Rays Trade Deadline 2013: Relief Pitching

USA TODAY Sports

Assessing the current state of Rays relief pitching, and what the team could be up to at the Trade Deadline.

In my first editorial on the Rays and the Trade Deadline, I discussed the cardinal rule for speculating what this front office will do:

The Rays don't do anything mid-season unless they have to.

But that might have been unfair.

Way back in 2006, he made an incredibly important move at the trade deadline in Andrew Friedman's first year as GM: 1B Aubrey Huff for RHP Mitch Talbot and a sixth round draft pick named Ben Zobrist.

The Rays are not incapable of intelligent moves when the opportunity arises, and today seems to be the day to deal relief pitching (with the Braves acquiring Scott Downs and Detroit landing Houston's closer Jose Veras), so let's ponder what the Rays could do right now.

Selling a Bullpen Arm

In my second editorial, I speculated that the Rays could actually be sellers at the deadline, despite competing for the best record in the American League.

The return of Alex Cobb will force one pitcher off of the 25-man roster, and any pitcher with an option available (Jake McGee, Alex Torres, Chris Archer) is projected to remain with the team. One player has to go. Why not get something in return before he hits waivers?

Better yet, if the Rays have any position of depth in the minors right now, it's relief pitching.

Player Age Lev IP ERA WHIP ER SO H BB* HR SO/BB
RHRP
Josh Lueke
28 AAA 47.0 0.57 0.94 3 66 30 13 1 4.71
RHRP
Kirby Yates
26 AAA 49.0 1.29 0.90 7 76 26 16 2 4.22
LHRP C.J.
Riefenhauser
23 AA-AAA 63.0 1.00 0.84 7 57 37 16 5 3.56

*excluding intentional walks

Should the Rays need to deal a bullpen piece now, the Rays would be able to replace those lost innings internally with a quality arm, and then have an optionable player to make room for Cobb.

Regarless of how, there are three candidates in the Rays bullpen to be cut for Cobb:

  • LHRP Cesar Ramos is out of options, and projects to have his role of longman consumed by Roberto Hernandez for the rest of this season. He is under team control until 2017.
  • RHRP Jamey Wright is the resident groundball specialist who can eat innings as necessary, but has not lived up to his groundball percentages (mid 50% range, not the 60%+ expected). He is a free agent next year.
  • RHRP Kyle Farnsworth has the potential of being a high leverage arm, but seems to get himself into trouble on the mound and has been the lease effective pitcher in the 'pen; also a free agent next year.

The rest of the bullpen is high leverage arms that the Rays are not looking to part with. Fernando Rodney will not be dealt as the closer, McGee and Peralta are firemen under longterm control, and Alex Torres is a ROY candidate.

Of the three that could lose their spot on the roster, Ramos holds the highest trade value as a lefty with a lengthy contract, and I'd suspect he could be easily traded for a top-20 prospect in another team's farm system.

Because if the Rays were going to make any move, it has to be for prospects.

The farm system has been depleted by injuries this season (Taylor Guerrieri, Alex Colome, Hak-Ju Lee, Brandon Guyer) and the promotion of rookies Wil Myers, Chris Archer, and Alex Torres mean the Rays have few of their top-10 prospects left in the system. It could use a lift.

Acquiring a Bullpen Arm

On the flip side, that doesn't mean there isn't room for improvement.

Joe Maddon has spoken publicly about his worries with the high-leverage arms. Joel Peralta wasn't getting much rest. Rodney was carrying multiple innings in his appearances. Alex Torres is still transitioning to a relief role -- his 0.29 ERA aside -- and could be thrown off by back-to-back appearances. Jake McGee is still working on what repertoire works best.

The Rays have one too many arms, sure, but that doesn't mean all is well. Let's dive into the three I called at risk for release:

  • Cesar Ramos has had terrible luck. His BABIP has jumped from .221 to .326 this season, which may be impacting his low groundball numbers (down 13.4% from last season's 30 innings) and his 4.50 ERA. His FIP is down at 3.14 and he's walking a career low 6.6%. He's still able to carry a load when not performing as a LOOGY; Ramos has 11 appearances of 2.0+ innings this season.
  • As I mentioned above, Jamey Wright's groundball numbers have not lived up to the hype (down 13.3% from last season), even though his ability to go multiple innings has been a pleasant surprise (10 games longer than one full inning, including two 3.0 IP performances). He has 44.1 innings on the season thus far, and has actually improved his totals for walks, hits, and earned runs compared to last year. He's not the same, but he's not bad either.
  • Kyle Farnsworth is the real glaring issue. He's been trusted with only 28 innings over 35 games thus far, with seven walks and only 18 strikeouts. He owns a 5.14 ERA, 4.47 FIP, 45% ground ball rate, and 70% LOB. Not horrible for your worst guy, but that doesn't mean the Rays can't improve from those numbers.

Enter the trade rumors involving Jesse Crain.

The Rays could acquire Crain as another high leverage arm, presumably to take the role of Farnsworth. Still there are obstacles should the Rays be the team in on Crain.

The team would first need to clear a place on the 25-man roster to acquire Crain before putting the injured reliever on the Disabled List. This could be followed by promoting a Triple-A arm, but then there's still a traffic jam in the pen when Cobb arrives. Furthermore, unless the Rays shipped out a reliever in the trade for Crain, they'd be getting no value in return for releasing a bullpen piece.

ESPN Chicago described the potential deal as "complicated," and with three teams involved, there are no guarantees that the Rays are actually looking to acquire Crain, so we are in wait-and-see mode.

All of that said: I'd be surprised to see the Rays make any moves that didn't deal one relief arm currently on the 25-man roster for value and acquire at least one high-level prospect along the way; however, I am all for bolstering this bullpen for the playoff push.

Coda: Why No Fausto?

The guy I haven't mentioned above is Roberto Hernandez, who will presumably be transitioning to a relief role after his start against the Diamondbacks on Tuesday to allow the Rays to transition to a 4-man rotation.

Tampa Bay is growing short of depth at starting pitcher. After Jake Odorizzi, and thanks to injury, the next available starter in Durham might just be Mike Montgomery (the other starter on the 40-man roster). Should a slew of injuries occur, the Rays will need Hernandez's arm back in the rotation.

Unless the Rays dealt him for a minor league arm that's close to starting, Friedman will keep Fausto close.

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