Placing Odds on the Tampa Bay Rays’ Bullpen Competition


Like just about every other team in baseball, the Tampa Bay Rays have a lot of names in the mix for bullpen jobs. The difference with the Rays: there is talent all the way from the locks for the relief corps all the way down from to the players who have little chance, and it will be quite interesting to see how they sort through it all. Who will actually make the team? Let’s try to figure that out now as we place odds on each notable reliever Rays reliever making the Opening Day bullpen out of spring training.

The Sure Things: Grant Balfour, Heath Bell, Jake McGee, Joel Peralta

Pending injury, all four of these guys will be in the Rays’ bullpen filling critical late-inning roles. Peralta has dealt with a little neck soreness, but it’s 50 to 1 odds that any of these four does not start the season in the Rays’ bullpen. (That’s actually a pretty interesting bet.)

The Wild Card: Juan Carlos Oviedo

Oviedo only just now reported to the Rays after visa issues. That is most certainly a problem. Nevertheless, the Rays guaranteed him $1.5 million and clearly expect him to be ready.

Odds he makes the bullpen: 3 to 2 (for now)

Out of Options: Cesar Ramos, Josh Lueke

You know the drill–if Ramos or Lueke does not make the team, the Rays will have to designate him for assignment. What are the chances of that actually happening? For Ramos, it seems small. The Rays are having him compete for the fifth starter job right now, and if they view him as qualified for that, he looks like a heavy favorite to resume his long relief role if he does not win it (as is likely the case). Lueke, meanwhile, has great stuff but not nearly the big league track record. At this point, him getting designated for assignment is unlikely but certainly not out of the question. He also got destroyed last time out, but let’s see him for a few more weeks before we decrease his odds of making the roster.

Odds they make the bullpen: 2 to 1 for Ramos, 7 to 2 for Lueke

The Ex-Big Leaguers: Erik BedardMark Lowe

As we discussed in the fifth starter odds piece, Bedard faces relatively long odds to overtake Jake Odorizzi for the fifth spot, but he could fit in the bullpen as a long reliever. To do so, however, he would have to overtake Ramos, and it seems unlikely that the Rays would lose Ramos to promote Bedard right off the bat. He will likely start the season in the minor leagues before an injury somewhere gives him a chance. Lowe, meanwhile, could certainly fit in the bullpen, but even Joaquin Benoit spent most of April at Triple-A, and Lowe will likely follow suit. Lowe may be a better bet to succeed than Lueke, but not so much that designating Lueke looks likely.

Odds they make the bullpen: 9 to 1 for Bedard, 13 to 2 for Lowe

Experience…But Also Options: Brad Boxberger, Brandon GomesJeff Beliveau

Boxberger has electric stuff and has shown good signs with his slider as a third pitch in spring training. But he literally has to blow the Rays away to have a chance. Gomes has a new cutter that has been very impressive, but his less-than-dominant stuff and remaining option mean that he is likely going to return to Triple-A to begin the year. Beliveau, meanwhile, is stuck behind McGee, Ramos, and Bedard on the lefty pecking order and basically has no chance.

Odds they make the bullpen: 9 to 1 for Boxberger, 12 to 1 for Gomes, 30 to 1 for Beliveau

At Least They’re on the 40-Man: Kirby Yates, C.J. Riefenhauser

Both added to the 40-man roster to protect them from the Rule 5 Draft, Yates and Riefenhauser are coming off huge 2013 seasons and have good stuff. But neither is the unhittable force that he would have to be to pass everyone in front in him. We’ll see them later in the year.

Odds they make the bullpen: 70 to 1 for Yates and Liberatore

Everybody Else: Steve Geltz, Adam Liberatore, Juan Sandoval

Geltz and Liberatore were impressive in 2013, but command issues are a relevant issue for both. At least Geltz has really good stuff. Sandoval making the team would be a great story, but he made just 12 appearances at Triple-A last year and he will need more success there to have a chance.

Odds they make the bullpen: 100 to 1 for Geltz, 125 to 1 for Liberatore and Sandoval

The scary thing looking at these odds is how options have a much bigger impact on making the 40-man roster than actual talent. A host of pitchers are neck-and-neck with Lueke and Ramos, but no one is so good that designating either of them for assignment looks likely. There is a pretty strong chance that Lueke will get designated for assignment if he fails to perform again, but he is going to get one more opportunity to prove himself unless someone like Lowe or Boxberger gives the Rays no choice but add him to the roster. Would the equation change if Lowe or Bedard said they were 100% going to opt out if they did not make the roster? Maybe slightly, but neither pitcher has generated strong enough recent results to be worthy of the Jamey Wright treatment where they are all but assured of a roster spot. In all probability, the Tampa Bay Rays’ bullpen to begin the season will be Balfour, Bell, Peralta, McGee, Oviedo, Ramos, and Lueke. We will have to see whether something happens to shift the odds in the coming weeks.