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David Carpenter: A question of health

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If he can throw like he used to, the Rays have a quality reliever on a minor league contract.

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Brad Boxberger's abdominal injury has opened the door for relievers who otherwise might not have made the major league roster, and if David Carpenter is healthy, the decision is simple.

Right now Carpenter is in Rays camp competing for the last bullpen spot on a minor league contract, after being removed from the Nationals 40-man roster and electing to become a free agent, after signing a minor league contract with an invitation to the Atlanta Braves' Spring Training, and after then being cut by the Braves with Spring barely begun.

That doesn't sound like the resume of an exciting player to have around, but it was only two years ago that Carpenter was one of the more dominant setup men in the game and an asset to any team.

Carpenter broke into the league as a 25-year old in 2011 with the Astros, pitching portions of both 2011 and 2012 in the majors with middling success. Things clicked for Carpenter with the Braves in 2013, and he gave them two very good years.

Year IP K% BB% ERA FIP xFIP SIERA
2013 65.2 28.9% 7.8% 1.78 2.83 3.11 2.61
2014 61.0 25.9% 6.2% 3.54 2.94 3.19 2.72

For the 2015 season, Carpenter was traded to New York Yankees in a deal that sent former top prospect Manny Banuelos to Atlanta, but he struggled in New York and was DFA'd, then traded to Washington. In Washington, he was shut down with shoulder pain. MRI's revealed no structural damage, but he eventually made his way to the 60-day disabled list with what was termed "shoulder inflammation."

Carpenter's approach is simple.

He throws a blazing 95 mph four-seam fastball and balances it with a hard mid--to-upper 80s slider. He has a seldom-used splitter that can mostly be ignored. It's a simple but effective repertoire that results in strikeouts and fly balls.

If David Carpenter can do his thing, the Rays will happily give him a roster spot, so this essentially becomes a question about health. The fact that the Braves cut him early, even though keeping him would have cost them nothing, isn't a great sign, but maybe the Rays' more patient approach will pay off.

The Competition

With Boxberger out to start the season, three players are locks to make the Rays bullpen, based both on their record and the fact that they are out of options. Alex Colome, Xavier Cedeno, and Enny Romero will all be there.

Danny Farquhar, Steve Geltz, and Ryan Webb are all likely to claim spots as well, but the fact that they have options means that they can be held at Durham to avoid a roster crunch. The team will likely carry either six or seven relief pitchers at any given time, depending on need, so that leaves one semi-regular spot (but prone to the Durham shuttle -- and David Carpenter has an option) up for grabs.

That spot, on the opening day roster at least, is most-likely between Ryan Carpenter, Dana Eveland, and Andrew Bellatti.

The main question mark is Carpenter's velocity.

Throughout his entire career, Carpenter's fastball has been steady at 95 mph. Through his first few appearances of the Spring, he was maxing out in the low 90s, but the radio broadcast reported him reaching 94 mph last Wednesday. If he's continuing to build arm strength, it may make sense for him to accept a minor league assignment to start the season with the understanding that he'll be called up when he's able to pitch like his former self.

If the velocity comes back, it will remain to be seen if he can still command his fastball. But it's fairly certain that the Rays will give him a chance to try, and that means giving him a 40-man roster spot and making a corresponding roster move. There's too much upside for the Rays to let David Carpenter walk without giving him the best possible chance to rehab and return to form.