Tomorrow, the Rays will become the first major league team since 1999 when the Baltimore Orioles played a game on the small but noteworthy island nation to our south. It will be a truly historic day, with many dignitaries, including the President of the United States, in attendance. The Rays have sent almost all of their regular players, as well as some already that have been assigned to minor league camp to take part in the game. Among that latter group is Cuban native Dayron Varona, who had defected from his homeland in order to pursue a baseball career in the US. Varona will actually be batting leadoff for the Rays during the game to make his homecoming that much sweeter.
Varona however, is not the first Cuban born player to join the Rays organization. He follows in the footsteps of several very successful major leaguers. Among them are Rolando Arrojo, Danys Baez, Jose Canseco, Yunel Escobar, and Rey Ordonez.
Arrojo chose to come to the Rays during their inaugural season, drawn by the opportunity he'd have to pitch in the majors immediately, and he put up a stellar rookie season, earning all-star honors. However, the following year, the league had adjusted and Arrojo's performance suffered. Following the season, he was traded (along with Aaron Ledesma) to the Rockies for slugger Vinny Castilla. Arrojo would later be flipped to the Red Sox, but only lasted a few more years in the majors, and was out of the league by 2003.
|w RAYS (1998-1999)||21||24||4.23||4.68||17.5%||8.4%||.269||44||56/56||342.2||4.4|
Danys Baez was very close to signing with the Rays when he originally defected, but instead chose to sign with the Cleveland Indians. After somewhat failing as a starter, he was converted into a relief role and thrived, becoming one of the best set-up pitchers in the league during the early 2000's. Following a great year in 2003, he signed with Tampa Bay and proceeded to put up consecutive solid years as the team's closer, and eventually helped land the team Edwin Jackson. Following the trade, Baez floated around the majors from team to team and eventually retired after 2011.
|w RAYS (2004-2005)||9||8||3.21||4.22||17.1%||9.8%||.236||13||129/129||140.1||0.9|
The embattled Jose Canseco came to the Rays during the twilight of his phenomenal, headline filled career and teamed up with Fred McGriff to tear up the American League during the first half of the 1999. During his career, Canseco received numerous accolades, such as being the AL MVP. He also became the first player to ever have a 40-40 season. However, following injuries and the league's steroid crackdown, he was out of the game after 2001.
|w RAYS (1999-2000)||.384||.272||.373||.525||43||26.1%||12.9%||125||3.2||174|
The Rays acquired Yunel Escobar following the 2012 season to shore up the short stop position and Escobar did so swimmingly. He did so well in fact that the team signed him to an extension, after which Escobar's production fell off a cliff. So far he has had a productive career, but his production plummets almost every other season. Entering 2016, he will be a part of his fourth organization in two years.
|w RAYS (2013-2014)||.305||.257||.328||.354||16||12.0%||9.0%||96||3.5||290|
Rey Ordonez dazzled Mets fans for years, making awe inspiring plays almost every game. However, he overstayed his welcome there as injuries impeded his defense and he provided little to no offense. Meanwhile, off the field comments hammered the final nails in the coffin of Rey-O's career in New York. He moved on to Tampa Bay in 2003, and got off to an excellent start, however, he suffered a terrible injury that effectively ended his career.
|w RAYS (2003)||.347||.316||.328||.487||3||9.7%||1.6%||112||0.6||34|
An honorable mention to this list is Eduardo Perez, who wasn't born in Cuba, but his father was. His father happens to be Hall of Famer, Tony Perez. The younger Perez enjoyed a lengthy career in the majors, journeying from team to team. In 2004, his career brought him to Tampa Bay. During 2004, his season ended badly as he tore his ACL rounding second, vying for a triple. He then returned in 2005 and proceeded to blast a monstrous walk off home run during a brawl filled series against Boston. After the 2006 season, he retired and has since been involved in coaching and broadcasting games. He'll actually be one of the men in the booth calling the action on Tuesday.
|w RAYS (2004-2005)||.359||.246||.353||.467||12||16.8%||12.9%||121||-0.1||90|