The 2024 Baseball Hall of Fame ballot has been announced, and among the 26 former players listed there are a few who played for the Rays.
The most notable among the Rays contingent is James Shields, who is appearing for the first time on the ballot; alongside him are Jose Bautista and Manny Ramirez, both of whom had very short stints with Tampa Bay and then Bobby Abreu, who had the shortest tenure of them all.
The fact that James Shields managed to make his way onto the Hall of Fame ballot is an amazing accomplishment considering how his career as a professional baseball player was nearly caput before it had a chance to take off.
Prior to being drafted out of high school, scouts figured Shields as one of the best prep arms in the country and thought he could even be taken in the first couple of rounds. However, leading up to the draft and during the time scouts tour the country making their final preparations, Shields was laid up with a back injury. This led to Shields plummeting down draft charts and allowing Tampa Bay to take him in the 16th round.
Shields quickly showcased why scouts thought he could have been a potential first round pick as he performed well. Unfortunately, he also showcased why teams were hesitant to use a top pick on him as he dealt with numerous injuries, including a shoulder issue that cost him the entirety of the 2002 season.
During his time in the minor leagues, Shields always impressed but struggled to gain a ‘wow’ factor that would enhance his status as a prospect and he seemed destined for a future bullpen role due to his inability to pitch at full strength deep into seasons.
Then in 2005, James Shields developed what would be his best pitch; a pitch that is forever engrained in the minds of Rays fans that watched him on the mound. James Shields developed his change-up.
The change-up led to Shields finally being recognized as a decent prospect (peaking at #10 overall in the Rays system by Baseball America) and ultimately led to him receiving a call-up to the Rays starting rotation in 2006.
Shields didn’t look back and became a fixture on the Rays staff from 2006 through the end of 2012 when he was eventually traded to the Kansas City Royals, with whom he also enjoyed plenty of success. He then signed as a free agent with the San Diego Padres, who eventually traded him to the Chicago White Sox (for some kid named Tatis). Unfortunately, father time came for Shields’ career and his final years were at best unremarkable.
A model of durability during his MLB career, Shields pitched in 12 seasons from 2007 through 2018 and averaged 32 starts and 208 innings pitched per year during that span.
Overall, Shields pitched from 2006 through 2018, finishing with a record of 145-139 with a 4.01 ERA | 4.17 FIP | 20.3 K% | 6.8 BB% over 2616 innings pitched, accruing 32.3 fWAR. Over his career, Shields was named to a single All-Star Game, but received Cy Young and Most Valuable Player votes in two different seasons.
The Rays selected Abreu with their third selection (6th overall) in the 1997 expansion draft from the Houston Astros, but immediately traded him to the Philadelphia Phillies. This was a pre-arranged deal for the Devil Rays and Phillies as Tampa Bay GM Chuck LaMar really wanted Kevin Stocker and the Phillies really wanted Abreu.
Abreu went on to have an excellent career, hitting .291/.395/.475 with 288 homeruns, 400 stolen bases, 2,470 base hits and accruing 59.8 fWAR. Along the way, Abreu played for the Astros, Phillies, Yankees, Angels, Dodgers, and the Mets; he garnered a Gold Glove, a Silver Slugger, two All-Star selections, and received MVP votes in seven different seasons.
Jose Bautista is remembered for being one of the most fearsome hitters of the early 2010’s. However, it took him a while to find his offensive footing and unfortunately for the Rays, they employed him during this obscure time of his career. Bautista was a Pirate and then a Rule 5 selection by the Orioles, and then was claimed by the Devil Rays and used primarily as a pinch runner, and then later claimed by the Royals, who traded him to the Mets, who then immediately traded him back to the Pirates; this all happened in the span of seven months.
Bautista then served as a utility player for Pittsburgh for several unremarkable seasons, in which he did display plenty of power, but that was it. He eventually made his way to Toronto and that’s where he became a star. From 2010 to 2017, he averaged 34 homeruns a season, including a 54 homerun barrage in 2010.
He finished his career having hit .247/.361/.475 with 344 homeruns, 70 stolen bases, 1,496 hits, and accruing 35.3 fWAR. Along the way, Bautista played for the Orioles, Devil Rays, Royals, Pirates, Blue Jays, Braves, Mets, and Phillies; he garnered three Silver Sluggers and six All-Star Game selections and received votes for the MVP award in four different seasons.
One of the most prolific sluggers and controversial figures in baseball history, Manny Ramirez was absolutely incredible offensively.
The prime of Ramirez’s career came during the span from 1999 to 2006, most of which was with the Boston Red Sox. During this time, Ramirez hit .322/.424/.626 with 316 HR (nearly 40 HR per season) and accrued 37.6 fWAR. All the while, Ramirez’s behavior continued to infuriate all of those around him, who were only willing to put up with his shenanigans due to his performance. Finally, Boston traded Ramirez in 2008 and he journeyed to several organizations before finally signing with the Rays in 2011. Unfortunately, his Rays tenure lasted just five games as he would be suspended for performance-enhancing drugs and instead of serving his suspension, Ramirez chose to retire.
In the end, Ramirez hit .312/.411/.585 with 555 homeruns, 38 stolen bases, and 2,574 base hits and accrued 66.3 fWAR. Along the way, he played for the Guardians, Red Sox, Dodgers, White Sox, and the Rays; he finished 2nd in the Rookie of the Year award voting, won a batting title, garnered nine Sliver Sluggers, and 12 All-Star Game selections and also received votes for the MVP award in 11 different seasons.