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Could Eric Stults Be the Next Erik Bedard for the Rays?

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Has the Tampa Bay Rays’ rotation situation gotten better over the past year? Losing David Price is certainly evidence to the contrary, but the Rays’ starting depth could be even better than it was entering 2014.

It remains to be seen whether a rotation of Alex Cobb, Chris Archer, Drew Smyly, Jake Odorizzi, and eventually Matt Moore is better or worse than a starting five of David Price, Cobb, Archer, Moore, Odorizzi, and eventually Jeremy Hellickson. What is interesting about the Rays’ starters entering 2015, though, is just how many options they have. The top four in the rotation of Cobb, Archer, Smyly, and Odorizzi looks strong, and Alex Colome, Nate Karns, and Matt Andriese are all options to hold the fifth spot until Moore returns.

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Nevertheless, it could make sense for the Rays to sign a veteran stopgap instead of handing a prospect a rotation spot. Colome does not have the innings built up to be a starter for all of 2015 even if his performance warrants it, and both Karns and Andriese could use more time at Triple-A. In addition, why should the Rays create an uncomfortable situation for when Moore comes back? Erik Bedard proved valuable for the Rays in 2014 after they signed him to a minor league deal, and Eric Stults just might be next.

Erik Bedard and Eric Stults have a few things in common. Aside from their first names, they are both left-handed and will both be 35 years of age once Stults celebrates his birthday on December 9th. Bedard only made 2 big league appearances before he was 25 while Stults made his big league debut at 26. And despite their relatively advanced ages–and the fact that they have both always been starting pitchers–both have just two big league seasons topping 155 innings.

There are some key differences–most notably, Bedard turned into the Baltimore Orioles’ ace for a time while Stults has never been more than a back-of-the-rotation arm. However, they ended up at quite similar places in their big league careers. In 2013 for the Houston Astros, Bedard went 4-12 with a 4.59 ERA in 151 innings. In 2014 for the San Diego Padres, meanwhile, Stults went 8-17 with a 4.30 ERA in 176 innings.

Both pitchers were far from impressive, but they looked like innings-eating fourth or fifth starters. While that can’t possibly blow you away, there is still value in such performance. Bedard served as a relatively safe bet to balance out the risk associated with Odorizzi. Could Stults full the same role as the Rays figure out their fifth spot in their rotation for this season?

The easy way to answer the question is that the Rays would love to ink Eric Stults to a minor league deal. However, will that be enough? Stults’ numbers look pretty poor once we account for the fact that he was pitching in Petco Park. However, his 176 innings with a respectable ERA should be enough to hand him at least a cheap major league contract. Realistically, if the Rays wanted to sign Stults, they would have to give him say a $1.25 million guarantee with some incentives, and that may make him a poor fit.

Bedard was so great because the Rays knew that they could cut ties with him at any time–eventually, they did. For Stults, on the other hand, the money that he will be owed will make that more difficult. The Rays could look to get a couple of solid months as a starter from Stults and then look to trade him like they tried to do with Bedard. If that doesn’t happen, though, they will simply be stuck. Like Bedard, Stults has never been a reliever for an extended period of time, making him a poor choice to move to long relief when Moore returns or if the Rays deem a prospect to be ready.

At the end of the day, the Rays will certainly offer Eric Stults a minor league deal, but they will not be able to compete if another team offers him a guaranteed contract. Either the Rays need a pitcher who they could release on a moment’s notice or one that could move to the bullpen, and neither of those criteria describe Stults particularly well. While the Rays will be excited if Eric Stults ends up with them cheaply, they will pursue a series of alternatives knowing that they would be fortunate if that outcome took place.

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