The Rays made official their bullpen for the 2018 season, and there are some shockers:
RHP Daniel Hudson and LHP Dan Jennings, two veterans acquired in the last six months to be high leverage arms in the Rays bullpen, have been informed they will not make the Rays roster.
The two relievers would combine to make more than $8 million on the Rays 2018 roster that was projected to be the team’s highest ever at $77 million. Jennings can be released for 25% of his salary, Hudson cannot. Both players’ fates should be decided by Tuesday.
Like many moves this off-season, there’s not an easy way to spin this.
Hudson was the major league side of two players acquired for All-Star Corey Dickerson, who is now the starting left fielder for the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Jennings was the high leverage reliever acquired for Rays minor league player of the year (and former first round draft pick) 1B Casey Gillaspie, and may make the Opening Day roster due to a strained hamstring for starting 1B Jose Abreu.
With the Rays rolling with an 8-man bullpen to start the season, one would think either veteran could have made the roster. Instead, Hudson and Jennings were both unable prove themselves as either the highest leverage arms in the bullpen mix, and unable to exhibit an ability to take on multiple innings at a time in the manner the Rays need for the 2018 bullpen experiment.
As Tampa Bay seeks to prioritize long relief roles this season, three starters and a long man will be added to the Rays bullpen. Here’s how the 2018 bullpen shakes out.
The Rays will have familiar names atop the bullpen manning traditional roles in 2018.
RHP Alex Colome
RHP Sergio Romo
Alex Colome returns to the Rays in his All-Star recognized closer’s role after leading the majors in saves last season.
Romo returns to Tampa Bay on a major league deal after the Rays were able to piece back together his career late last season post-Dodgers release. Romo, age 35, was a multi-World Series winning closer for the Giants.
Both arms were secure in their bullpen position heading into Spring Training, but should either falter, RHP Diego Castillo will be waiting in Triple-A to claim a high leverage role.
With the Rays seeking to utilize a “bullpen day” in lieu of a fifth starter, probably for the first half of 2018 without star arms Brent Honeywell and Jose De Leon available, the Rays needed pitchers capable of absorbing one or even two times through the order at their disposal.
As a consequence, the Rays will carry multiple capable starters in the bullpen:
RHP Matt Andriese
RHP Yonny Chirinos
LHP Ryan Yarbrough
RHP Andrew Kittredge
Among those names, only Kittredge is a career reliever. The former three are starters capable of breaking into the major league side in many rotations across baseball.
Four longmen is a lot for any bullpen, but necessary if this Rays roster is to make “bullpen day” a reality in 2018.
Perhaps having this many available will also help the Rays to not lean on a constantly running Durham Shuttle in 2018, which would have been disruptive for developing arms.
If you’re inclined to praise the Rays for their moves, here’s where you point to the organization sticking to their guns. A “bullpen day” requires the sort of pitchers who can absorb nine or more batters in a single appearance, and the Rays made a commitment to keep four available.
The final two spots, then, is on the short relief side. This is where the Rays have spurned their pricey veterans for what might have been minor league role players in another organization.
RHP Chaz Roe
LHP Jose Alvarado
Known for a whiffleball slider, Roe is a spreadsheet darling that will seek to find consistent major league success in Tampa Bay in his age 32 season.
Alvarado is a big man with a big arm who performed well in the majors last season in a surprise promotion all the way from Double-A.
Both players are both markedly cheaper and reasonably better performers in camp. Those factors combined to show Hudson and Jennings the door. It’s hard to say whether one factor outweighed the other.
In truth it was an uphill battle for both veteran relievers. Jennings sported a gaudy 14% walk rate and mere 48% LOB rate in the second half last season, contributing to the Rays collapse after the trade deadline. Meanwhile, Hudson had struggled mightily for Pittsburgh in 2018, losing his set up duties to former Rays farmhand Felipe Rivero, and sporting his own 15% walk rate.
In a traditional bullpen competition for what would have been six roster spots, both should have made the Tampa Bay Rays in 2018 with an eye on the Rays fixing veterans who seem a teak or two away from returning to success, but with the Rays making only four such short relief spots available, Colome, Romo, Roe and Alvarado were the winners in camp.