As I think about what is next for the dysfunctional Tampa Bay Rays, I asked myself if things would be different if we replaced the current lineup with former team members. It’s an interesting hypothetical question and so I have decided to do a three part series on what that team might look like and whether the Rays would want to bring back any of the players. The rules of the game are that to get a player back, the Rays have to pay him his current salary and, if he left in a recent trade, they have to return the players obtained in the trade. Let’s start with the starting rotation.
James Shields would be the most logical candidate to bring back. Big Game James would be able to step up and stop these annoying losing streaks the Rays keep having. He has been solid as a rock since he was traded to Kansas City. In 2013, he went 13-9 with a 3.15 ERA and 196 strikeouts in 200 innings pitched, and he is off to a similar start this year with a 6-3 record and a 2.67 ERA. However, the are two problems here: he makes $13.5 million this year and the Rays received Wil Myers and Jake Odorizzi in the trade for him. Myers, once he gets his feet on the ground, should be an All-Star for years, and Odorizzi could be the next James Shields. Under the rules of the game, I don’t think bringing back Shields would be worth nullifying the trade,
Matt Garza could be plugged in as the Rays’ number three starter. However, his record does not make a case for giving him the job. In the four years since he left the Rays, Garza has an 25-23 record and an ERA of just under 4.00. He continues to be inconsistent, and this year he is 2-4 with a 4.83 ERA for the Brewers. Add in that he makes $12.5 million a year and I don’t see Garza as an upgrade over the pitcher he was traded for, Chris Archer.
Scott Kazmir is an interesting story. Obtained in a trade for Victor Zambrano in 2005, Kazmir gave the Rays five great years and 55 wins before the Rays sent him to the Angels. He hurt his shoulder with the Angels and was out of baseball in 2012. He made an impressive comeback in 2013 with the Indians and then signed a $22.5 million ($7.0 in 2014) deal with the Oakland A’s in 2014. He is off to a great start with A’s and so far has posted a 5-1 record with a 2.39 ERA. I would definitely add Kazmir to the Rays rotation as the temporary replacement for Matt Moore.
Edwin Jackson lives up to the baseball adage “he’ll give you innings” and over his ten year career that is about all he has done. Jackson has played for eight teams including the Rays and his average 162 game season is 11-12 record, a 4.45 ERA and 196 innings. In 2013, he had a terrible 8-18 record and a 4.98 ERA with the lowly Cubs. In 2014, with the Brewers, he is 3-3 with 3.98 ERA. It should be noted that he will earn $11.0 million this year. Jackson isn’t an upgrade for the Ray’s pitching staff.
Jason Hammel is a poor man’s Edwin Jackson. He was traded by the Rays to the Colorado Rockies in 2008 for a minor league pitcher. Since then he has shown up in the Colorado Rockies and Baltimore Orioles rotation and has been decent but rarely better than that. Over the last six seasons, he is 53-61 with an ERA of just under 4.00. In his three seasons with the Rockies, he averaged a little of 170 innings, but his innings pitched have fallen of significantly since then. This year, he is with the lowly Cubs and is off to a great start with a 4-2 record and a 3.06 ERA, but who knows whether he can sustain that. He makes $6.0 million this year. As much as Hammel’s 2014 record would look good for the Rays right now, I think Erik Bedard is a more cost efficient alternative as a fifth starter.
The grass is always seems greener on the other side of the hill and at first glance, these five starters looked like they might provide some upgrades to the Tampa Bay Rays rotation. However, closer inspection shows that, overall, we are probably better off with what we have. Nobody could turn down James Shields, but he served his purpose and we wouldn’t want to give back Myers and Odorizzi. Kazmir would be my only choice to join the rotation, but only for one year as he’s due $11.0 million in 2015. Garza, Jackson and Hammel have become journeymen and inning eaters. What is really staggering is that these five pitchers will make a total of $50.0 million this year. That’s about two thirds of the Rays total payroll! In the end, at least for the most part, the Rays are better off sticking with what they have and hoping that better times eventually arrive.