When the Tampa Bay Rays acquired relief pitcher Josh Lueke from the Seattle Mariners in exchange for John Jaso during the 2011-2012 offseason, they were getting a player they thought had big potential. After all, Lueke had a big time fastball that consistently sat in the mid-90’s, on top of a nasty curveball that was unhittable and a good splitter. All of this came with a career minor league BB/9 of under 3.0. With this, the Rays thought they could quickly turn Lueke into a reliable 8th inning option, with a closer role a possibility down the road. But less than three years after acquiring him, it is time for the Rays to move on.
Lueke’s stuff has never translated into the big leagues, and with every outing he throws it looks more and more like it never will. This year, he has thrown to a 5.22 ERA in 29.1 innings, allowing a solid 1.5 BB/9, but an unimpressive 5.5 K/9, an awful 1.8 HR/9, and an ugly 11.0 H/9. That is on top of allowing 8 inherited runners to score, which is tied for 2nd most in all of baseball. To make this all even worse, Joe Maddon doesn’t use Lueke in any kind of high leverage situation, so Lueke has rarely had any pressure on him when he’s pitching. Despite that, he cannot be relied hold big leads, and he turns small deficits into large ones. Maddon and GM Andrew Friedman always talk about how Lueke has potential to be better. Yes he still has good stuff, but in parts of 4 seasons at the big league level, he has never made the adjustments necessary to be effective. At 29-years old, he isn’t getting younger, and the likelihood that he will never make those adjustments is getting bigger and bigger. The problem is that Lueke has no remaining options, and could be claimed on waivers if the Rays tried to send him down. But at some point, you have to say enough is enough if you are the Rays, and that time has come.
To make things even worse, the Rays currently have a plethora of relievers dominating in Triple-A Durham. There is Jeff Beliveau, who has given up no runs in 22.2 Triple-A innings and 2.0 MLB innings. Kirby Yates has thrown to a 0.39 ERA with a 12.9 K/9 in 23.0 innings with Durham. Brandon Gomes hasn’t pitched amazingly this year between the MLB and Triple-A, but he experienced success early on in the season and has sustained performance at the big league level in the past. Another option could be C.J. Riefenhauser, who has pitched to a 1.76 ERA for Durham. Mike Montgomery‘s stuff has regained some of its old self as a starter, and it would likely play up even more in the bullpen. Enny Romero and Nate Karns have also been starting at Triple-A and both have seen their fair share of struggles this season, but both have the profiles to dominate in relief at the big league level. Adam Liberatore, Merrill Kelly, and Jake Thompson have also pitched impressively this season. As this long list of names show, there are plenty of guys that would replace Lueke and likely do a better job.
The Rays have been struggling this season, and they need someone to provide a spark if they want to have any hope of contending. Is one relief pitcher going to make all the difference in the world? Probably not, but at this point the Rays need to do anything they can to give a boost to the team. One way of doing that is by getting rid of Josh Lueke once and for all and calling up one of their talented Triple-A arms.