The consensus among Rays fans lately has been that the team still needs to add a bat and a reliever to truly become competitive in 2017. The team surely planned to address the bullpen going into the off season as it was one of the worst performing pens as a whole in the majors, but they may have already made their moves. As the off season continues to progress, the signs are starting to point towards the Rays sticking with what they have rather than adding a free agent veteran reliever.
The Rays 40-man roster is stuffed with pitchers, and most of them will be at the AAA level or higher in 2017. Let’s assume the Rays will still trade a surplus starting pitcher and not receive a 25-man pitcher in return. That means someone like Matt Andriese moves from the bullpen to the starting rotation. Even with that move, the Rays likely have a full bullpen of Alex Colome, Xavier Cedeno, Brad Boxberger, Danny Farquhar, Erasmo Ramirez, Enny Romero, and Rule-5 selection Kevin Gadea.
All of the other pitchers on the 40-man roster have options, so they are safe. But if the Rays add a veteran reliever, what spot would he take?
Colome is one of the most valuable relievers in baseball right now. Cedeno has quietly been excellent for the Rays. It’s too early to give up on Brad Boxberger’s return to form. Danny Farquhar showed up strong over the 2nd half of last season.
Erasmo can do anything from start to long relief to high leverage. Romero might have the highest upside of them all if he can find some command. And Gadea was just acquired with the 4th overall pick in the Rule 5 draft a few months ago. Is he the odd man out?
I put a lot of faith in how the Rays research and target players, so I’m going to believe that 6 cheap controllable years of Kevin Gadea could be really special, and the Rays are in somewhat of a rebuild, making Gadea’s probable struggles on the mound pallatable in 2017.
Despite not knowing much about the young pitcher, I don’t think I’d like to see the Rays give his potential up for what’s likely to be one year of a mediocre veteran reliever.
The bullpen will likely improve most by subtracting the worst performing players, which the team has already done. With plenty of worthy arms in AAA waiting for their turn if Gadea doesn’t work out, it doesn’t look like there is room or a need for the team to pay for a mid-tier free agent reliever.
Instead, expect the Rays to add veterans on the minor league side, to assist the club culture in Spring Training, and then later in the season whenever injuries occur in the revolving door of any major league bullpen.
With so many free agent pitchers still on the market without a job, at what point will the mid to lower tier relievers be willing to take a minor league deal? Is someone like Charlie Furbush far enough down the pecking order that he will end up taking and incentive loaded minor league deal? What about Casey Janssen, who has a history of success in the AL East? And Tommy Hunter’s been pretty great over the last four years after transitioning to an exclusively relief role.
Any of those guys would provide excellent relief depth if the Rays could convince them to take a minor league deal, but they’d have to wait for injury before they make the major league roster.