Mar 10, 2014; Fort Myers, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Rays starting pitcher Jake Odorizzi (23) pitches in the second inning against the Boston Red Sox at JetBlue Park. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

Final Cases for the Tampa Bay Rays' Fifth Starter Candidates

The battle for the Tampa Bay Rays’ fifth starter job has come down to the wire, and the team is finally set to announce the winner today. The decision has big implications–the difference between the right and the wrong choice could be a couple of wins, and we all know just how much those wins can matter. Jake Odorizzi, Erik Bedard, and Cesar Ramos are remaining candidates. Here are the cases for and against each becoming the final member of the Rays’ rotation.

Jake Odorizzi

The Case For Him

Odorizzi has the highest upside of the three, and has nothing left to prove in the minors after posting a 3.33 ERA, 2.9 BB/9, and 9.0 K/9 in 124.1 Triple-A innings last season. He was thought to have the ceiling of a number three or four starter, but a split-changeup that he has added to his arsenal this spring has suddenly given hope that he can become even more.  The pitch is quickly turning into an out-pitch, and although it does need some more consistency, it might be what vaults Odorizzi into the 5th starter job. Odorizzi is likely not going to be any worse than the other two candidates even though he doesn’t have their experience, so why not give the job to the guy who has the potential to be the best of the bunch? The Rays want to make a run at the World Series, so even though having Odorizzi as the fifth starter might sacrifice some depth, it is likely the best move if the Rays want to win.

The Case Against Him

If Odorizzi was in the rotation, the Rays’ depth would come into question. Bedard will opt-out of his deal, and assuming he signs elsewhere, Alex Colome would be the only arm in the Triple-A rotation that had found any success at the major league level. Colome is an injury risk and not reliable, so it would cause a problem in the event of an injury to the big league rotation, with the Rays being forced to call up a minor leaguer who may or may not be ready. With that in mind, the smarter option might be to have Odorizzi to rely on at Triple-A. The Rays only need a fifth starter until Jeremy Hellickson returns in mid-late May. Assuming that the Rays think Hellickson will be healthy and ready to perform, this would mean that the starter would make at most 10-12 starts. It might be worth sacrificing something in the performance department to avoid a meltdown of the rotation if another injury or two occurred before Hellickson was ready to return.

Erik Bedard

The Case For Him

Bedard was a solid pitcher in his prime, but the last two years he has slipped to a 4.78 ERA while striking out 8.3 hitters every nine innings and walking 4.3 batters per nine. These numbers aren’t good, but as mentioned before he would probably only be relied on to make 10-12 starts before Hellickson can return, and he will be a passable pitcher over this duration. He is going to exercise the opt-out clause if he does not make the rotation, so keeping him as the fifth starter would be the best move for the Rays’ depth. The case against Odorizzi basically becomes the case for Bedar– the Rays might not have any pitchers at Triple-A that they could 100% rely on to fill in in the event of injuries if Bedard did not make the rotation. It might be worth the higher ERA for a handful of starts to protect the pitching staff from injuries.

The Case Against Him

As previously said, Bedard has not been a good pitcher the last two years. On top of that, he has thrown poorly this spring, as he has put up a 6.88 ERA while striking out just 10 but only walking 6 in his 17 innings. He is well past his prime and at 35 years old it is hard to see his performance getting significantly better next season. If the Rays are looking to maximize their wins, then Bedard is not the best option. It might be a bit of a risk, but having Odorizzi rather than Bedard could cause a one or two win difference for the Rays. We have seen just how importance a win or two has been to the Rays in the past, so the Rays might elect to give up the extra depth in return for performance, and that would likely mean that Bedard is pitching elsewhere in 2014.

Cesar Ramos

The Case For Him

Of the three pitchers, Ramos has had the best spring. He has posted a 2.63 ERA in his 13.2 innings and has a very good 11-1 K-BB ratio. Ramos was a surprising candidate for the final starting job after throwing 123 games in relief for the Rays the last three years, but he has made the most of his opportunity so far. He wasn’t great last year as he posted a 4.14 ERA, which looks even worse if you consider that he pitched in low-leverage situations. But Ramos did post a 2.9 BB/9 and showcased decent command of his pitches. Command always plays in the big leagues, and that alone could make Ramos serviceable in the rotation. He has looked much better than Bedard this spring, so if the Rays elect to be conservative and send Odorizzi back to Triple-A for depth reasons, then Ramos might become the favorable option.

The Case Against Him

Ramos hasn’t been anything special in his big league career, and that is with him pitching in the bullpen. When a pitcher is put in the rotation, he has to face batters multiple times a game, so these batters have a much better chance to adjust to him. It is hard to see how his numbers would do anything but go down if he were to be put in the rotation. In addition, Ramos hasn’t started more than 20 games in a season since 2008, so it is hard to see him building up enough arm strength to consistently pitch deep into games. One last thing working against Ramos is the fact that they need him in the bullpen. Having Ramos in the rotation would give the Rays just one lefty in the bullpen, but they usually carry two to three lefties. All of these factors make Ramos an outside shot, but with a good spring he might just be finding his way into the rotation.

All-in-all, I believe that Odorizzi will emerge as the winner of this competition. His upside is too hard to ignore, and Bedard has been too mediocre this spring while Ramos is needed in the bullpen. That being said, Andrew Friedman had had more unconventional moves in the past, and each candidate does have pluses to being put in the rotation. The Tampa Bay Rays have a pretty good problem on their hands with this choice. We all known that they will end up making the right one.

Tags: Cesar Ramos Erik Bedard Jake Odorizzi Tampa Bay Rays

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