You can never have enough relievers, as you can store the excess in Triple-A (Jeff Beliveau, Brandon Gomes, etc.) in case an arm goes down in the bullpen. That never happened as the Tampa Bay Rays’ relief staff maintained health while pitching throughout the season, but the Rays used a variety of relievers as the season progressed because of everything from injuries to starters to 18 innings games. The Rays have already started building depth by signing Mark Lowe to a minor league deal with an invite to spring training and let’s find out who they have and who they could target.
Joel Peralta– The Iron Man of Tampa Bay, Peralta appeared in a MLB high 80 games in 2013 after appearing in 76 games in 2012 and 71 games in 2011. Peralta is signed to a team-friendly contract (what a surprise) with 2014 being the last year of guaranteed money at $3M. After that Tampa Bay has team options at $2.5M each from 2015-2017. If Rodney were to leave Peralta might get the first shot at closing duties because of his ability to get both handed batters out, durability, and for his low hit rates. For curiosity sake, I looked at the past leaders in appearances in MLB in Year 1 and saw how they did in Year 2. For players who led multiple years in a row, I put them all together.
*Feliciano missed all of 2011 and all of 2012 with left Rotator Cuff Surgery
**Camp was released by the Cubs on July 7, he signed a minor-league deal with Arizona on July 18 and did not appear in the majors for Arizona.
The list above is mainly LOOGY’s as evidenced by the high appearance but low IP totals, but the ones that pitched about an inning per appearance such as Belisle, Rauch and Valverde were all RHP. The results were a completely mixed bag–some thrived under heavy usage while others wilted. Peralta will be 38 in 2014 and let’s hope for good health and strong performance.
Jake McGee– I talked about McGee before but will mention him again. McGee has an electric fastball, behind only that of Aroldis Chapman for overall velocity and posted solid peripherals in 2013. The problem will be that hitters will catch up to the fastball if he throws it almost 92% of the time again like he did last season. An off-speed pitch of some sort will be the next adjustment McGee will have to make if he wants the closer role in 2014.
Alex Torres– Part of the Scott Kazmir trade to Los Angeles in 2009, Torres has always had a reputation for a potent fastball-breaking ball combo from the left side that was untouchable. It was untouchable, in that batters would strike out on it, or they would watch it go by and take the free base when Torres gave it to them. Tampa Bay always worked Torres as a starter in the minors, but upon his promotion to the majors worked solely in the bullpen where he was one of the most consistent relievers in baseball. In other organizations that don’t have the SP depth of Tampa Bay, Torres might still get looks as a starter despite his stature and BB rate. For Tampa Bay he will get late-inning work with a chance at closing for the club at some point in 2014.
Kirby Yates– Added to the 40-man roster this off-season, Yates has posted an impressive line of stats since signing as a non-drafted free agent out of Yavapai College in 2009 (most famous alums include Curt Schilling and Kyle Blanks). Yates has an impressive fastball-slider combo that could work in the late innings if he gets his career walk rate of 4.2 down. Yates still has all three options and could shuttle back and forth as the first righty reliever called up in case of injury.
Cesar Ramos– Lost in the shuffle of the bullpen for most of the year, Ramos mainly served as the long-man last arm in the bullpen this season. Originally acquired with bullpen mate Brandon Gomes in the Jason Bartlett trade, Ramos did some starting at AAA in 2012 before being shifted to the bullpen full-time in 2013. Ramos isn’t a flashy arm and lacks a true plus pitch, featuring a decent sinking fastball in the low-90’s along with a slider and a changeup. Ramos is eligible for arbitration for the first time in his career and still comes cheap enough to provide value to the club.
Brandon Gomes- Gomes was up and down for the Rays for the third straight year, and this year was especially tough between a right shoulder strain and poor performance. Gomes continues to live up in the zone with his pitches and got punished at times for doing so, having an opposing slugging percentage of .479. He has solid stuff, hitting the low-90’s with his fastball to go along with a good tailing slider, but he is ineffective against lefties (.357/.387/.750) and should be used against righties only. He still has value to the club as he isn’t arbitration eligible until 2015 so he adds to the depth of the bullpen.
