The David Price trade happened and the Tampa Bay Rays’ starting rotation took a major hit. They lost their ace and the leader of their staff, and we heard over and over that it would be difficult for them to go on. Well, as it turns out, they have continued along just fine. In 12 starts since Price departed, Rays starting pitchers had a 2.69 ERA and a 75-20 strikeout to walk ratio in 70.1 innings pitched. They may not quite be able to make that last, but they are just reminding us of how good they are. There are also two other things worth noting: this rotation doesn’t even include Matt Moore, and every single pitcher will be with the Rays for quite a while.
This August 2014 Tampa Bay Rays rotation is not the team’s best ever–that title belongs to the 2012 Rays. That team had David Price and James Shields in all their glory, Jeremy Hellickson still befuddling hitters and sabermetricians everywhere, and some guys named Matt Moore and Alex Cobb as the number four and five starters. The Rays also do not have the best rotation in baseball right now. The Oakland Athletics are clearly far above the rest right now, and other teams like the Detroit Tigers and Washington Nationals may be ahead of the Rays as well. But the Rays’ rotation is still extremely good, and every single pitcher is cheap and controllable.
Of the six pitchers, Moore and Chris Archer are signed to team-friendly long-term deals, Jake Odorizzi is pre-arbitration eligible, and both Alex Cobb and Drew Smyly are going through arbitration for the first time next year. Jeremy Hellickson is going through arbitration for the second time, but he should receive only a moderate raise after injuries derailed him this season. All six pitchers are under team control for at least the next two years, and everyone but Hellickson will be around for at least three. Three of six are even under team control through the 2019 season! When Moore returns, the Rays will have a rotation logjam of six capable major league starters, with no weak link in the bunch. Archer and Cobb are quickly establishing themselves as number two starters, Moore could be right there with them, and the other three could easily join them as well. It would be nice if there was a true ace in the bunch, but there is a decent chance that at least one of them can get there, and the rotation’s ability is enviable even if no one does.
That was all just talking about the major league rotation. Now we can talk about Durham, where the Rays have four significant pitching prospects. Matt Andriese‘s strong year at Triple-A (despite a recent rough stretch) would vault him into almost any other team’s 2015 rotation. Nate Karns has rebounded from a poor start, and with depth above him, the Rays can give him time to put it all together as a starter. Mike Montgomery has broken through after years of struggles, and he would be another option. We have not even gotten to Alex Colome, who has been resurgent since returning from his suspension. Finally, there is Enny Romero, whose stuff can’t be ignored even in a down year. It is unlikely that all five pitchers would have panned out, but the Rays have the luxury of putting at least two or three of these pitchers in their bullpen, where they could emerge as late-inning arms.
If you can’t do the math, the Rays now have eleven pitchers with the ability to be high-quality major league starters, and while the last five have varying degrees of risk, the first six have already proven that they can be effective and even dominant. James Shields and David Price may be gone, but the incredible starting rotations that have been a signature part of the Tampa Bay Rays will be around for a very long time.