October 6, 2013; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Atlanta Braves relief pitcher Luis Ayala (20) pitches in the sixth inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers in game three of the National League divisional series playoff baseball game at Dodger Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

Could A Great Tampa Bay Rays Bullpen Become Even Scarier?

There is no doubt that the Rays’ bullpen looks formidable going into 2014, especially after the signing of Grant Balfour. The Rays have past closers in Heath Bell and Juan Carlos Oviedo who have faltered the last couple of years, but both who have the potential to be very good. If anyone is going to get the most out of them, it will be the Rays. Joel Peralta brings experience in the 8th inning, and Jake McGee is one of the best young left-handed relievers in the game. For the final two spots, a competition will occur between the likes of Brad Boxberger, Josh Lueke, Cesar Ramos, Brandon Gomes, and Mark Lowe, all of whom are very capable relievers. But could the Rays make another signing or two to further bolster their relief corps even more?

Ryan Madson is one option, although he comes with no guarantees. After posting a 2.89 ERA, 2.6 BB/9, and an 8.6 K/9 from 2007-2011, Madson hasn’t thrown a big league pitch since. The Los Angeles Angles of ANaheim brought Madson in this past year on a $3.5 million dollar deal, but he suffered multiple setbacks with his injured right elbow. Given his injuries, there is a chance Madson will never throw a pitch again in the big leagues, and even if he does there is a likelihood he won’t be successful. But his past dominance is too much to ignore, and a team will bring him in and give him another chance. Madson likely will just require a minor league deal with say a $2-3 million dollar base salary and some incentives if he does pitch in the big leagues. The Rays’ have already stretched their payroll beyond limits, but if Madson returns to form, it would be worth stretching the payroll just a bit more. Maybe some if this money could be deferred to 2015, although it is highly unusual to defer money that isn’t even guaranteed. This deal would come with no risk, but could have a big reward for the back of the bullpen.

Another option is Luis Ayala, who has received little interest on the market so far this offseason. Maybe it is because of a lack of stuff (he has only struck out 6.1 batters per nine innings the last three years) combined with his age (36 years old). However, it is hard to argue with his performance. Over the last three years, Ayala has posted a 2.68 ERA and a 2.6 BB/9, both great numbers. He gets batters out through solid control, which causes him to induce a solid amount of ground balls. The Rays infield defense is outstanding (all four starters were nominated for a Gold Glove last year), so a groundball pitcher like Ayala would thrive with the Rays’ defense playing him. Ayala would also be cheap to the Rays. He made just $1 million dollars last year with the Atlanta Braves, and given his lack of a market this offseason, he could see slightly less money despite a solid 2013 campaign. He slots in well as a middle reliever in the bullpen, and gives the Rays more of a sure thing than other candidates for the final couple bullpen spots.

One more option could be lefty Oliver Perez. As I stated in my projection of the Rays’ 25-man roster, I think if the Rays went into Spring Training with the relievers they currently had, they would only carry one lefty in the bullpen in Jake McGee. Cesar Ramos wasn’t awful last year, as he posted a 4.14 ERA, but at the same time, he came in games in extremely low pressure situations. He only ever pitched if the Rays’ were way up or way down, and wasn’t even trusted to get key outs against left handed hitters, which is the whole point of having a LOOGY in a bullpen. The Rays might need to add another lefty, and Perez could be that option. He has been solid the last two years in the Mariners ‘pen, posting a 3.16 ERA, 10.9 K/9, and 3.9 BB/9. His 2013 numbers weren’t amazing, but his 3.76 ERA was better than Ramos even though he pitched in higher leverage situations, and FIP indicates his ERA really should have been around 3.26. If they Rays are content with carrying just one lefty in the bullpen, they might not want to bother with Perez. But because Ramos is an inferior big league pitcher, Perez would be an upgrade if they Rays wish to carry multiple lefties in the ‘pen. Perez hasn’t had much interest this offseason, so he could come as cheap as a minor league deal, or possibly a big league deal with a $800,000-$1 million guarantee. Overall, he could be a solid, cheap lefty option out of the ‘pen.

