Tonight Roberto Hernandez will make his 20th start as a member of the Tampa Bay Rays. The results have not been very good. Hernandez has gone just 5-11 with a 4.92 ERA, and while his 3.27-to-1 strikeout to walk ratio is a career-high, his 1.4 HR/9 and 50.6% groundball rate are career worsts. He has averaged just under 6 innings a start, but he’s not pitching effectively and is the clear weak link in a Rays organization that has emerged as one of the best in baseball once again the last few months. How long before the Rays make a move? The answer could be almost immediately.
Hernandez will start tonight, but thanks to off-days, the Rays don’t need a 5th starter until August 17th and then not until August 27th after that. So the Rays have two options: put Hernandez in the bullpen for the time being and see what he can do, or replace him with a real bullpen arm like Josh Lueke or Brandon Gomes (who would in turn be replaced by Jesse Crain when he’s healthy). If the Rays trade Hernandez, what would they do about those two starts and all the starts Hernandez is lined up for the rest of the season? Well, that’s what tthey have starting pitching depth for. Alex Cobb had a setback from a blister, but there’s a real chance he’ll be able to make that August 17th start or at least the one on August 27th. Any spot-starts can be filled by Jake Odorizzi, who did fine the last time he was in the major league and would be starting major league games on 15 other teams. Hernandez is totally superfluous at this point. Could the Rays pull the trigger on a deal that would take him out of town?
The thing about the Rays is that they never trade from a surplus unless they are given incentive to do so. Is any team in baseball willing to give up a halfway-decent prospect to acquire Hernandez? The good news about Hernandez is that after the Rays tried him out as both a starter and reliever in spring training, other teams may look at him the same way, opening up a few more teams to possible acquisitions. But just because he’s a possibility doesn’t mean that they’re willing to give up much to get him. If no one goes after Hernandez, the Rays could put him in their bullpen, see how he does, and then make a decision once Cobb and Crain are back. There is a chance Hernandez could be traded. But unless some team is enamored with him to offer the Rays a prospect of some value, a trade probably is not happening now and will happen either by the August 31st waiver trade deadline or not at all.
Will this start tonight be Roberto Hernandez’s last as Tampa Bay Ray? There’s a chance, depending on how long it takes Cobb to recover. Will it be his last game? Unless there’s a team that has interest in Hernandez right before the deadline, it’s a pretty safe bet that he will make at least one or two relief appearances before departing. The Rays are going to get a rotation upgrade with Cobb coming back, but the chances are that it will not force Hernandez out, at least immediately.