Who would want to trade places with a pitcher at the upper levels of the Rays minor league system? Simply put, they’re blocked. The Rays currently have five proven major league pitchers and arguably the best prospect in all of baseball, Matt Moore, competing for five rotation spots. Jeff Niemann or Wade Davis, both of whom have finished 4th in a Rookie of the Year voting and won double-digit games in multiple seasons, will pitch out of the bullpen to begin 2012. Alex Cobb, who pitched well in 9 starts for the Rays in 2011, was quickly reassigned to minor league camp. Alex Torres, who led the Triple-A International League in strikeouts in 2011 and also gave the Rays some solid relief innigns in September, wasn’t even given a look. What’s the point of the Rays having so much pitching depth? All that’s going on is that Cobb and Torres are rotting at Triple-A, with guys like Chris Archer, Alex Colome, and Nick Barnese set to join them. Isn’t all a waste? Why don’t the Rays trade these guys for players they can actually use on their major league team? Why do the Rays have 11 starters and not a single quality major league starting catcher? Why should we care?
How quickly things can change in the major leagues. One second you’re lauded for your starting depth, the next you’re chastised for your lack thereof. Take 2011 as an example. Jeff Niemann goes down in early May. What do the Rays do? They move their 6th starter, Andy Sonnanstine, to the rotation. But then Sonnanstine collapses. What are the Rays supposed to do then? At that point, they brought up Cobb, their 7th starter, to make a few spot starts, and then he ended up pitching well for a stretch later in the season when the Rays tried to limit Jeremy Hellickson‘s innings a little bit. Torres, the 8th starter, was brought up out of necessity for a spot relief appearance before playing a bigger role in September. Matt Moore, who the Rays had qualms about calling up, especially in a pennant chase, played a huge role late in the season especially as Jeff Niemann and Wade Davis collapsed in September. So many things can happen. You have injuries. You have ineffectiveness. You have a desire to limit your young pitchers’ innings. And, there could very well be a trade. Of those 11 starters, 9 of them will likely see big league time. Even though the Rays are so stacked in their rotation, Alex Cobb will inevitably make at least a handful of starts. Alex Torres will assuredly see time in relief, and he may get some starts as well. They say you can never have too much pitching. And whoever “they” are, they’re right. There’s so much variability with pitchers and with baseball players in general. The starting pitcher position is just one less thing for the Rays to worry about. Maybe is a trade is made that decreases some of that incredible, almost ludicrous depth. But appreciate it while we have it. Starter number eight may not be as important as one through five or through six, but the security he provides is critical to the success of the team.