Can you name the last free agent starting pitcher signed to a major league contract by the Rays? It was this guy, and that was on a deal worth only 1 million dollars for one year. The last one who made more than a million dollars? This fiasco. Good thing the Rays never have to test the free agent market for starting pitchers, signing just two free agent pitchers to multi-year deals and just four to major league contracts in franchise history, and it looks like it will remain that way for quite a while considering the Rays’ prolific pitching depth.
So wait a second? Why are we discussing Mike Pelfrey here? Isn’t he the pitcher for the Mets for a few years who was enigmatic then got hurt and had Tommy John Surgery? Well, yes. The Mets are expected to non-tender him this offseason, which would make him a free agent. The Rays are unlikely to sign him. So is this article a terrible attempt at a joke? Not quite.
Back in 2002, Pelfrey was entering his senior season at Wichita Heights High School in Kansas as a potential first round pick, being 6’7″, 190 with a fastball that touched the mid-90’s and a slider that showed plenty of promise. However, he struggled his senior year to fall out of consideration for a high pick and the Devil Rays took a flier on him in the 15th round hoping they could find a way to sign him and get an absolute steal so late in the draft. They could not and Pelfrey attended Wichita State University. Pelfrey was the Mets’ first round pick, 9th overall, in 2005 thanks to a more polished version of his high school repertoire, a durable pitcher’s frame, a consistent mid-90’s fastball, an excellent breaking ball, and a solid changeup. He was in the big leagues by the end of 2006. However, Pelfrey has never developed as a pitcher the way the Mets thought he would. His fastball is electric thanks to mid-90’s velocity with sink and run, but his secondary pitches, still his slider and changeup along with a slow curveball, have never come together. Because of that, has a nice 48.6% groundball rate for his career but just a 1.59 to 1 strikeout to walk ratio. For his career, he’s 50-54 with a 4.36 ERA (109 ERA-) and a 4.23 FIP (105 FIP-). Pelfrey once had so much potential, but turning 29 in January, it looks like it’s too late for him to be anything more than a mediocre pitcher.
The D-Rays selected Pelfrey in the 15th round of the 2002 MLB Draft knowing he was much more talented than his draft slot, and sure enough he became a first round pick. Recently, the Rays acquired another player they had drafted in 2002 who was a first round pick in 2005: lefty Cesar Ramos. It took Ramos a year to work out the kinks, but the Rays got Ramos to make enough progress with his secondary pitches to pair with his plus fastball that he pitched very well in 30 big league innings and they even tried converting him back into a starting pitcher after sending him back down to Triple-A Durham. It’s doubtful that Pelfrey would be willing to work in relief except as a last resort, but it would be interesting if the Rays signed him to a minor league deal and worked with him on his slider and especially his changeup, a major focus of the Rays throughout their system, to get him back to the pitcher they knew as early as 2002 to have ace upside. It’s extremely doubtful that Pelfrey would agree to sign with the Rays unless he knew that he had a rotation spot ready for him to take if he pulled himself together at Triple-A, and that’s not the case right now. But if the Rays do trade a starting pitcher, it would be interesting to see if they might take a flier on Pelfrey and whether Pelfrey would be wiling to accept such an offer. Pelfrey would give the Rays a chance for big-time upside and little coast while from Pelfrey’s standpoint, he gets the chance to completely turn his career around. We’re talking a lot of hypotheticals here and it is extremely unlikely that Mike Pelfrey will sign with the Rays this offseason- but if there’s anywhere for Pelfrey to turn his career around, it’s in Tampa Bay.