The regular season is eight days away, and the time for roster decisions has arrived. The Tampa Bay Rays began by anointing Jake Odorizzi their fifth starter, but key decisions still exist for the bench and bullpen. Those choices are complicated by the opt-out clauses in the contracts of Erik Bedard, Mark Lowe, and Jayson Nix. You might think that the Rays would simply choose the best player for each position, but maintaining depth is important and carrying an opt-out gives a player an edge. How should the Rays proceed with that in mind?
We have heard interesting things about Erik Bedard since he lost out on the Rays’ fifth starter job. The final verdict: he is going to opt out unless the Rays add him to their roster at least in a relief role, and if he does opt out, he will hope to pursue a starting job elsewhere. If that fails, he will head to Triple-A Durham. For Lowe, we simply know that he has a March 31st opt-out, but that is scary enough. The more we hear about Bedard, the more precarious his position sounds. First he was not willing to pitch in relief, and now he is. Then we heard him talk about the possibility of pitching at Triple-A. Bedard may have something left, but even if the Rays let him go, there is a decent chance he will come back. Bedard is a lesser priority than Lowe on the reliever pecking order.
Mark Lowe has been solid this spring, managing a 1.08 ERA and a 9-1 strikeout to walk ratio in 8.1 innings pitched. He still has the flaw that has limited his potential his entire career, inconsistent fastball command, but he is a live arm who can be a solid middle reliever. If the Rays do not put him on their 25-man roster, someone else will. With that in mind, the Rays’ bullpen decision becomes relatively easy, with Cesar Ramos, Josh Lueke, and Lowe filling the last three spots with Bedard out of a job and players like Brandon Gomes and Brad Boxberger at Triple-A. With Juan Carlos Oviedo set to make his spring debut today and join the big league team before too long, the Rays will face an interesting decision about what to do once Oviedo comes back. Lueke is out-of-options, and the same may be true of Lowe. But the Rays will cross the bridge when they come to it, and there is nothing they can do about that now anyway.
On the infield, meanwhile, the Rays have the ability to keep every infielder they have in camp. If they put Sean Rodriguez, Brandon Guyer, and Jayson Nix on the roster, they can simply option Logan Forsythe to Triple-A. But there are several issues with that idea. The first is that the Rays only have one 40-man roster spot open. If they add Lowe as expected, they would have to designate someone else for assignment to add Nix. That does not mean that the Rays do not have any extraneous players on their 40-man roster–Jeff Beliveau looks like an obvious candidate to go–but then we get to our second concern: does Jayson Nix provide the Rays with any real value?
Nix is a worse hitter than Rodriguez and Forsythe, and his only major advantage is the ability to be a solid defensive shortstop. Unfortunately for Nix, that does not mean much because the Rays have Ben Zobrist to back up Yunel Escobar at short. The Rays have the ability to retain Nix, but no reason to do so. They have depth even beyond the major leagues with players like Wilson Betemit, Vince Belnome, and Cole Figueroa, giving them no reason to go crazy to keep Nix. The best thing for both Nix and the Rays would be to go in different directions. Nix looked like he would have a good chance to make the roster, but the Forsythe acquisition changed that and Nix should pursue a big league opportunity elsewhere.
The Rays have three players with opt-out clauses in their contracts, but those opt-outs do not mean everything as the Rays make their roster decisions. Mark Lowe’s opt-out boosts his case for the team significantly, but expect the Rays to let Erik Bedard and Jayson Nix leave if they so desire.