Daniel Shirey-US PRESSWIRE
The Tampa Bay franchise has been around for 15 seasons so far, but there's still no clear answer.
Despite his adamant denials, rumors have persisted over the last 14 years that Wade Boggs agreed to sell his Hall of Fame plaque to Vince Naimoli and the then-Tampa Bay Devil Rays. If those rumors were true, and had he been successful, Boggs would have gone in as the first Devil Ray/Ray in Cooperstown. Alas, the Hall of Fame got hip to this most highly capitalistic of hat-selection methods, and thus the Rays have been devoid of a representative in baseball's hallowed Hall.
In fact, aside from Boggs, they haven't even had a Hall of Famer play a game for them, as Roberto Alomar retired before he got out of Spring Training in 2005. That said, their current drought is no cause for alarm. The Rays are only 15 seasons old after all, a shorter time-span than the average Hall of Fame career. The Angels have been around for 52 seasons and don't have a single representative in the Hall of Fame with the circle A on his hat. Nolan Ryan went in an Astro, Rod Carew and Bert Blyleven were considered Twins, and even Don Sutton went in as a Dodger. What's more, at this rate the Angels might not have anybody until Mike Trout retires. The Astros, who debuted the very next season, haven't had anybody either, though that should change once the BBWAA rectifies the slights to Craig Biggio and Jeff Bagwell.
So, who will the Rays' first representative in the Hall of Fame be? The smart money would probably be on Evan Longoria, who has 130 homers through his age-26 season, a Rookie of the Year award, two Gold Gloves, two top-10 MVP finishes, and three All-Star nods in five seasons. He's accumulated somewhere just shy of 30 Wins Above Replacement (BB-Ref version) in that span. Thanks to his massive contract extension, Longoria is under Rays control for another eleven seasons, until he's 37 years old in 2023 -- if things go according to plan, there will be no way to think of Evan Longoria as anything but a Ray.
Or course, it's also possible that the Rays' financial constraints could prompt a trade of their superstar third baseman, just as it did James Shields and Matt Garza. Longoria is a tremendously valuable commodity, still very young, and will probably be underpaid relative to his value for most (if not all) of his team-friendly extension. The Hall of Fame electorate has also historically been dismissive of third basemen. Sluggers like Mathews and Schmidt have had little trouble getting in, and the same for high-average, high hit-count guys like Brett and Boggs, but Ron Santo had to wait for the Veteran's Committee to acknowledge him posthumously, and Graig Nettles, Buddy Bell, and Ken Boyer remain on the outside. Even outstanding candidates like Scott Rolen and Adrian Beltre are no sure bets to be inducted when their time comes. Consider also that Tampa is a relatively tiny media market that gets little attention nationally, and the deck seems stacked against Longoria.
Let's say, then, it's not him. Shields is already 30 and won't be around long enough to build a case. The remarkable Ben Zobrist didn't really get started until he was 28 and often plays a position (second base) where it's easy to get banged up. It's far too early to predict that kind of career and success for Desmond Jennings or Matt Moore.
Now, it could be David Price. Through his age-26 season, Price has a Cy Young Award, a phenomenal 3.16 ERA, and gets a lot of strikeouts. If pitcher wins are actually still important by the time Price retires I know we'll all be seriously disappointed, but just in case he also has a goodly number of those, as well as the sixth-best winning percentage since baseball integrated among guys with more than 50 decisions. Perhaps most importantly, aside from a sore shoulder that caused him to miss one start last year, Price has no injury history to speak of.
That said, pitchers are inherently fragile, and with Price going year-to-year in arbitration, due for a huge raise in 2014, and ready to bolt before 2016, there's an excellent chance that Price gets traded next offseason to keep the Rays' player-development machine fed. If so, he'll potentially spend the majority of his career outside of Florida.
If it's not Longoria and it's not Price, maybe the answer is actually already on the ballot. Fred McGriff ultimately played about four full seasons at the Trop, more than he did anywhere else but Atlanta. McGriff is perceived as clean despite playing with 26 players connected with PEDs, including Jose Canseco, as well as a mid-30s career resurgence that began with the Canseco-led Rays. With the current climate in Hall of Fame voting, a player like McGriff could see his vote totals rise as BBWAA resistance to perceived users becomes more entrenched. McGriff has 11 more seasons on the ballot and received almost a quarter of available votes last year, plenty of time for his support to swell.