Any Chance the Rays Bite on Ted Lilly?


The Rays still have rotation depth. But right now, they are not exactly at full strength. Matt Moore and Alex Cobb are on the DL, leaving the Rays with four major league starting pitchers: David Price, Jeremy Hellickson, Chris Archer, and Roberto Hernadnez. Luckily, a series of off-days will allow the Rays to stick with just those four starters until August 17th. But do the Rays really want Hernandez going every fourth game? Archer has already thrown 117.2 innings on the season and is going to blow away his previous career-high of 147.1 IP, especially if he’s starting games in the playoffs. Do the Rays really want to risk burning him out by starting him more in August? The Rays can work with those four starters, but if a veteran starter fell into their laps why not at least consider giving him a chance? That pitcher is the Dodgers’ Ted Lilly, who was designated for assignment by the Dodgers last week.

Lilly, 37, is at the tail end of a major league career that has seen him win 130 games, but he isn’t entirely done yet. While he managed just a 5.09 ERA in the five starts the Dodgers gave him when he wasn’t dealing with a neck problem, Lilly put up a 3.14 ERA in 8 starts last season and was a solid pitcher for a full season as recently as 2011, went he went 12-14 with a 3.97 ERA in 33 starts and 192.2 innings pitched. It’s been a long time since Lilly threw in even the low-90’s with his fastball, but he pairs his high-80’s four-seamer with a plus changeup and solid curveball, and he has been able to strike out a fair amount of batters with that repertoire for years. If he’s healthy, Lilly still has something to give a major league team. Why not the Rays in their time of need?

One potential issue is Lilly’s salary. Lilly is making $12 million in the final year of the 3-year, $33 million deal that he signed with the Dodgers before the 2011 season, and he’s still owed upwards of $4 million the rest of the season. But that is going to become a moot point because in all probability, Lilly will go through waivers unclaimed, decline an outright assignment to Triple-A, and get released four days from now. The Dodgers will be on the hook for the rest of the money, allowing whichever team signs him to play just a prorated portion of the league minimum (around $165,000). What about getting Lilly a roster spot? As it turns out, that really isn’t an issue either because the Rays can move Cobb to the 60-day DL and he would still be able to come off of it on August 16th, right when he was going to return anyway. But what about when Cobb and Moore return? Wouldn’t Lilly be out a roster spot again? Yes, he would be, but at that point they can either designated him for assignment no questions asked–Lilly would just be thankful for the opportunity to make a couple starts–or figure out a way to keep him if he pitches well. If the Rays want to acquire Lilly, there’s nothing stopping them from doing so.

The real issue is what Lilly could give the Rays, especially in comparison to the Rays’ best internal option, Jake Odorizzi. The Rays have to be confident that Lilly is healthy and can pitch well in the tough AL East. Neither of those are a given, and that probably nixes any sort of deal between Lilly and the Rays. But especially if another injury arises, Lilly could be a name to watch out for in connection with the Rays the next couple of weeks. Even if it’s only for two or three starts, how could Lilly say no to the chance to start games for one of the best teams in baseball and audition for the rest of MLB if the Rays offer him a chance? Even if the chances of him actually starting for the Rays are pretty small, having a pitcher like Lilly just one call away is a tremendous luxury, and if the circumstances fall the right way, maybe that call will actually be made.