Now that Jeremy Hellickson has officially been traded, the Tampa Bay Rays need to figure out who their fifth starter will be to begin 2014. The good news is that they have three strong internal options in Alex Colome, Nate Karns, and Matt Andriese. However, they also have to remember that whoever wins their fifth starter position will lose his job after a few months.
Matt Moore is set to return to late May or early June, meaning that the Rays would likely have to demote a prospect to relief or Triple-A at that time. Of course, we said the same thing this year for Jeremy Hellickson and Jake Odorizzi never went anywhere, but it took a series of additional injuries for that to work out so well. The Rays are obviously hoping that they get more fortunate on the injury front this time around.
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We saw Erik Bedard prove valuable when Hellickson and Alex Cobb were out, and the Rays could look for a better version of him on the free agent market. Bedard pitched fine–for a few starts, he was even dominant–but once he moved to their bullpen, he was almost a complete nonentity. With that in mind, the Rays will hope to a cheap veteran pitcher with the ability to be both a serviceable starter and a reliable reliever as needed. Tim Stauffer could represent an interesting fit.
Stauffer delivered his second straight solid season in relief for the San Diego Padres in 2014, managing a 3.50 ERA in 3 starts, 41 relief appearances, and 64.1 innings pitched. However, that ERA is actually quite misleading. To begin with, Stauffer managed a 67-23 strikeout to walk ratio and a 0.6 HR/9 on his way to a 3.02 FIP. Secondly, his ERA actually goes down to just 2.53 if we take out one disastrous seven-run appearance.
Stauffer did work almost exclusively in low-leverage spots and does, of course, come with the red flag attached to any pitcher leaving Petco Park. He also has a checkered injury history as he underwent labrum surgery in 2009 and a non-Tommy John elbow procedure in 2012. Those aren’t entirely bad things from the Rays’ standpoint because they will keep Stauffer’s price down. However, there is another important question: Stauffer is a good enough reliever, but can he still start games?
In 2011, Tim Stauffer delivered a solid season as a starter for San Diego, going 9-11 with a 3.73 ERA in 31 starts and 185.2 innings pitched. He hasn’t tossed even 70 innings in a season since. The Padres did trust him to make three starts in 2014, and he appears to still possess a starter’s arsenal. He throws both four-seam and two-seam fastballs and pairs them with an excellent changeup, a solid cutter, and a halfway-decent curveball.
There is some upside present with Stauffer–maybe he could be a solid back-of-the-rotation starter again–and the Rays have to be intrigued by that. Nevertheless, Stauffer’s previous arm troubles will concern them as they think about making him a starter again. Especially given that a prospect like Colome and step in as their fifth starter right now, it does not make any sense for the Rays to commit money to a pitcher who would have a high probability of getting hurt.
Stauffer made $1.6 million in 2014, and he will hit the free agent market looking for somewhat of a raise. While the Rays are trying to cut payroll, say a two-year, $4 million contract is still something they can afford. However, it is questionable whether Stauffer can be a big league starter again, and more realistically, he would end up filling a Cesar Ramos-esque role in their bullpen.
That is not a deal-breaker because Stauffer is a better pitcher than Ramos, but the Rays are unlikely to commit much money to him given his likely spot on their team. It doesn’t make sense for the Rays to offer Tim Stauffer anything more than $2 million on a one-year deal, and Stauffer has to be hoping that somebody will give him more than that.