Things have not worked out well for the Tampa Bay Rays bullpen this year. Andrew Friedman’s usual plan of plucking relievers off the scrapheap and turning them into gems yielded Heath Bell, Juan Carlos Oviedo, and another year of Josh Lueke. All three are no longer with the team. A bold move to bring in closer Grant Balfour on a $12 million two year deal has not worked out either. So, with that being said and the team surprisingly in the playoff hunt, how will the Rays handle their bullpen from here?
Keep the status quo: Currently, the Tampa Bay Rays have Jake McGee, Brad Boxberger, Grant Balfour, Joel Peralta, Kirby Yates, Jeff Beliveau, and Cesar Ramos in the bullpen. Over the course of the season, only McGee and Boxberger have been consistently reliable in high leverage situations. Balfour and Peralta have been reliable in the past and, hopefully, will regain their polish in the last two months. Yates and Beliveau, meanwhile, are relatively untested and you have no idea how they will fair under fire down the stretch. Finally, Ramos is the long man in the bullpen and nothing more.
If I’m Joe Maddon, I’m looking for a short term upgrade for Yates and Beliveau knowing that I can bring them back for depth in September.
Promote from within: Durham is loaded with starting pitching, but whether anyone is the next Alex Cobb or Chris Archer is up in the air. So, maybe it’s time to find out if one or more of them is the next Alex Torres. The top three candidates for that role are Alex Colome, Nate Karns, and Mike Montgomery. All three have loads of talent but also some issues. Colome gets hurt a lot, Karns has big-time command problems and Montgomery, much like Torres, is only now finding himself as a starter after years of struggles. Nevertheless, all three feature electric stuff and have the ability to pitch in big spots before long if the Rays decide to go that route.
In the Durham bullpen, C.J. Riefenhauser is a lefty with good potential, but whether is a short term upgrade from Beliveau is dubious. Brandon Gomes is also available but he has failed in several attempts to establish himself as a reliable major league reliever. Both pitchers, along with Colome, Karns, and Montgomery, are already on the 40-man roster.
I don’t think Maddon makes this kind of move unless Yates or Beliveau falls apart. The Triple-A starting pitchers are best suited to continue developing in the minors while the relievers are no real upgrade.
Buy: Relievers are plentiful at the trade deadline. Teams that are out of the postseason hunt usually have one or two veteran relievers that are having good years and are available for prospects. The Rays are unlikely to go after a late-inning type, with players like Jonathan Papelbon and Brad Ziegler costing too much either in terms of cash or minor league talent, but a middle reliever could fit. For instance, Burke Badenhop of the Boston Red Sox could be an option. Badenhop, a former Ray, is a ground ball machine who has pitched 3.11 ERA the last three years. On the left side, Oliver Perez of the Arizona Diamondbacks and Tony Sipp of the Houston Astros would make some sense. Both pitchers have been good against left-handed batters while also proving capable against righties this season. Neither would cost anything resembling a top prospect.
Providing the Rays stay in the race, I can see Friedman and Maddon picking up one or two veteran relievers before the season is over. They are more reliable in critical August and September games and the low cost in prospects makes minimizes the risk.
The cat and mouse game between Andrew Friedman and other general managers should be interesting over the next few days. Does Friedman find a good deal for a relief pitcher that he really likes or will he trust his relievers and stay status quo in the bullpen? Could an arm from the minors come up and make a Torres-like impact? Even with the deadline looming, even Friedman himself may not be sure yet.