If there has been a hallmark of the Rays in Joe Maddon’s managerial career, it’s the fluctuation of the back-end of the bullpen. This hasn’t necessarily been by choice given the payroll restraints that the Rays have had to work under. However, management has been able to put a solid group together. Last year, the Rays had the best bullpen ERA in the American League. They began to make preparations to fill out the back end of the bullpen because they knew they were going to lose at least closer Rafael Soriano or set-up man Joaquin Benoit. They ended up losing both.
Knowing that Reid Brignac was going to take over at shortstop, the Rays traded Jason Bartlett to San Diego in a six player deal that brought relievers Adam Russell and Cesar Ramos. They also signed veteran reliever Kyle Farnsworth and Joel Peralta. Andy Sonnanstine comes back as the long-man/spot starter. Longtime Rays pitcher J.P. Howell is slated to eventually close, although he will miss at least the first month of the season due to shoulder surgery that forced him to miss most of last year. The most intriguing pitcher to watch is young Jake McGee who could eventually give the franchise their first longtime closer since Roberto Hernandez way back in the expansion days.
The plan for this spring, as it was for most teams, was to let the the relievers to shake themselves out. However, it seems a more dramatic process with the Rays. There is no incumbent closer or set-up man. Not even a designated LOOGY (Lefty One Out GuY), a role that Randy Choate filled so well last year. About the only guarantee is Sonnanstine’s role. Since all relievers have between eight and eleven innings, it looks like everyone is getting a fair shake this spring. How is the spring going for these pitchers and where does it look like the pitchers will end up? (Note, all stats are through March 28.)
Jake McGee has perhaps the greatest upside of any reliever. He has given up just three runs (only one earned) in eleven innings with six strikeouts. He has pitched well enough to make this club outright. Joel Peralta has also pitched extremely well. He was signed as a free agent after he had an ERA of 2.02 in 49 innings with the Nationals. In nine innings this spring, he has yet to allow a run.
Kyle Farnsworth is the grizzled veteran of this staff, so perhaps Maddon will look to him to start the season as the closer. However, he only has 27 saves in his career and none since 2008 so I would hope that Farnsworth is not the long term solution. He has allowed three runs in eight innings so far. Juan Cruz is another veteran hurler, who like Farnsworth is a former Cub farmhand. He has had a terrific spring, only allowing one run and three hits in nine inngs. Two others that could fill out the bullpen are Cesar Ramos and Adam Russell, who pitched in San Diego last year. Russell has had a rocky spring with an ERA close to 8.00, as does Ramos mostly due to a bad outing recently.
I would imagine that the bullpen will stay in flux depending on circumstances throughout the year. Maddon could go with Farnsworth or Peralta, depending on the game situation, through the first month until Howell comes back or McGee could prove himself to be the best option by the time May rolls around. I’m hoping McGee will be the closer by the end of the year. He has the greatest potential to being a long term option for years to come.