With the signing of Craig Stammen and Tommy Hunter by the Indians, there are slim pickings among relief options on the open market.
The Rays seem likely to add a veteran arm—such as Ryan Webb—to help balance out the bullpen's youth, but the team should be more inclined to target talent. Unless the Rays feel like they can fix Bobby Parnell (former Mets closer, sidelined through injury), the trade market is the way to go.
In an attempt to sort out who the Rays might be targeting in a near-spring trade, I started by querying Fangraphs for all pitchers who made a relief appearance in 2015, and narrowed the parameters to an average fastball velocity of 94+ MPH and a FIP above league average (~3.83).
From there, I removed a few teams from the filter, narrowing the focus to teams who only appear to be reasonable trade partners for the Rays. That produced the following list:
From here we can start eliminating additional names. For instance, Vincent Velasquez was a centerpiece of the recent Ken Giles trade, making his move unlikely. Kyle Barraclough was likewise a recent acquisition, a Double-A pitcher acquired and immediately promoted to the Show. Jake Diekman is another. Would an already dealt player be more fungible to a team, or more highly valued? I'm not sure any are reasonable targets.
Furthermore, some teams already appear to have established roles for some of the above players. The Nationals already have Felipe Rivero and Blake Treinen inked into the setup roles for Jonathan Papelbon. Given Papelbon's unpredictability, either could also be moved into the closer's role. That, and the Nationals surely fancy themselves as contenders.
The Rockies have some decent bullpen arms, but have a clear strategy of adding the very sort of relievers this exercise is targeting. I think we can safely rule them out, and I would say the Twins and Diamondbacks also seem less likely to deal, but who knows for sure.
With all this in mind, here are a few Rays trade targets in full focus:
RHP Hunter Strickland, Giants
Hunter Strickland of the Giants already topped my wishlist, and he tops this search as well. His fastball is capable of reaching triple-digits and he very well could be the secret sauce for any bullpen he slots into. For that reason the Giants are unlikely to deal him.
Could the Rays blow out a deal for Strickland, perhaps sending the Giants a left fielder? This could be a relatively painless way to acquire what would be an incredible bullpen arm. It's an expensive trade, but would be worth it.
Among Strickland's notable stats were 20 holds last season, 77.7% contact rate in the zone, .190 BAA, 2.45 ERA and 2.90 FIP. Strickland is under team control through 2021. He works a nice curve as well.
RHP Keone Kela, Rangers
The Rangers are blessed with a deep bullpen right now, and Kela stands out. His fastball is alive, his curve is capable, and standing out from Strickland or players below, his change should grade as average, giving him a third pitch to mix well. The fastball has the 10" rise the Rays prioritize as well.
Kela would be expensive, as he's penciled in as the eight inning man for Texas, but the Rangers could be interested in an upgrade over Justin Ruggiano for the platoon with Josh Hamilton in left field.
A former 12th round pick, the west coast product is approaching his age-23 season, and is under team control through 2020.
Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports
RHP Arodys Vizcaino, Braves
Another expensive option for the Rays, and another fastball-curve guy. Already with nine saves to his name, the former Cubs prospect is locked into a Braves team that may not sniff legitimate contention until after he is a free agent. Vizcaino is under team control through 2019, entering arbitration next season.
Vizcaino boasted a 1.60 ERA, 2.48 FIP, 85.5% LOB-rate, a meager 3.1% HR/FB rate, and an average fastball velocity above Strickland's at 97.7 MPH. He's a bit more prone to the walk but he would certainly help fill the Jake McGee void.
RHP Luis Garcia, Phillies
A set up man for the Phillies, and likely to take on more responsibility with the trade of Ken Giles, the 29-year old Dominican should still demand a high asking price, even with his advanced years. He gets ground balls (63%!) and guys more often than not miss swinging outside the zone. Nearly a third of all contact he generates ranks as "soft" on Fangraphs (27.5%). He would be a nice addition to the back of the Rays 'pen, or any bullpen looking to compete.
Garcia is under team control through 2020.
RHP Jeremy Jeffress, Brewers
Like Strickland, I think Jeffress could be an interesting get. If the Brewers would be willing to trade him for James Loney, this trade could also remove a Rays surplus player. It would take sending prospects as well, but it's worth the conversation.
In a full season of work, Jeffress had an impressive 81.7% LOB-rate in 2015, with a 2.65 ERA and 58.2% ground ball rate. He proved to be quite valuable for the Brewers, contributing 23 holds to their cause, and is in consideration for closer although likely to resume set up duties.
He's also an odd duck. He had some issues with the long ball that should regress next season, but interestingly, Jeffress has a mere one pop up in his major league career, according to his Fangraphs profile page. A former first round pick from 2006, Jeffress is under team control through 2019.
RHP Enrique Burgos, Diamondbacks
I would absolutely love to target Daniel Hudson, but as he is already marked for high-leverage relief on a competing team, Burgos is an intriguing alternative. A young gun, in comparison to the names above, his more wily than you'd expect.
Not even slotted into the current opening day projection on Roster Resource, the 25-year old Panamanian had startlingly low contact rates in and out of zone, and a 14.6% whiff rate over 27 innings pitched. He shouldn't be taking buses to the stadium, he should be pitching in high-leverage situations. I think this is a diamond in the rough.
Burgos is under team control through 2021.
Honorable Mention: RHP Nick Vincent, Padres
The opposite of the high heat targeted above, Vincent live and dies by his 88-MPH cutter. He had some walk issues in his 26 appearances last season, but the 29-year old reliever has been around the block enough to earn a 20+% K-BB rate for his career 150 IP. He's a tweak of the change up away from being the real deal.
Vincent is under team control through 2019.