The past few days brought a couple developments in the Rays bullpen. Right-hander Brandon Gomes went on the disabled list with a strain lat muscle in his right throwing shoulder and in a corresponding move, the Rays brought up fellow right-hander Josh Lueke from the Triple-A Durham Bulls. Lueke came up and was great in his first appearance, striking out 2 in 1.1 perfect innings. It appears that the Rays will be just fine. But Lueke coming to the major leagues and Gomes heading onto the DL left a bullpen spot vacant at Durham. And to fill that spot, the Rays went back to an old friend: right-hander Cory Wade, fresh off a release from the Chicago Cubs.
In The Office, the character Ryan Howard starts out as a temp, keeps rising until he becomes a big shot at corporate, but then watches his entire career fall apart and ends up back as a temp. That scenario doesn’t seem so realistic at all in the real world–but Cory Wade might be as good of an example as we’ll get.
Wade was in the major leagues with the Dodgers from 2008 to 2009, but then shoulder surgery derailed his career and he didn’t appear in the majors at all in 2010. Wade became a minor league free agent following the season and signed a minor league deal with the Rays, beginning the season with their Triple-A Durham affiliate for 2011. Wade pitched well with the Bulls, managing a 1.23 ERA, an 8.3 K/9, a 1.5 BB/9, and a 1.0 HR/9 in 21 appearances and 36.2 IP, but the Rays didn’t have a spot for him on their major league roster and Wade exercised his out clause. Then Wade signed with the Yankees and proceeded to have an unbelievable year, managing a 6-1 record, a 2.04 ERA, and a 30-8 strikeout in 40 appearances and 38.2 IP. Wade went from Rays castoff to one of they key pieces of the Yankees bullpen. But then it all fell apart.
With the Yankees in 2012, Wade managed just a 6.46 ERA in 39 appearances and 39 IP, posting an outstanding 38-8 strikeout to walk ratio but also allowed a scary 8 home runs. The Yankees designated him for assignment following the season, and the Blue Jays picked him up before designating him themselves. Wade wound up with the Chicago Cubs organization and put up a 16-7 strikeout to walk ratio but just a 7.88 ERA in his first 10 appearances and 16 IP, prompting his release. And now, here Wade is right back where he started, at Triple-A Durham for the Rays.
Wade’s struggles stem from the fact that he doesn’t throw very hard, hitting only the high-80′s, but doesn’t have great command of his fastball, making him very prone to home runs. Wade has a good changeup and solid curveball, giving him a nice relief repertoire, but the question is always about his fastball command–when it’s on, he can pitch extremely well, and when he misses his spots, he can get hit hard. At the very least, Wade is a 30 year old veteran reliever who has found big league success in the past and who the Rays have the option to go to if he pitches well and bullpen need arises.
Twice in the major leagues, with the Dodgers in 2008 and the Yankees in 2011, Wade has managed an ERA below 2.30 in 40 or more appearances, and while he may never be able to achieve that type of success for a sustained period again, he still has value as a middle relief type who can come up from Triple-A and give you some solid outings. The Rays are risking absolutely nothing to sign Wade, giving him just a minor league contract and requiring him only to fill a few innings while Gomes is out. And if the Rays are lucky, they may find themselves with a red-hot Wade on their hands once again and a decision about whether to bring him to the major leagues or let him go one more time.