The 2006 Tampa Bay Devil Rays were't a very good baseball team. They trotted out a starting rotation that included Casey Fossum, Tim Corcoran, and Jae Weong Seo. The bullpen was a who's who of turds. Tyler Walker led the team in saves, while Brian Meadows and Seth McClung were hot on his trail, while the meltdown of Chad Orvella was complete. The Devil Rays trotted out their share schleppy's, but there was some young talent that was starting to develop. Scott Kazmir showed he had the stuff to be an Ace, while a young rookie named James Shields got his first taste of Major League Baseball.
The offense had some young talent like Carl Crawford and Rocco Baldelli that enjoyed some success, while BJ Upton and Ben Zobrist saw their first struggles. In short, their was some young talent on the horizon, but too many "replacement" players for the Devil Rays to compete. A few months after the Devil Rays finished 61-101, Andrew Friedman would make his gravest mistake as a Front Office executive. He didn't keep Josh Hamilton as a member of the Devil Rays.
There are a variety of different viewpoints as it relates to Josh Hamilton and his exodus from the Devil Rays. Some misinformed fans immediately moan about the Rays letting him go whenever he goes on one of his benders. No, not one of those benders, one of these benders. They don't know the circumstances of his departure, and they don't care. Another segment says that it is 20/20 hindsight to critique Friedman for not protecting him. He hadn't played since 2002, and there was no way to know he would rebound the way he would, or even be able to stick with another MLB franchise for an entire season. I fall in a different camp.
Prior to the 2004 season, I asked Carl Crawford how good Josh Hamilton was. He said, "He's the white Ken Griffey Jr." This was a MLB player talking about a minor league guy that had been suspended for for drug abuse. That's the type of talent Josh Hamilton had. Everyone in baseball knew it. The Devil Rays had stuck with Hamilton through all of his troubles, yet when he is finally able to play again, the Devil Rays decided to roll the dice. And this is the part that is so mind boggling.
It's not the fact that the Devil Rays chose to keep the likes of Marcos Carvajal, Wes Bankston, Brian Stokes, Jon Switzer, Shinji Mori, Juan Salas, or Shawn Riggans. While they were all terrible, those can be forgiven. But the cases of Travis Harper and Damon Hollins are what is most mind boggling. All the Devil Rays had to do was place Hamilton on the 40 man roster, yet as the deadline to set the roster came in mid November, Andrew Friedman chose to leave Hamilton off, while leaving Harper and Hollins. The Rule 5 draft where Hamilton was selected occurred on December 7th, and that same day the Devil Rays dropped Travis Harper from the 40 man. Less than a week later, they released Hollins.
Why didn't Friedman just release Harper or Hollins prior to the draft and add Hamilton? My beef is that with a team going nowhere in 2007, they could risk a 40 man spot on a talent like Josh Hamilton. Again, everyone in baseball knew what he was capable of. There were some terrible players on the 40 man for the Devil Rays that season, and all they had to do was substitute Hamilton for one of those cast of characters I mentioned earlier. Of course, the good news is Elliot Johnson was added to the 40 man instead of Josh Hamilton that offseason.