The Rays already have a great looking bullpen, but it could be even better. Right now the Rays have question marks at the last two bullpen spots, and while they have very capable pitchers to fill those spots, most come with some question marks. Therefore, the Rays could look outside of the organization to add another reliever or two. They certainly don’t have to, but if they can upgrade the bullpen even more for just $1 million dollars, why not do it? The Rays have already just about stretched their payroll to the max, but they could afford another $1 million commitment. There are plenty of options on the open market that could fit the Rays’ bill, some riskier than others. If the price is right, Andrew Friedman has the chance to make a great Rays’ team just a little bit better.

Tags: Luis Ayala Oliver Perez Ryan Madson Tampa Bay Rays

5 Comments on Could A Great Tampa Bay Rays Bullpen Become Even Scarier?

  1. Jason Nereim says:

    I still don’t buy that Ramos is a below average pitcher despite your many attempts to convince us otherwise. I understand he didn’t pitch in any high leverage situations, but when you are the low man on the totum pole, why would you. What do you propose the Rays do with Ramos? Release him? Trade him? Further, who takes his spot as the longman in the bullpen? Being the longman in the pen isn’t a flashy or rewarding job, but it’s still a necessary role.

    • Drew Jenkins says:

      One commenter on my last article suggested that the Rays pair Ramos (or another reliever) with Lobaton to maximize trade value, which I think could work. If not, try to pass him through waivers. They have enough depth that they can take the hit. The one argument that Ramos has going for him in my opinion is that he can pitch multiple innings. The Rays wouldn’t have a defacto swingman without Ramos, but at the same time, relievers CAN pitch 2 innings if needed. Maybe it hurts them a couple times during the year, but the Rays do have a strong starting staff that doesn’t put them in a bad position too often. I think the benefit of having a reliever better than Ramos outweighs the cost of not having a guy who can pitch 3 innings a handful of times a year.

      • Jason Nereim says:

        The funny part, is I actually really do agree with you for the most part. While Ramos has proven himself a capable major league pitcher, the upside is very limited. He’s a very safe and boring player. However, such as with guys like DeJesus and Loney, sometimes boring and average is good. Most of these other arms are unproven or volatile. You really don’t know what your going to get. Boxberger, Lueke, Gomes, Riefenhauser, etc could all be very good major league relievers. However they could just as likely all be big busts.

        As much as I would like to see what Boxberger or whoever can do, much like the Rays, I err with caution. You can look at what the Rays have historically done and see that guys out of options typically have an upper hand in a 25 man roster spot. Why just give one away when you can have both. Injuries and bouts of ineffectiveness happen, more often than we like, so clearly we will need more than seven relievers. The other guys will get their shot.

        Outside of trading Ramos for something worthwhile, which is still possible, I am absolutely not in favor of just giving him away for nothing. There is no way Ramos, still under team control for three more years, passes through waivers. Not that I wish an injury upon anyone, but Im just as excited to see what these other guys can do as well.

        • Drew Jenkins says:

          I agree with you to an extent here, but getting back to the point of this specific article, maybe the Rays should bring in someone who is better than Ramos but comes with less risk than a Lueke. But to me, Lueke and Boxberger are going to be better than Ramos, and if not, the Rays have plenty of fallback options. If one busts, you have a Gomes or a Riefenhauser to back them up. Maybe on a different team Id think differently, but not this one. Why not take a little bit more risk to get a better bullpen when you have so many fallback options that have upside as well?

    • Drew Jenkins says:

      Why not Boxberger as a long reliever? Last year he threw 57 innings in 42 MILB appearances, and 22 innings in 18 MLB appearances. So, he can throw multiple innings if needed. As far as I can tell he isn’t an injury risk, so why not stretch him out a bit and put him in the role? He wouldn’t be able to start, but they don’t need a spot starter when they have so many pitchers in Triple-A capable of coming up for a start or two.

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