Where Does the Tampa Bay Rays Bullpen Go From Here?


Two days ago, the Tampa Bay Rays sent Alex Torres to the San Diego Padres in a controversial seven-player deal. How will this trade affect the composition of the Rays’ 2014 bullpen?

Locks for a Job: Heath Bell, Grant Balfour, Jake McGee, and Joel Peralta

Grant Balfour, just signed, is coming off an awesome year as Oakland’s closer. He will fill the same role in Tampa Bay. Heath Bell is coming off two bad years–but his fastball is still hitting the mid-90’s, and the Rays hope he is the next reliever they can fix. Jake McGee is a onet-trick pony. He needs a breaking ball but his 100 mph heater will get a lot of people out. Finally, there is “Every Day” Joel Peralta who has, at 38 years of age, pitched in 227 games over the last three years. When do the wheels start to come off the bus? The Rays have to hope that it is not this year.

On the Bubble: Juan Carlos Oviedo, Brad Boxberger, Cesar Ramos, and Mark Lowe

Oviedo was once a top closer for the Marlins and then the injuries hit him. I know he is healthy but he hasn’t faced major league hitters since 2011. Healthy and effective are two different things and he’ll be interesting to watch in spring training. Boxberger came over in the Torres deal. He’s a swing and miss guy who has a 2.86 ERA in 49 major league innings but has struggled with control. Will the Rays keep him in the bullpen or send him to Durham for refinement? Ramos made the team last year as a long reliever because he was out of options. He didn’t show much progress and Joe Maddon never seemed to trust him in any tough situations. Will he pick up his game or be a candidate to be designated for assignment? Lowe, signed to a minor league deal, is another guy that has been hit by injuries. In his salad days with the Mariners and Rangers, he was a quality reliever. Can he get back to that?

One Last Chance: Brandon Gomes, Josh Lueke, and Jeff Beliveau

These three guys have thrown 78 mostly forgettable major league innings between them. They tear up AAA with a ton of strikeouts but they can’t translate it to the big leagues. Gomes has been the most impressive of the three but sometimes he has closer stuff and other times you can’t trust him with a five run lead. Gomes and Beliveau have options left but unless somebody really stands out in spring training, one or more may be headed for the dreaded DFA.

The Young Arms: Kirby Yates, C.J. Riefenhauser, Steve Geltz, and Adam Liberatore

I don’t think the Rays have ever had such an attractive set of young relievers come to spring training. Geltz and Yates are power pitchers that get a lot of hitters to swing and miss. Riefenhauser is not a power pitcher but he gets both left and right handed batters out with a nasty slider. Liberatore is more of lefty specialist and it would be nice to see him grow in that role. Yates and Riefenhauser are on the 40-man roster, giving them an edge from the start. All four will likely begin the season at Durham but you could see any of them with the Rays at some time during the season.

The Conversion Candidates: Alex Colome, Enny Romero, Mike Montgomery, Matt Andriese, Merrill Kelly

If the Rays’ natural relievers were not impressive enough, they have quite a few starting pitching prospects who could transition to a bullpen role if the team needs it. Colome has electric stuff, but his health issues and the Rays’ depth could lead to the Rays seeing what he can do in short stints. Romero’s stuff is even better, but he has no idea where it is going. Montgomery was a top prospect, but now a Torres-esque relief role could be an option. Andriese, acquired for Torres, will begin his first season in the organization as a starter, but his stuff could also translate to the bullpen. Finally, there is Kelly, who is coming off a breakout season but has way too many pitchers ahead of him. Could the Rays shift him to relief to see if he can crack their big league roster?

The Tampa Bay Rays have already done a lot of heavy lifting for the late innings. However, one of the biggest issues will be getting the right people into the right roles. A good bullpen has clearly defined roles that include a closer, three late inning setup pitchers, a lefty specialist, a middle inning right-hander who ideally can induce ground balls and a long man/spot starter. There is more work to be done before the entire bullpen staff is set and their roles are defined. However, the talent is there and let’s see what the Rays can do with the pitchers they have.