A commenter on our Facebook page asked an important question. The Rays have a whole bunch of players seemingly ready to contribute to their big league team in 2012, but they have to manage to cut their 40-man roster (here) down to 25 guys for the start of the season. Spring training will help them make a lot of those decisions, but let’s take quick look at the locks and favorites to be on the 25-man roster once the season begins, and the players who are in competition for roster spots.
In terms of 25-man roster efficiency, it doesn’t make any sense for the Rays to hang on to both Davis and Niemann, and I think that once Niemann agrees to arbitration terms, there’s a very good chance they trade either Davis or him. One of them will definitely be on the major league roster, but if a trade doesn’t occur, Niemann woulds start and Davis would go to the bullpen, as we saw in the postseason.
After nice showings in the big leagues, Gomes and McGee should have roster spots pending a completely disastrous spring training.
Everyone other than Howell seems to have a minor league option remaining. Every single one of these pitchers other than Ramos will definitely receive big league time in 2012, but the question is who starts the season on the roster. My guess would be that Howell and Badenhop make it, with Lueke the 8th reliever if they choose to carry one. Torres and Cobb will go back to starting at Triple-A, and Ramos is a likely candidate to be designated for assignment after struggling mightily in 2011. Let’s go through the rest of the roster and see whether they will do that.
Lock: Jose Molina
We all hope that Molina will be a backup from early on the season as one of the other catchers (just wait one second) hold their own in the batter’s box, but Molina will definitely make the roster.
Lobaton and Chirinos, a pair of 27 year olds, will compete for big league catching time in spring training and hopefully one of them will do will enough to be the starting catcher heading into the season and hit decently. Don’t be surprised if the Rays trade Davis or Niemann for a near big league ready catching prospect, who would join the competition. Stephen Vogt is also on the Rays 40-man roster, but he’s more of a super utilityman that can catch than a starting catcher.
We all know for a fact that these three guys, who will compose most of the middle of the Rays’ lineup, will be on the roster and contributing in a big way to the Rays’ success.
Rodriguez and Brignac will compete for the starting SS job or figure out how a platoon would work, but even if Rodriguez wins the starting SS job, Brignac will see time at second base and third base in spring training and be a utility infielder at least going into the season.
Johnson and Rhymes fit a utility profile, play fine defense, and can swing the bit a little as well, but especially with the Rays’ versatile roster, you have to wonder whether they’ll carry a second utility infielder. Canzler is a professional hitter and can play everywhere, but his defense is really bad. He may have a leg up here just because he’s a solid bat of the bench.
There’s your 2012 Rays starting outfield… pending trade.
Probable: Sam Fuld (OF)
Fuld was a dependable backup outfielder and bench bat in 2011 and he’ll fill the same role in 2012 (and hopefully have a couple more “Super Sam” moments as well).
Guyer is a far better player than Ruggiano, but they won’t start him on the roster unless they can guarantee him semi-regular playing time because he’s a promising player. If the Rays don’t picture Guyer getting the AB’s, Ruggiano could get a look as a backup outfielder- but with Fuld and Zobrist already on the roster, he may be redundant. Both of these players will definitely receive big league time, and if Guyer gets playing time, he’s a sleeper Rookie of the Year candidate.
Lock: Luke Scott (DH/1B)
Scott replaces Johnny Damon as the Rays’ DH for 2012.
In case you’ve lost track of the number of roster spots I’m talking about here, we definitely have 12 pitchers, two catchers, five infielders, four outfielders, and a designated hitter, bringing us to 24 men on the roster. If no starting pitcher trade is made, Niemann will be the 5th starter and Davis will head to the bullpen. But I can’t see the Rays’ doing that because that limits their roster flexibility, and I think a trade will happen by the end of spring training. Assuming there is a final spot on the roster, that last spot is a big competition between Josh Lueke, Elliot Johnson, Will Rhymes (who’s not on the 40-man), Russ Canzler, Brandon Guyer, and Justin Ruggiano. I think Lueke starts the season in the minors before replacing whichever Rays reliever blows up this year. I think Johnson and Rhymes are completely redundant on this team and they’ll just be in competition for the next big league call-up after the inevitable injury. I think we can eliminate Ruggiano from the 25-man roster to begin the season because he’s nothing more than a filler player at a final roster spot where the Rays are looking for some impact. That makes it a competition between Russ Canzler and Brandon Guyer. Canzler is the favorite primarily because he’s not really a prospect and the Rays are willing to let him get marginal playing time off the bench. Guyer is more talented but will only make the roster if the Rays are willing to take at-bats away from Matt Joyce, Luke Scott, and possibly in a little bit from Carlos Pena to get him in the lineup. I would give Canzler the nod for the 25th spot if Davis or Niemann is traded.
Here’s my projected 2012 Rays starting lineup.
1. Desmond Jennings, LF
2. B.J. Upton, CF
3. Evan Longoria, 3B
4. Carlos Pena, 1B
5. Ben Zobrist, 2B
6. Luke Scott, DH
7. Matt Joyce, RF
8. Jose Molina/Jose Lobaton/Robinson Chirinos, C
9. Reid Brignac/Sean Rodriguez, SS
There’s still a lot of things that are uncertain right now, but as first spring training and then the season itself approaches, everything will become more clear. But we now have a rough idea of the Rays’ 2012 roster and an idea of what to expect going into spring training.