I've spent a lot of time lately dwelling on what makes Rays fandom unique, and one of those is simply the dynamics of the AL East. The Tampa Bay Rays play "Ball on a Budget" to such an extent that it's given the front office a bad rap, specifically when it comes to prospects. There is this lingering assumption that the Rays are completely hesitant to call up any prospect that might be good because he would then cost too much.
Being as frugal as possible has become such a strength for the Rays that when the rivals do the same, it's said with mockery (you know, because it's important to be the opposite of your rivals).
It was a horrid thing to be "The Fiscally Responsible Yankees" - and my Yankee fan friends openly admitted the salary cap was the real struggle - but this off-season's nickname always came with an ‘aw shucks' attitude. The salary cap and the huge contracts weren't their fault, it was everyone else's jealousy getting in the way (and don't even start on revenue sharing).
The always snarky Boston media has acted no less petulant in regards to saving money, ranging from reaction to the Punto trade to the recent promotion of Jackie Bradley Jr. at the start of the season, offering that the Red Sox wouldn't NOT promote a player over a few million dollars. If you've ever read Nick Cafardo, you know what I'm talking about. It's a taunt to be responsible with team finances.
So why the heck haven't the Rays promoted (insert your favorite prospect here)?
It's a loaded question, but one that has an aim. I'm not after the still-recovering-from-shoulder-surgery Brandon Guyer, or the still-needs-time-in-the-minors-uber-prospect Wil Myers. After all, today marks the 12th day of the season, which is enough to delay Myers's free agency by a calendar year; although, not enough to delay Super 2 status and an extra year of arbitration. No, I'm after the pitching depth.
The Rays season has thrived on pitching thus far, with three of their wins coming by shutout. The Rays need the best that they've got in the starting rotation, but is the best starting in the majors? And did the Rays really keep Chris Archer in the minors and go after Roberto Hernandez in free agency for financial reasons?
The former Fausto is the latest Rays reclamation project, coming in at the audacious price of $3M, with the promise of becoming great again. And why not? Jim Hickey has proved himself more than capable with recreating a pitcher with the likes of Benoit, McGee, Davis, and Rodney. Fausto was a year removed from playing in the majors due to identity fraud issues and needed the fastest road back to becoming an ace pitcher.
In his season preview, Michael noted one key to the success of Hernandez would be a change in his pitching selection, which we've already seen evidence of in his two starts this season. Still, this projection of Hernandez joining the Rays had bode well when we had Jeff Niemann manning the No. 5 slot in the starting rotation. His season ending, gritty shoulder surgery forced Fausto into the rotation.
In any regard, what the Rays seemingly needed most this season was innings. The reality of losing James Shields in the Myers trade was losing the work horse of the rotation. Cobb and Price and Moore are the same pitchers they were, and Hellickson has yet to develop an out pitch to get him through lineups, so the combination of Niemann and Hernandez was to be the solution. That's now cast to the way side.
Relief pitchers Cesar Ramos, Jamey Wright, and Brandon Gomes have the ability to go late into innings, but that doesn't make the situation ideal. For all intents and purposes, Hernandez can be well groomed as a relief pitcher. Boasting a 64% groundball rate is no guarantee of going deep into games, and he has only broken 200 IP twice in his career. Perhaps the new pitch selection will get Fausto through his innings faster, as he has 11 strikeouts and induced 20 groundballs in 13.1 innings, but without a little more luck and with only three pitches to his new name, the call for Archer will get louder.
It's worth noting that the Rays have always been slow to promote pitching prospects. Price was promoted after eight starts at Triple-A. The same goes for Alex Cobb, even had a nine game stint in the majors before being sent back. However, rookie of the year Jeremy Hellickson and ace-in-training Matt Moore had the luxury of starting their rookie seasons immediately at the major league level. You can go as far back as Jeff Niemann and Wade Davis to see that the Rays management has not been afraid to promote a pitcher at the start of the year.
The difference has been Price, the ironically named ace, who was promoted toward the end of May in 2009. Price was called when he was 1-4 with a 3.93 ERA in eight starts, starting in place of Scott Kazmir, who went on the 15-day disabled list Friday with a strained right quadriceps. He faced off against Fausto Carmona, and in his regular season debut, blew a ten run lead and gave the Rays a loss. Careful what you wish for.
So what's the real reason for keeping Archer down? It's a mix of development and insurance. As Andrew Friedman told Ben Nicholas-Smith, "The one thing that we're very wary of is waking up one day and not being able to fill out a rotation in the American League East." If you want to set you clock, wait for another injury. Zack Greinke wasn't immune from breaking his collar bone last night, and neither is any of the Rays pitching staff.
If there is any player to watch, it will be Hernandez. His fastball is completely ineffective, and has been relegated to a surprise pitch that was only used three times in his first two starts. He has the makings and pedigree of the new Rays long man for the pen, but stands a chance to work out of the rotation. It's an experiment, and it will take a bit of time. Fausto's success lives and dies by the defense behind him. A tick higher strikeout rate and even more groundballs will make him effective, but it's no guarantee. He has Archer, Alex Colome, and Jake Odorizzi knocking on the door.
Still, the most likely candidate for promotion is Archer. He owns swing and miss stuff -- we saw that in the majors when he K'd six, eleven, seven, and seven batters in four starts last September -- and he's building into mid-season form. 56-of-86 pitches for strikes in his most recent start, for instance, is promising. He has started two games in the minors thus far, each five innings. The first allowed three hits, only one walk, earning one run, and including five strikeouts. The second allowed seven hits, again only one walk, four runs, and boasted seven strikeouts. In the first game luck was on his side, the second it wasn't. The same goes for Fausto.
Long story short, Archer's promotion is going to take time. Hernandez has the opportunity to hold his position as Archer sharpens his control in Durham, Archer has the opportunity to show consistency in his punch-outs and control, and it's up to the rest of us to sit back, relax, and wait.