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Assessing the Rays' Starting Pitching Options

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The Rays need some help with the rotation, but do not want to spend too much. Here's a few guys they could consider.

Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

So now that the entire pitching staff is dead (Alex Cobb will miss maybe a few weeks with forearm tendonitis, Matt Moore is still stuck in the ghostosphere, Alex Colome has Triple Pneumonia, and Drew Smyly has Imminent Shoulder Death Syndrome or something), the Rays might need some more pitching heading into the season.

Yes, the club still has Matt Andriese, Nate Karns, Enny Romero, and Grayson Garvin. Anyone of those guys could fill in respectably for the Rays. But I'm not, like, super crazy about any of those guys.

Looking at their projections, we might think they are positioned well for some 2015 action:

Pitcher Steamer ERA ZiPS ERA
Matt Andriese 3.57 4.36
Nate Karns 3.81 4.26
Enny Romero 3.73 4.80
Grayson Garvin 3.65 4.38
Dylan Floro 4.47 n/a

But these projections are misleading. The Steamer projections, without fail, see these guys as relievers. That's why the ZiPS numbers (and Floro's numbers) are so much more harsh.

Also, none of these guys are really finished products. I imagine few would debate that notion. They can all benefit from more seasoning in Triple-A or thereabouts. So bringing in an outsider might help. Problem is: Toronto just signed the last surviving starting pitcher -- Randy Wolf -- a few days ago. So the Rays have to explore trades or minor league free agents if they want to rebuild their pitching depth.

Here, in order of best option to worst, I will list some potential targets for the Rays. Obviously, these are not the only options, but they are enough to start the conversation:

Blake Treinen, RHP (Nationals)

Steamer: 3.45 ERA (mostly relief)
ZiPS: 3.83 ERA

Treinen is 27 this season, and he's No. 7 in the stacked Nationals depth chart -- he may be even lower than No. 7. But his projections are great, his prospect status is feh, and his ability to work from the bullpen is confirmed in a big way. That means the Rays could use him in a swing role later in the year as pitchers (hopefully) get healthy -- or they can option him down, as the Nationals are likely to do this year.

Would he be cheap? Almost certainly not. But he could also be a long term asset and therefore worth paying a little more.

Zach McAllister, RHP (Indians)

S: 3.68 ERA (mostly relief)
Z: 4.23 ERA

Despite an ERA in mid-5.00 neighborhood and a mid-season demotion to the bullpen, McAllister may be a cheap and effective option for the Rays. He had a 3.80 FIP and 4.10 xFIP during his time in the rotation, and he finished the season with a 3.45 FIP (obviously aided by his move to the bullpen). Even with a 3.80 FIP, McAllister was on pace for his best full season in the majors.

Acquiring him will require the Indians to give up one of the longtime hopes and projects in McAllister -- and given their moves last, I'm thinking they've already begun to move on. Still, he's only 27 this season and the Indians probably know his FIP as well as we do. He would not be very cheap.

Tsuyoshi Wada, LHP (Cubs)

S: 3.42 ERA (mostly relief)
Z: 4.04 ERA

Wada was a standout pitcher for many years in Japan, but hit major injury issues in the US. He had a fairly healthy 2014 season, and it resulted in both filthy Triple-A stats and a late-season callup. I personally think Wada has everything necessary to be a No. 3 or 4 pitcher on most teams -- except health. He's signed for $4M through just this season, so if he combusts like the rest of the rotation, the Rays wouldn't be on the hook for too much.

Photo credit: David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

Wada looks likely to lose the No. 5 starter competition (due to small hamstring and groin issues this spring), but the Cubs probably like having him as quality depth. So, despite the cheap contract, the Rays might need to pay more than they would prefer to acquire Wada.

Also with the Cubs, it might be worth considering Edwin Jackson. Remember him? We'll he's a terrible pitcher now, apparently and suddenly. I doubt the Cubs are will to eat the rest of his contract, but if the Rays gave Chicago anything of value for a project like Jackson, he would need to arrive free of charge.

