Out-of-Options Relievers to Loom Large for Tampa Bay Rays
By Robbie Knopf
The Tampa Bay Rays have become known for using unheralded pitchers to create one of the best bullpens in baseball season after season. This year, though, their magic stopped and their relief corps collapsed entirely. Heath Bell and Juan Carlos Oviedo were both let go, Grant Balfour and Joel Peralta have been compete disasters, and both Brandon Gomes and Josh Lueke have found themselves at Triple-A. All hope is not lost–Jake McGee and Brad Boxberger have been particularly excellent while others have shown promise. As the Rays hope to reconstruct their bullpen for next season, however, what stands out is their lack of roster flexibility and the difficult decisions that will be on their horizon.
We can say with confidence that McGee and Boxberger will be critical pieces of the Rays’ bullpen in 2015. Joining them will be Balfour, who the Rays seem inclined to give another chance despite his struggles this year. Then, beyond that trio, the Rays have four players who are out-of-options: Alex Colome, Jeff Beliveau, Brandon Gomes, and Cesar Ramos. If the Rays were keep them all, that would mean declining Joel Peralta’s $2.5 million option and sticking Kirby Yates, who has been a solid big league reliever this year, back at Triple-A Durham. Declining Peralta’s option may be the Rays’ best course of action anyway–after how much he has struggled, especially in high-leverage spots, he may not be worth anything more than a non-roster invite to spring training. Keeping those four out-of-options players in lieu of Yates and any outside options would be a far more questionable move.
Unless a team comes along with a tempting trade offer, there is no question that the Rays want to keep Alex Colome. We saw last night how electric his stuff is, and while a rotation spot might not be available for him for most of next season, it makes no sense to let a pitcher like him get away. While Colome still has a chance to be an effective big league starter, putting him in the bullpen would certainly not be a case of hiding a pitcher on the roster who is unable to contribute. Colome’s fastball could touch the high-90’s in short stints and his slider/cutter will also be a weapon, giving him a chance to join McGee and Boxberger as a third dominant late-inning arm. Colome would likely start in the role once occupied by Alex Torres and Wade Davis as a middle reliever capable of going multiple innings, but his arsenal may be too overbearing to keep him there for long. The Rays’ only hesitation would be that they want to keep Colome stretched out for when a starting opportunity does open up.
Jeff Beliveau is also a lock for next year’s bullpen, with the fact that he is out of options only making an easy decision easier for the Rays. After years of strong numbers at Triple-A, Beliveau has a 1.69 ERA and a 23-6 strikeout to walk ratio in 23.1 innings pitched, holding lefty batters to just a .502 OPS. Beliveau has a chance to be the Rays’ best lefty reliever since J.P. Howell.
Brandon Gomes had an incredible spring training to crack the Rays’ Opening Day roster this season, but before we knew it, he had fallen back to earth. Now he is back in the big leagues and pitching well, although his history has to leave us skeptical. As we have discussed previously, Gomes’ career pattern has been starting off strongly and then seeing the league adjust to him. That is what happened when he threw primarily four-seam fastballs with a slider as his primary secondary pitch, and also when he started relying heavily on a cutter. Now he is back to his four-seamer but is using his splitter more than ever. Will this latest shift actually be good enough to start sustained success? The earliest that Gomes could possibly earn a 25-man spot is the end of spring training, and the Rays will see if they can find a better option. There is a reasonable chance that he ends up in another team’s bullpen this coming April–assuming another team would claim him off waivers.
Finally, there is Cesar Ramos. Ramos has been the Rays’ long reliever the last two years, and has been decent but entirely unimpressive. He is a deserving big league pitcher, but this may be the year that he leaves Tampa Bay. In Colome, the Rays will begin the season with a pitcher capable of providing length, and Gomes–if he makes the team–can throw two or three innings in a game as well. With clear alternatives and the Rays needing another relief impact arm as much as ever, they would love to trade Ramos for something this offseason. That may not be possible and designating him for assignment is not as attractive, but it may be the Rays’ best choice nonetheless.
We know that the Tampa Bay Rays prioritize depth and losing pitchers like Brandon Gomes and Cesar Ramos would certainly hurt that facet of their team. At the same time, bringing in another reliever or two to compete (along with Yates) for their spots is a no-brainer after they saw this season that they can no longer take their bullpen for granted. The Rays have work to do as they hope to get their relief corps in order, and getting rid of Ramos and possibly Gomes is a good place to start.