On Sunday, Erik Bedard made his latest start for the Tampa Bay Rays while Jeremy Hellickson took the ball in a rehab outing for Triple-A Durham. Their performances did little to make the expected outcome of Bedard getting designated for assignment in favor of Hellickson any closer to happening. After a couple of rough outings, Bedard rebounded to go 5.1 innings allowing only 2 runs on 7 hits, striking out 8 while walking just 1. Hellickson, meanwhile, went 5 innings allowing 6 runs, 5 earned, on 8 hits, although he did strike out 7 while walking none. Hellickson made real progress with his fastball command and secondary pitches, but it certainly is not a sure thing that he will return to the major leagues and look like his usual self. Combine the need to have insurance for Hellickson with the fact that David Price has one foot out the door, and it seems like losing Bedard does not make nearly as much sense as it once did. How the Rays deal with all these moving parts in their rotation?
Part 1 of the plan is simple and relatively obvious: start Bedard until Hellickson is ready. That gives the Rays five days (counting today) to get a Price trade done, and if one were to somehow come together, they would be done. Assuming that it does not, Hellickson’s needs a spot, and Bedard is going to make way to give it to him. However, that does not mean that Bedard needs to necessarily go. If the Rays like, they can simply demote a reliever like Kirby Yates to Triple-A for a week or two and then bring him back up once Price is dealt. It would be unfair to Yates–he has done nothing wrong–and would probably make the Rays a slightly worse team on the whole. Nevertheless, if you trading David Price, the last thing on your mind is the difference between Yates and Bedard out of bullpen.
The real question is going to be this: do the Rays really need Erik Bedard? He is not a piece of their future, and there is no real point to have him except for to fill some innings. If the Rays have a pitcher at Triple-A who they believe is worth a look, Bedard can go and that pitcher would just come up to replace Price. Is there such a pitcher? Exactly who that would be is not entirely clear, but the Rays have plenty of options. Alex Colome has looked great at Triple-A, but got lit up in his last start. The same is true for Matt Andriese and Nate Karns–with Andriese especially unlikely because he is not on the 40-man roster. Mike Montgomery and Enny Romero, meanwhile, have looked better in recent outings, with Montgomery especially looking like he deserves a big league chance. Montgomery will turn 25 on July 1st, and while his future in likely in the bullpen, this is a golden opportunity for the Rays to see what he is truly capable of. If not Montgomery, though, the Rays have several pitchers to choose from. Erik Bedard could very well be better than all of them right now, but it is not as though the Rays care about that it all in this lost season. Even though it would be so easy for the Rays to stash Kirby Yates at Triple-A for a week or two, there really is no reason to do so with at least one of these pitchers in the Durham rotation certainly qualified to be promoted.
When Jeremy Hellickson comes back, Erik Bedard is out the door. The Rays have the ability to do otherwise, and maybe they would if they were trying to win games, but it really makes no sense right now. Bedard’s departure will make room for Bedard, and the trade of Price will open a spot for one of the Durham arms. If Hellickson struggles, all the Rays would need to do is promote somebody else. Although it took some discussion to sort through, the expected outcome of Hellickson replacing Bedard in the rotation and on the roster is as likely as ever.