Erik Bedard entered Tampa Bay Rays spring training hoping to reestablish himself as a legitimate big league rotation option. It is hard to say that he has done so. In 11.1 spring training innings pitched, Bedard has just a 7.15 and a 6-5 strikeout to walk ratio. His curveball remains a good pitch, but his fastball command has been inconsistent and his changeup has never been that great. For a team in the Rays that hopes to have one of the best rotations in baseball, Bedard does not seem like a real candidate for a rotation spot. But Bedard said yesterday that he will exercise the out-clause in his minor league deal if he does not make the Rays’ Opening Day roster. Should that change the Rays’ thinking at all?
Last year, the Rays signed Roberto Hernandez and gave him a rotation spot for almost the entire season despite inconsistent performance the whole time. But two major factors led to that occurring and neither of those exist now: injuries and the lack of quality alternatives. Yes, Bedard is competing for the spot vacated by Jeremy Hellickson after elbow surgery, but the Rays enter the year with depth is not a major concern. Jake Odorizzi continues to emerge as a pitcher the Rays can rely on, improving his fastball command in the last year and adding a split-change this spring that has experienced success. Behind him–even if they lose Bedard–are Nate Karns, Alex Colome, Matt Andriese, and Enny Romero. A few months in Triple-A, and at least one or two of them will be ready enough for the major leagues. The only reason the Rays would want to pick Bedard over Odorizzi would be if he was the best option for their fifth starter job. He is not, and keeping him to “maintain starting depth” does not make any sense.
Bedard could also shift to the bullpen, where his arsenal could be effective in shorter stints. However, the Rays have a player in Cesar Ramos taking up the role that Bedard would fill, and Ramos is out of options. You can make the argument that the Rays should view that bullpen spot exactly the same as the fifth starter role and pick the best player for the job. If they believe that Bedard is that player, they should designate Ramos for assignment to accommodate Bedard on the roster. That argument is not so difficult to make–Bedard has slightly better stuff than Ramos and a better track record of getting lefty batters out. But why should the Rays bend over backwards to accommodate a marginally better lefty reliever? Ramos being out of options can make us forget the fact that he has three years remaining under team control while Ramos is going to be a free agent after the year. In any event, we are talking about a low-leverage role, and C.J. Riefenhauser or Mike Montgomery will likely emerge as a better option than whoever the Rays choose by the end of the year. The tiebreaker of team control is enough for Ramos to beat out Bedard because the additional impact Bedard could make is just not that significant.
In a perfect world, the Rays would love to keep Erik Bedard. Looking at the reality of the situation, though, we see that the Rays have no reason to put Bedard ahead of Jake Odorizzi for the fifth starter job or Cesar Ramos for a bullpen spot. If Bedard was willing to go to the minor leagues, he would get an opportunity to pitch for the Rays before long. But the Rays have no reason to guarantee Bedard an opportunity to begin the year, and if he chooses to exercise his out-clause because of that, then so be it.