In Sunday’s spring training game, the Tampa Bay Rays were lucky that catastrophe did not strike. Xander Bogaerts hit a line drive right at Matt Moore that hit him in the face, and only the ball grazing Moore’s glove prevented the liner from causing a serious injury. Moore will undergo additional tests, but that the worst injury he sustained was a cut to his lip that required a couple of stitches and he will likely be ready for the start of the season. But in the blink of an eye, Bogaerts hit his line drive, and the Rays almost lost a key starting pitcher. Moore’s close call demonstrates just what the Rays are risking by choosing Jake Odorizzi over Erik Bedard as the fifth starter in the rotation.
Bedard has an opt-out clause in his minor league contract, and he will indeed use this clause unless he is added to the 25-man roster. After losing the battle for the 5th starter, the only way to keep him around would be to stash him in the bullpen. But with the Rays several better relief options than Bedard, it appears that he will be looking for a big league opportunity elsewhere. The Rays are taking a big risk by not keeping Bedard in the rotation and letting him walk.
Having Erik Bedard as a starter would have been the best move for the Rays’ depth, even if that meant giving up a bit of performance. With Jeremy Hellickson out until at least mid-May with an elbow injury, their depth has already been called into question. If Bedard had made the rotation, then Odorizzi would have slid back into the Triple-A rotation to provide a reliable option in the event that another injury were to occur to the big league rotation. But with Bedard likely on his way out, the Rays have no sure options at Triple-A to fill in in the event of injury. Sure a projected Triple-A rotation of Alex Colome, Nate Karns, Enny Romero, Matt Andriese, and Mike Montgomery features a plethora of notable prospects. However, the only one that has had any previous success even at Triple-A is Colome, and he is a major injury risk that cannot be relied on to be healthy over the course of the season. These guys could all be solid pitchers down the line, but there is no guarantee they will perform if pressed into duty in the major leagues. If another Rays starter were to suffer another injury in the first month of the season, then they could find themselves in quite the bind. Maybe someone will step up and present themselves as a reliable fall-back option, but there is a chance that none of these pitchers will be 100% ready to do so, and that is where the Rays are taking their chance.
This decision tells us something big about the Rays–they really are going to do their best to make a World Series run this season. Having Odorizzi in the rotation is a clear risk, but the Rays decided that the potential reward was worthwhile. Odorizzi is a superior pitcher to Bedard at this point and should provide an extra win or two to the Rays. The potential of another win or two comes at the risk of an extra two or three losses if another pitcher were to get hurt. The thing is, though, is that getting to the World Series requires taking some risks. The Rays realize that, and that is why Odorizzi was named the fifth starter. In the past, Andrew Friedman has done everything he can to horde depth, but this might be the best Rays’ team in history, and Friedman has decided to stop acting so conservatively.
The Rays are taking a risk by naming Jake Odorizzi the fifth starter over Erik Bedard, and Moore’s close call today shows us that this risk is very real. However, the Rays recognize how important a couple of wins can be in a World Series run. Odorizzi makes the Rays that much better, and as long as they can stay healthy at least until Hellickson is ready to return, it could pay huge dividends for the Rays down the line.