Advertisement
  1. Sports
  2. /
  3. Rays

One decision that could have changed baseball history in Tampa Bay

John Romano | How might history have changed had the Rays chosen Buster Posey instead of Tim Beckham with the No. 1 pick in the 2008 draft?
The Giants had never won a World Series in San Francisco before Buster Posey arrived. In his first five seasons in the Bay Area, the Giants won the World Series three times.
The Giants had never won a World Series in San Francisco before Buster Posey arrived. In his first five seasons in the Bay Area, the Giants won the World Series three times. [ THEARON W. HENDERSON | Getty Images North America ]
Published Nov. 8, 2021

ST. PETERSBURG — And so we have reached the final pages in the story of the best player the Rays never had.

Buster Posey announced his retirement a few days ago, finishing a career that will likely end up in Cooperstown and could have begun in Tampa Bay.

Now it is true baseball is an analytics-driven business based on numbers, but it is wholly dependent on individual players responsible for producing those numbers. In other words, the acquisition of players is often a crapshoot.

And over the past 15 years, no team has been better than the Rays in terms of identifying talent and maximizing wins for every dollar invested. The Rays may spend like the Marlins and Pirates, but they win like the Red Sox and Dodgers.

Given that backdrop, Posey may be Tampa Bay’s greatest miscalculation.

This isn’t Albert Pujols, who escaped the attention of every scouting director in baseball for 12 rounds in the 1999 draft. And this isn’t Manny Machado or Gerrit Cole or some other free agent the Rays could never afford. This isn’t just some exercise in fantasy management.

Posey was in Tampa Bay’s grasp — until the Rays decided to put him back on the shelf to take Tim Beckham.

It was the summer of 2008, and Stu Sternberg’s management team had taken over baseball operations only a couple of years earlier. The Rays were in the unusual position of leading the American League East while simultaneously holding the No. 1 pick in the draft.

In that sense, the ‘08 draft didn’t attract the same fanfare as it might have in other years. The Rays were in Boston battling the Red Sox for first place — the day of the draft was the day of the infamous Coco Crisp-James Shields brawl on the mound — so our attention was divided in Tampa Bay.

Buster Posey, speaking at a news conference announcing his retirement from baseball, was one of the most accomplished and beloved players in San Francisco Giants history.
Buster Posey, speaking at a news conference announcing his retirement from baseball, was one of the most accomplished and beloved players in San Francisco Giants history. [ THEARON W. HENDERSON | Getty Images North America ]

All we knew is the Rays had apparently narrowed their decision down to a catcher at Florida State and a high school shortstop in Georgia. Around the rest of baseball, there didn’t seem to be a consensus.

ESPN.com and Baseball Prospectus thought the Rays would take Posey. Baseball America and MLB.com had them taking Beckham. Rays execs said they didn’t decide until the day before the draft.

And it’s not an exaggeration to say that decision changed the course of baseball history.

The Rays looked at Posey and saw a safe, solid pick. Then-general manager Andrew Friedman later told me they were not far off in their assessment of Posey. He pretty much became the player they expected.

Want more than just the box score?

Want more than just the box score?

Subscribe to our free Rays Report newsletter

Columnist John Romano will send the latest Rays insights and analysis to keep you updated weekly during the season.

You’re all signed up!

Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.

Explore all your options

Where they misfired was on Beckham. They saw a lithe body with a quick bat and decided he had a higher upside than Posey. He was admittedly a bigger risk but had a greater potential reward.

By now, you know that’s not the way it turned out.

Beckham had a few seasons in the big leagues with the Rays but has since bounced around with a handful of organizations. Now 31, he spent the entire 2021 season with the White Sox Triple-A team in Charlotte.

Meanwhile, Posey became one of the most accomplished and beloved players in San Francisco history. It’s not just that he won the National League Rookie of the Year award in 2010, the MVP in 2012 and made seven All-Star teams. It’s that he helped change the legacy of a franchise.

The Giants had been in San Francisco since 1958 with a parade of Hall of Famers such as Willie Mays, Barry Bonds, Willie McCovey, Orlando Cepeda, Juan Marichal and Gaylord Perry, but they had never won a World Series in the Bay Area until the year Posey arrived.

So, could that have been Tampa Bay?

Obviously, that’s a question that can never be answered. It’s also a question that fans in Pittsburgh, Kansas City and Baltimore could be asking, as well. Once the Rays decided to pass on Posey, he dropped to No. 5 in the draft where the Giants selected him.

Given Tampa Bay’s limited resources financially, it’s hard to imagine Posey getting a nine-year, $167 million contract the way he did in San Francisco. Like Evan Longoria, David Price and Carl Crawford before him, Posey would probably have been traded or left via free agency after five seasons, or so.

Of course, the Giants won the World Series three times during the first five seasons of Posey’s career.

John Romano can be reached at jromano@tampabay.com. Follow @romano_tbtimes.

• • •

Sign up for the Rays Report weekly newsletter to get fresh perspectives on the Tampa Bay Rays and the rest of the majors from sports columnist John Romano.

Never miss out on the latest with the Bucs, Rays, Lightning, Florida college sports and more. Follow our Tampa Bay Times sports team on Twitter and Facebook.

Advertisement

This site no longer supports your current browser. Please use a modern and up-to-date browser version for the best experience.

Chrome Firefox Safari Edge