In case you missed it, MLBTR founder Tim Dierkes and I are gearing up for a mock expansion draft that will kick off Thursday at 1 p.m. CT. On the eve of our event, I figured it would be worthwhile to go back to 1997 – the last time there was a real expansion draft in Major League Baseball – and specifically focus on the first 10 players whom the Devil Rays and Diamondbacks took off the board. For the most, real standouts were hard to come by near the top of that draft (here are all 70 selections if you’re interested). Maybe Tim’s Portland Lumberjacks and my Las Vegas Vipers will stumble on more gems Thursday.
1.) Tony Saunders, LHP, Devil Rays:
- Saunders, then 23, was coming off a rookie year with the Marlins in which he pitched to a 4.61 ERA/4.46 FIP across 111 1/3 innings. Little did he or Tampa Bay know his career wouldn’t extend much beyond then. Saunders made 40 starts and tossed 234 1/3 innings of 4.53 ERA/4.51 FIP from 1998-99, but he broke his arm (warning: that video is hard to watch) on the mound in the second of those seasons and broke it again while rehabbing the next year. He had to retire after that.
2.) Brian Anderson, LHP, Diamondbacks:
- Twenty-five at the time, Anderson was a former No. 3 overall pick (1993) who was coming off a run of unspectacular pitching with the Angels and Indians when he went from Cleveland to Arizona in the expansion draft. But Anderson did end up eating a lot of innings as a member of the Diamondbacks, with whom he recorded a 4.52 ERA/4.91 FIP with 4.39 K/9 and 1.64 BB/9 over 840 2/3 frames from 1998-2002. He was part of the D-backs’ only World Series-winning team in 2001.
3.) Jeff Suppan, RHP, Diamondbacks:
- Then 22, Suppan was coming off a so-so tenure in parts of three seasons with the Red Sox when the Diamondbacks selected him. He barely even pitched for the Diamondbacks, as the Royals purchased him in 1998 after Suppan totaled 66 innings of 6.68 ERA ball in Arizona. However, Suppan did go on to a long major league career. As a member of a few different teams, he combined for a 4.70 ERA/4.86 FIP and 2,542 2/3 innings from 1995-2012.
4.) Quinton McCracken, OF, Devil Rays:
- A former Rockie who was 27 when the expansion draft rolled around, McCracken got off to a decent start in Tampa Bay in 1998, when he batted .292/.335/.410 with seven home runs, 19 steals and 1.5 fWAR in 675 plate appearances. However, owing in part to a torn ACL, McCracken only mustered a line of .229/.308/.291 with one homer, six steals and minus-1.4 fWAR in 202 PA from 1999-2000. The Rays released him after that.
5.) Gabe Alvarez, 3B, Diamondbacks:
- Alvarez, whom Arizona took from San Diego, never played for Arizona. The Diamondbacks traded Alvarez, righty Matt Drews and infielder Joe Randa to the Tigers for third baseman Travis Fryman on the day of the expansion draft. None of Alvarez, Drews or Randa offered much impact in Detroit. Fryman didn’t play for Arizona, which quickly flipped him and lefty Tom Martin to Cleveland for third baseman Matt Williams.
6.) Bobby Abreu, OF, Devil Rays:
- This could have been an absolute steal for Tampa Bay, but the club squandered it. Abreu, whom the D-Rays got from the Astros, went on to enjoy at least a “Hall of Very Good career.” He played with a few teams (primarily the Phillies) from 1996-2014 and slashed .291/.395/.475 with 288 homers, 400 steals and 59.8 fWAR. None of his 10,081 plate appearances came as a Ray, though, as the club dealt him to the Phillies for shortstop Kevin Stocker on the day of the draft. Stocker took 804 PA with Tampa Bay from 1998-2000 and batted .250/.329/.347 with nine homers.
7.) Jorge Fabregas, C, Diamondbacks:
- The Diamondbacks wanted Fabregas so much that they were happy Tampa Bay took Abreu instead. Oops. Most recently a member of the White Sox when the Diamondbacks scooped him up, Fabregas had a short stint in Arizona. He amassed 167 PA with the team in 1998 and hit .199/.263/.245. The D-backs traded him and righty Willie Blair to the Mets that summer for RHP Nelson Figueroa and outfielder Bernard Gilkey.
8.) Miguel Cairo, INF, Devil Rays:
- Twenty-three when the Rays grabbed him from the Cubs, Cairo wound up lasting 17 seasons with several different clubs, though he was never much of an offensive threat. His OPS as a Devil Ray from 1998-2000 (.675) matched his lifetime mark.
9.) Karim Garcia, OF, Diamondbacks:
- This couldn’t have worked out better for Arizona, and it had little to do with Garcia’s contributions in its uniform. After swiping the then-22-year-old from the Dodgers, the Diamondbacks saw Garcia turn in a .222/.260/.381 line in 354 PA in 1998. The D-backs subsequently traded Garcia to the Tigers for outfielder Luis Gonzalez, who was largely outstanding in the desert from 1999-2006 and whose World Series-winning hit against Mariano Rivera and the Yankees in 2001 will always count as one of the most iconic moments in baseball history.
10.) Rich Butler, OF, Devil Rays:
- Butler joined Tampa Bay as a 24-year-old who played in all of seven games with the Blue Jays in 1997. He appeared in 79 as a Devil Ray from 1998-99, but he never played in the majors again after combining to hit .219/.274/.350 in 259 PA during those two seasons.