Chris Heston, RHP (Giants)

S: 3.98 ERA
Z: 3.77 ERA

Heston is another guy competing for a roster spot in a crowded rotation. He's coming off a solid year in the offense-heavy Pacific Coast League (Triple-A), but was just about horrible in 2013 (we're talking nearly a 6.00 ERA through 100 IP).

Heston is losing the starting pitcher competition, and while his sinkerball might not play too hot with an infield of Nick Franklin and Asdrubal Cabrera, his relative youth (27), talent, and contract make him a lucrative target. As far as non-prospects go, this guy could be a bit of a gem. Problem is: He's probably more expensive than Wada. And giving up a prospect for a volatile gamble like this guy might not be worth it.

Randall Delgado, RHP (Diamondbacks)

S: 3.67 ERA (mostly relief)
Z: 4.58 ERA (mostly relief)

Delgado, a former top prospect, has not played well lately. According to Eno Sarris in his FanGraphs+ profile of Delgado: "There are currently eight starters ahead of Randall Delgado on the Arizona depth chart." So that's a good sign for the Rays -- especially since he's out of options. The Diamondbacks will probably slot him back into a swingman role again in 2015, but he had a 4.87 ERA in that role last year.

And while the projections are pretty rough for Delgado, it's important to note his 3.39 FIP and 3.38 SIERA in 2014. Both suggest his pitching was better than his results. But he's also a top prospect who is only 25 this year and had a K-rate around 25% last year. If I'm the Diamondbacks, I would need something shiny to give up Delgado this early.

Erasmo Ramirez, RHP (Mariners)

S: 4.38 ERA (mostly relief)
Z: 4.55 ERA (mostly relief)

Ramirez has a 4.62 ERA and 4.66 FIP through 200+ IP in the majors. But he has good numbers, impressive numbers, in the PCL. Also, he turns just 25 in two months. He's a million miles away from winning a rotation spot, but he's out of options. There's a chance the Mariners are tired of waiting on his high quality stuff to result in high quality pitching.

I'm not crazy about Ramirez, but if we're looking for someone with MLB experience and maybe a chance to turn into a long-term asset and not just a short-term bandaid, then maybe the Rays look his way.

Kevin Correia, RHP (Mariners)

S: 4.42 ERA
Z: 4.60 ERA

Woof. I've never liked Correia as a pitcher. I bet he's a swell guy, but his 4.59 ERA has always been a mystery to me. Like Jamie Moyer or post-nuclear cockroaches, Correia simply persists.

Photo credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

But all told, he has a 116 ERA-, which, sure, maybe that's not terrible for a No. 5 guy, and he has some considerable success in the bullpen too. The Mariners signed him to a minor league deal, so the Rays could get him for, I dunno, a self-published chapbook of cat poetry. And for the first time in my life, that kind of makes me want to see Correia playing for the Rays.

Jeff Bennett, RHP (free agent)

S: n/a
Z: 4.23 ERA

Pardon the stats scouting, but Bennett -- who last played in the majors, for the Rays, in 2009 -- had some delightful Triple-A numbers in 2014. He started the year playing in Mexico, which is where he played in 2012. After signing with the Dodgers midseason, he slung 120 IP of 3.83 ERA ball in the PCL. That's very good for the PCL.

Bennett, even more delightfully, can probably sign today on a minor league deal. He's 34, has MLB experience, has a career 101 ERA-, and is coming off a great year. This seems like a no-brainer signing to me, but I'm not sure if I like him any better than Karns, Andriese, or Garvin.

Merrill Kelly, RHP (Rays)

S: 4.40 ERA
Z: 4.38 ERA

Hey! Kelly has some good-looking projections! That's all I'm here to say. That, and maybe this: He maybe should be in the conversation with the other guys. Maybe. I dunno.