Heath Bell– The new face after he was acquired in the Ryan Hanigan deal, the Rays hope that Bell can be the latest struggling veteran they signed that can turn his career around. After a 5.03 ERA in 2012 prompted the Miami Marlins to trade him just one year after signing, Bell rebounded to an extent with the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2013, managing a 4.11 ERA and a 72-16 strikeout to walk ratio in 65.2 IP, although he did allow 1.6 home runs per 9 innings. Bizarrely, both Bell’s strikeout to walk ratio and HR/9 were both his highest since 2004. The Rays will hope that moving to a pitcher-friendly ballpark and getting strong defense behind him will help him limit the homers and keep trending in the right direction. The Rays will owe him $5.5 million of the $9 million he is set to make in 2013, with most of that being paid by the Marlins. He has a vesting option for $9 million in 2015, but that will only vest if he finished 55 games. If we come to that, it will have meant that Bell’s first year in a Rays uniform went better than anyone would have hoped.
The Major-league list is quite long, and the minor-league list is even longer than that of available players to sign. Most of the minor leaguers will bounce around from one club to another and are signed based off minor-league need or a scout’s report on him. Here are some notable major leaguers of interest.
Jesse Crain–As we all know and have discussed, we knew the Rays were trading for a broken pitcher but knew about the possible upside Crain could give to the club. While he never appeared in a game for Tampa Bay after missing the rest of 2013 with a right shoulder strain, this also means that his free agency value is at an all-time low and could re-sign. The three-year deal as a free-agent he signed with Chicago for $13M in 2010 isn’t likely to happen again this season. He could sign with Tampa Bay for one season then re-gain his value in the 2014 free agent market. The past three seasons Crain has struck out well over a batter an inning, and lowered his overall walk totals from earlier in his career. Crain could get chances to close given his power arsenal, with the only issue being he has never closed before (didn’t affect any of the Cardinals recent closers though).
Henry Rodriguez–One of the hardest throwing relievers available in free agency, his career average of 98 MPH on his heater would put him above Rodney for hardest throwing right-arm the Rays have had in the ‘pen. The problem has always been control as a career walk rate of 6.2 BB/9 is hard to ignore. Who gets more frustrated, Rodriguez for not being able to throw strikes or batters for fearing for their lives every at-bat? Plus-plus velo will never be ignored and will always be given second-chances, and third-chances, and fourth-chances. Rodriguez is a perfect candidate for a non-roster invite to spring training and if he could ever put it together…watch out.
Octavio Dotel– In his quest to collect every jersey in MLB, Dotel is once again a free agent. Dotel has been with a MLB best 13 organizations over his career and since 2010 has been with six different organizations. His page on Baseball-Reference tells the whole story.
When Dotel appeared for the Detroit Tigers in 2012, it was the first time he was with the same organization for over a year since 2008-09 with the Chicago White Sox. Dotel is most effective at getting right-handed batters out holding them to a career .203/.272/.364 line over his 15 year career. After missing almost all of 2013 with right elbow inflammation and forearm tightness, Dotel wants play in 2014 and will likely have a list of teams interested in his services for a bullpen. Dotel should not cost much, and he was a strong reliever just two years ago.
Matt Albers–Albers pitched for the Indians in 2013 and set a career-high in GB rate (63.8%) and provided solid, but not spectacular innings for the Indians in a bullpen role. Albers will have the ball put in play a lot and produce a lot of weak contact because of the velo on his sinker (averaged 94 in 2013) and for his ability to pound the lower half of the zone. With the Rays’ infield defense a strength, that work out just fine. Albers could be the Rays’ next groundballing right-hander, but the question will be his price after a couple strong years.
In short, you can never have enough relief pitching, as a strong bullpen is the bloodline of any championship contender. The Tampa Bay Rays have a lot of depth in the bullpen with the recent 40-man adds of C.J. Riefenhauser and Yates, and any arm they add from here is a bonus. While the closer role is in question, Bell provides the token “established closer” and the Rays have built a collection of power arms to take the role if he does not. The Rays find a way to build an excellent bullpen year after year, and expect 2014 to be no exception.