A few days ago, we heard that the Tampa Bay Rays had claimed Pedro Figueroa off waivers from the Oakland Athletics. Then today, the Rays designated Jerry Sands for assignment in a corresponding move, making the claim official as they made room for Figueroa on the 40-man roster. But as the Rays continue to make moves, it is inevitable that more players will be heading out the door. Let’s look at the members of the Rays’ 40-man roster and figure out which players will be gone by the time the regular season comes around.
Jose Lobaton: When you look at the Rays’ 40-man roster, there is only one player who stands out as having no chance of helping the team in 2014 or future years the way it is currently constructed: Jose Lobaton. The Rays have Ryan Hanigan signed for the next three years and Jose Molina for the next two, and there is little chance they will break camp with three catchers on their 25-man roster. Why not just get rid of Lobaton now as soon as they have to get it over with? The answer is that he has some value after a strong year at the plate. The Rays might as well ask around to see what other teams would offer for Lobaton, but he will likely get traded a few weeks down the line and rushing the process would likely mean that the Rays would receive less. He will not get designated for assignment, but in all likelihood he will be traded, whether now or at the end of spring training.
Jeff Beliveau: If the Rays sign another player, it will likely be a reliever, and that could mean that another relief arm could be heading out the door. Beliveau, who will soon turn 27, was up with the Rays multiple times in 2013 but managed to make just one appearance. He did make 22 mediocre relief appearances with the Chicago Cubs in 2012, but that does not help his case much. The other side of the coin, however, is that Beliveau was great at Triple-A, striking out 81 while walking just 23 in 48.2 innings pitched and holding lefties to just a .491 OPS in his minor league team. His repertoire isn’t overpowering, but he beats lefties with a low-90’s fastball with late bite to go along with three solid secondary pitches. Finally, he has a minor league option left, something that is going to keep him around. Beliveau may not knock your socks off, but he has done nothing to warrant getting designated for assignment in the next few months.
Cesar Ramos: The Rays’ other extra lefty, Cesar Ramos, finds himself in an extremely strange situation. When you look at his numbers for the Rays in 2013, he did pretty well–he went 2-2 with a 4.14 ERA in 48 appearances, managing a 7.1 K/9, a 2.9 BB/9, and a 0.7 HR/9 in 67.1 innings pitched. He performed some amazing feats as the Rays’ long reliever, most notably when he tossed three innings two days in a row on June 9th and 10th. But all of his stats are taken with a huge grain of salt because of how little pressure he pitched under. His average leverage index was just .432, the lowest of all major league relievers minimum 45 innings pitched. How would he do with more on the line? Ramos does have a good repertoire, featuring a low-90’s fastball and three decent secondary offerings, but unlike Beliveau he has never really shut down left-handed batters, allowing a higher OPS against them than against righties the last two years. Ramos is out of options, which gives him a better chance than Beliveau of making the Rays’ Opening Day roster, but you have to wonder whether the Rays want a more talented pitcher occupying their last bullpen spot. Ramos should be around come spring training, but it is not out of the question that he gets designated for assignment should the Rays sign another reliever.
Josh Lueke: Ramos’ principal competition for that spot is Lueke, who finally pitched well enough to get an opportunity in the Rays bullpen but proceeded to completely fall apart. Lueke rebounded from a terrible 2012 at Triple-A to be unhittable in 2013, going 3-1 with just a 0.63 ERA, a 12.7 K/9, a 2.4 BB/9, and a 0.2 HR/9 in 40 appearances and 57.1 innings pitched. But in the big leagues, he put up just a 5.06 ERA in 19 appearances, allowing 3 home runs in 21.1 innings pitched after allowing just 1 in nearly triple the number of innings at Triple-A. Lueke appears to be solidifying his reputation as a Quad-A player, with whatever has led to his dominance at Triple-A backfiring entirelyonce he reaches the major leagues. The bizarre thing about that, however, is that Lueke has electric stuff. His fastball reached as high as 98 MPH in 2013, and he pairs it with an excellent splitter and decent curveball. Lueke’s fatal flaws, however, are that his fastball is relatively straight and he uses it up in the zone too often. He got away with that at Triple-A, but big league hitters did not take long to adjust to him. Lueke has to either find some movement on his fastball or learn to command it better, but both of those take time to materialize, something Lueke does not have the luxury of having since he is out of options. Lueke will compete with Ramos for the last bullpen spot, but he could be a more likely candidate to be let go. At least the Rays know that Ramos could be a decent low-leverage arm.
Brandon Gomes: The good thing about Brandon Gomes is that he has another option left. The bad news is that he has the ugly combination of disastrous performance in the big leagues the last two years and so-so stuff. Gomes did have a 2.92 ERA in 40 big league appearances in 2011, but that is long forgotten after his 5.84 mark in 41 appearances the last two years, including 6 homers in just 37 innings pitched (1.5 HR/9). His strikeout to walk ratio was an insane 93-15 in 72.2 Triple-A innings in that span, but even then he had a 1.1 HR/9. Gomes does have a pair of solid secondary pitches in his slider and splitter, helping to force some swings and misses, but it doesn’t even matter because his fastball command is terrible and it doesn’t help that he is only throwing 91-92 MPH. If push comes to shove, the Rays would almost surely designate Lueke for assignment before Gomes simply because of the option. However, Gomes simply has not proven himself good enough to think his spot on the 40-man roster is secure.
One thing that may be overstated is how much relievers like Beliveau, Ramos, Lueke, and Gomes are over recent 40-man additions Kirby Yates and C.J. Riefenhauser. It is nice that they all have big league experience, and the Rays would always like to have as much relief depth as possible, but the Rays will not bend over backwards to keep them and there is a very high probability at least two of them will be gone by the time the 2014 season begins. The Rays have somewhere from three to five spots to play with on their 40-man roster. Let’s see what they can do with them.