Rays' Top 5 designated hitters: Toribio's take

May 18th, 2020

No one loves a good debate quite like baseball fans, and with that in mind, we asked each of our beat reporters to rank the top five players by position in the history of their franchise, based on their career while playing for that club. These rankings are for fun and debate purposes only … if you don’t agree with the order, participate in the Twitter poll to vote for your favorite at this position.

Here is Juan Toribio’s ranking of the top five designated hitters in Rays history. Next week: Right-handed starters.

Tampa Bay's all-time team: C | 1B | 2B | 3B | SS | LF | CF | RF

1. Greg Vaughn, 2000-02
Key fact: All-Star in ‘01

Over the past decade, the Rays haven’t pursued many players who are strictly designated hitters. The organization’s philosophy has shifted toward having players who can play multiple positions on the field, creating an advantage with versatility. But in their early years, the Rays pursued older power hitters who were well-suited for the DH role.

That’s where Vaughn comes in.

Vaughn signed a three-year, $34 million deal in 1999, which landed him paychecks until Dec. 31, 2007, due to deferred payments in his contract. That ended up hurting the Rays in future years, but Vaughn lived up to the contract on the field.

In three seasons, Vaughn hit 60 home runs and collected 185 RBIs. In 2000, he had his best campaign with the Rays, hitting 28 home runs and posting an .864 OPS. The following year, Vaughn hit 24 home runs and earned his fourth career All-Star selection.

2. , 2003-08
Key fact: Finished third in American League Rookie of the Year Award voting in ‘05

Gomes is one of the most liked players in franchise history. He brought energy during his time with the Rays, especially during their incredible 2008 season, and was a productive player for the organization.

Gomes became a regular in 2005, immediately showing that he belonged. He hit 21 home runs and finished third in the AL Rookie of the Year Award voting behind Oakland’s Huston Street and New York’s Robinson Cano.

In 2006, Gomes became more of a designated hitter, starting 101 games in that spot. And he followed up his impressive rookie season with another 20-homer campaign.

Gomes provided the Rays with a quality bat for multiple years, including in 2008, when it was needed the most as they made a run to win the AL pennant. That’s why he gets the nod over Jose Canseco for the No. 2 spot.

3. , 1999-2000
Key fact: All-Star in ‘99

Of all the players on this list, Canseco had the best single season by a Rays designated hitter in 1999. He smashed 34 home runs, drove in 95 runs and had a .931 OPS. That production helped Canseco earn an All-Star berth, becoming the first Tampa Bay position player to earn the honor.

However, the Rays traded Canseco to the Yankees during the 2000 season, which hurts his case on this list. If he had played another full season for Tampa Bay, he may have ended up as the best DH in club history.

4. , 2011
Key fact: Played 150 games in ‘11

Damon played only one season with the Rays, but he gets the nod over the other options because he played a big role in the club reaching the postseason in 2011. Damon played 150 games that season, hitting 16 home runs and driving in 73 runs. He provided Tampa Bay with another player with championship experience.

5. , 2018
Key fact: Hit 30 home runs in ‘18

Cron turned out to be a great find for the Rays in 2018. The first baseman/designated hitter was acquired on a discount from the Angels, and he responded by hitting a team-high 30 home runs in his lone season with the Rays. However, Tampa Bay made the tough decision to designate Cron for assignment the following offseason.

Honorable mentions
Paul Sorrento (1998-99), the Rays' first DH, received some consideration, but he came up just short. ... Cliff Floyd (2008) played a key role on the '08 team, but he didn’t play enough games and didn’t produce enough to make the top five. ... Willy Aybar (2008-10) and Luke Scott (2012-13) also had solid stints with the Rays.