays traded for was Lou Piniella, shipping All-Star Randy Winn to Seattle for the rights to sign the fiery Tampa native to manage in 2003. The Rays also traded for another of their managers, though Kevin Cash was a 27-year-old Triple-A/big-league backup catcher when they got him from Toronto in a December 2004 deal.

Rays rumblings

The Rays next week will make their first appearance on ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball since July 6, 2014, their first at home since July 17, 2011, and just their 10th in 24 seasons. … In addition to the historic achievement of the first all-female broadcast crew, Tuesday’s YouTube presentation did include some entertaining inside access, such as a mic’d-up Brandon Lowe discussing the proper size of marshmallows for s’mores and since-traded Rich Hill doing play-by-play on a home run. … Three Rays made Keith Law’s updated top 50 prospects list for The Athletic: pitcher Shane Baz, 4; outfielder Josh Lowe, 32; infielder Xavier Edwards, 50. … The unofficial no-hitter from the Aug. 7 doubleheader stands, as the Indians didn’t appeal the scoring decision on the third-inning ball hit by Oscar Mercado that was first ruled a hit then changed an inning later to an error on third baseman Wander Franco. … The NL Player of the Week award was the latest indication of the remarkable impact Willy Adames has had on the Brewers, hitting .302 with 11 homers, 38 RBIs and a .945 OPS in 53 games (through Thursday) since being traded May 21, noting among other things the lighting was at issue at the Trop, a concern he voiced previously. … When the Jays host the Royals Friday, it will be their first game in Toronto since Sept. 29, 2019, vs. the Rays.

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