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Rays set 2021 Opening Day Roster

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The American League Champions surprisingly options all of their long relievers to start the year.

American League Championship Series Game 7: Tampa Bay Rays v. Houston Astros Photo by Matt Thomas/MLB Photos via Getty Images

The Rays roster is starting to come into focus, with Tampa Bay cutting down the player pool to what should be the Opening Day roster on April 1. But even if the question of who has been answered, season long decisions remain.

The Position Side

The roster here has been pretty much set since the onset of camp, with the only question being how many spots the Rays give to the position side on account of who is healthy.

As of right now Ji-Man Choi is trending in the positive direction to be healthy shortly after the start of the year, while Brett Phillips seems likely headed to the IL for a longer stint to begin the season.

Here’s where I believe the Opening Day lineup and bench will likely look like:

C: Mike Zunino (R)
1B: Yoshi Tsutsugo (L)
2B: Brandon Lowe (L)
SS: Willy Adames (R)
3B: Joey Wendle (L)
LF: Randy Arozarena (R)
CF: Kevin Kiermaier (L)
RF: Manuel Margot (R)
DH: Austin Meadows (L)

Bench: C Francisco Mejía (S), UTIL Mike Brosseau (R), 3B/1B Yandy Diaz (R)

Injured List: OF Brett Phillips (L), 1B Ji-Man Choi (L)

Total spots: 12

With Ji-Man Choi unable to begin the season on the roster, the Rays have decided to go with a short bench and have an extra pitcher.

Once Choi is healthy, the Rays will need to drop one reliever and return to 13 Opening Day position players, but it’s Phillips’s return that will complicate things slightly. Assuming health for the selected position players, the Rays will likely need to demote Brosseau — one of the few position players with options — to retain the out of options Phillips.

World Series - Los Angeles Dodgers v Tampa Bay Rays - Game Five
Ryan Sherriff #71 of the Tampa Bay Rays walks back to the dugout after retiring the side against the Los Angeles Dodgers during the eighth inning in Game Five of the 2020 MLB World Series at Globe Life Field on October 25, 2020 in Arlington, Texas.
Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

The Pitching Side

The Rays are never going to run conventional roles for pitchers, and this year especially will be a challenge of balancing usage with the season expanding back to 162. Pitcher stamina will be an open question for any team in 2021, so the Rays have leaned into the need for flexibility.

Throughout the season, this is where you can expect the most moves and changes to occur, with plenty of options for the Rays in the minors.

Rotation:

RHP Tyler Glasnow
LHP Ryan Yarbrough
RHP Chris Archer
LHP Rich Hill
RHP Michael Wacha

Injured List: RHP Yonny Chirinos

Bullpen:

RHP Pete Fairbanks
RHP Diego Castillo
RHP Chaz Roe
LHP Cody Reed
RHP Collin McHugh
RHP Ryan Thompson
LHP Jeffrey Springs
RHP Andrew Kittredge
LHP Ryan Sherriff

Injured List: RHP Nick Anderson, LHP Jalen Beeks, RHP Oliver Drake, LHP Colin Poche

Total spots: 14

It’s a mild surprise that the Rays did not fill the back end of the bullpen with multi-inning guys. Among the nine pitchers in the bullpen, perhaps Collin McHugh could be considered the longest arm, but he has not exceeded 2.0 IP since his last start on May 7, 2019.

Instead, counting on the early off days and flexibility of options, the Rays will start the season with their multi-inning role players LHP Josh Fleming, RHP Trevor Richards, and RHP Chris Mazza at the “Alternate Site” until the need arises.

All pitchers injured are already on the 60-day list, but the position players injured are not yet listed, which means the roster technically still at 28 players, with the need for two more moves.

The roster does not need to be finalized until Thursday, but with neither Choi or Phillips expected to be ready for Opening Day, there should be no surprises between now and April 1.