The Tampa Bay Rays Rays had a rare spring training day off on Monday. The players didn’t take the field but I’m sure it was not a day off for Joe Maddon and Andrew Friedman. They have a 25 man roster to fill out between now and March 31st and there are theoretically seven openings. A lot of things go into filling those openings and, unfortunately, they don’t all relate to performance on the field. Teams look at such factors as the arbitration clock, guaranteed contracts, minor league contacts, and whether or not they have options when making their final decisions. Let’s take a look at what factors will go into making the final decisions and who will stay and who will go.
Fifth Starter: This is, in theory, a temporary job until Jeremy Hellickson returns from the DL around the All Star break. Here are the three remaining candidates in the race.
Jake Odorizzi would seem to be the odds-on favorite as he is the #1 prospect in the organization, pitched well in 29 innings last year, and has a 2.25 ERA in 9 innings this spring. He even has added a split-change in recent weeks. However, he has an option remaining and the Rays don’t necessarily want to start his salary clock. Maddon and Friedman are already saying “ you can’t throw enough Triple-A innings.” Odorizzi is the best candidate, but will he get the job?
Cesar Ramos was a long man out of the Rays bullpen in 2013, Ramos has started in his career and could be a fill-in starter and easily make the transition back to the bullpen once Hellickson returns. He’s had a mediocre spring with a 4.00 ERA in 9 innings. Maddon has been mum about his future, but Ramos is out of options.
Erik Bedard is this year’s version of Roberto Hernandez except that he’s left-handed and doesn’t come with a $3 million contract. In 2013, Berdard threw 151 innings with a 4.59 ERA for a very bad Houston Astros team. He’s long past his prime and has struggled through a terrible spring with a 7.15 ERA in 11 innings. Despite all this, Joe Maddon keeps saying nice things about him and rolling him out every fifth day. It would be a crime to give this job to Bedard, but it could happen.
Rays’ probable choice: Odorizzi…but I’m terrified they’ll pick Bedard instead.
David’s choice: Odorizzi
Bullpen: There are two or three jobs open in the Rays’ bullpen. Grant Balfour, Joel Peralta, Jake McGee and Heath Bell have the four main roles. I’ll take a look at the candidates in pairs as that is how their baseball backgrounds breakdown.
Juan Carlos Oviedo and Mark Lowe have the best big league track records of any of the competitors, but they come with injury histories and neither is a lock to make the team. Oveido only got to camp last weekend and hasn’t thrown a major league pitch in two years. He’ll probably open the season on the DL. Lowe has had a terrific spring with a 0.00 ERA and is throwing the ball in the mid-nineties, but he’s in camp on a minor league contract and could be stashed at Triple-A.
Cesar Ramos and Josh Lueke are not having great springs but both are out of options. Lueke has been a monster at Triple-A but a disaster every time he puts on a major league uniform. It’s no different this spring as he has a 7.15 era in 5.1 innings. You have to keep Ramos as the second lefty in the pen but there is no reason to keep Lueke. His time should be over, but can the Rays cut the cord?
Now we get to the two wildcards, Brandon Gomes and Brad Boxberger. Gomes has been up-and-down while Boxberger showed command problems in his time with the San Diego Padres. Both players, though, have upped their game. Gomes has added a cutter and Boxberger has improved his changeup. Both have been lights out in spring training and are on the 40-man roster. Based on performance and upside, they should make the team…but they have options remaining.
Rays’ probable choices: Lueke, Lowe, and Ramos with Oviedo on the DL
David’s choices: Boxberger, Gomes, and Ramos with Oviedo on the DL
Left field: The Rays need a platoon partner for David DeJesus. Brandon Guyer is the logical candidate if he could hit in spring training and stay healthy and he’s doing both. This spring, he has a .333/385/.458 slash line in 24 at bats. He has no options left so give him the job! The only other candidate is Jerry Sands, but we’ll talk about him in a minute.
Rays’ probable choice: Guyer
David’s choice: Guyer
Designated Hitter: Another platoon situation has the Rays looking for a right handled partner for Matt Joyce. Sean Rodriguez seems to be in line for that time. But even though he hits lefties decently, why don’t they give the time to a guy who he can actually instill some fear in opposing pitchers? Jerry Sands is a former top prospect in camp who is posting a .370/.385/.458 spring slash line and can play corner outfield and first base. Rodriguez should stick in his utility role.
Rays’ probable choice: Rodriguez
David’s choice: Sands
Utility Infielder: This one is tough because no one is having a good spring. Rodriguez is probably guaranteed a spot, but no one is jumping out behind him. Logan Forsythe, who came over for Alex Torres, is coming off an injury-plagued year and is hitting under .200 for the spring. Jayson Nix, in camp on a minor league contract, is hitting .217 and that’s about as good as it’s going to get for him. Maddon keeps indicating he likes Forsythe for his versatility and his power from the right side. It’s always a good sign when the manager says he likes your play.
Rays’ probable choice: Forsythe
David’s choice: Forsythe
Sadly, “ the business of baseball” has too much to do with roster selection. In the end, it can break down to a choice of who has a hot spring training versus who the team will lose if they don’t make the team. But how far can that go? We have to hope that this time the Rays will go with the best player for each job even if it costs them a couple marginal players. We know the Tampa Bay Rays like to maintain depth, but they have to stay within reason if they want to reach their lofty expectations for this season.