Juan Carlos Oviedo is reportedly ready to report to Rays camp this Saturday or Sunday after previously being held up in the Dominican Republic due to visa issues. Oviedo was expected to be a classic Rays reclamation project this season, but his inability to report has put some doubt on the situation. Where does Oviedo stand now?
Oviedo was signed by the Rays prior to the 2013 season on a minor league deal. It was a long-term investment move, as he was expected to miss most if not all of the season because of Tommy John surgery, so the Rays included a $2 million option for the 2014 season. They declined this option heading into the offseason, but quickly re-signed Oviedo to a guaranteed 1-year, $1.5 million deal that includes another $1.4 million in incentives.
Oviedo was a decent pitcher from 2009-2011, posting a 3.86 ERA and saving 92 games for the then Florida Marlins. But then he was then suspended for the first two months of the 2012 season for identity fraud. When he tried to work his way back into game shape after the suspension, things got even worse for Oviedo, as he tore the ulnar collateral ligament in his elbow and was forced to undergo Tommy John surgery. Because of this, he has not pitched in a big league game in two years. The Rays signed him hoping that he can regain some of his old form, and they have had success with “reclaiming” pitchers in the past. But with Oviedo being late to report, it is not certain if he will be back up to speed for the season to begin.
He has supposedly been throwing in the Dominican Republic, but it is hard to replace the innings that he would have seen had he been in big league camp. By reporting to camp now, he is almost a month behind the other relievers. There are just over two weeks left remaining in spring training, so there is a real chance that Oviedo has not built up enough arm strength to break camp with the Rays. You could make a case that a normal reliever could be ready in this time, but with Oviedo’s injuries the past two years, that timeframe will not make sense. I find it hard to believe that Oviedo could be up to speed in two weeks after not pitching in games for almost two years.
The Rays could rush him back to action, but they are normally cautious with pitchers, so we can expect them to be even more cautions here given Oviedo’s injury. Don’t be surprised to see Oviedo begin this season on the disabled list so that he has more time to build up arm strength. In this scenario, Oviedo would be sent to extended spring training. This would allow the Rays to put him on a very conservative throwing program to ensure he is past his health problems and 100% ready to join the big league club. He would probably need 2-3 weeks in extended spring training, and during that time the Rays have plenty of candidates such as Brandon Gomes and Brad Boxberger that could seamlessly slot into the bullpen. They only need him to be a middle reliever this year, so why risk another injury for a couple of weeks worth of appearances? Starting him on the DL is a very possible option, and in my opinion would be the best avenue for the Rays to take.
Juan Carlos Oviedo is finally set to report to camp, and he could become a solid contributor to the Rays’ bullpen this year. That being said, they have plenty of other options in the bullpen, so there is no reason to rush him through the spring and risk another injury. Oviedo has the chance to return to his previous form this season: if the Rays can handle his situation right, he could be just one more solid piece to add to an already stout Tampa Bay Rays bullpen.