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Is Alexi Ogando a Fit For the Tampa Bay Rays?

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With the offseason coming to a close, the final free agent dominoes are falling into place. There are still some gems to be had among those remaining free agents that could interest the Tampa Bay Rays.

Adding a 5th starter/long reliever type is something the Rays could look into, especially on a minor league deal. Alexi Ogando has been successful in the major leagues as both a starter and reliever in the past few seasons when he has been healthy. However, after another injury-marred season, the Texas Rangers did not offer him a contract. Could Ogando continue his career with the Rays?

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Since 2010, Ogando has bounced back and forth between a starter and reliever while having success in both roles. He pitched in 44 games as a reliever in 2010 and pitched to a solid 1.30 ERA (3.05 FIP/3.69 xFIP) with an 8.4 K/9 and a 3.5 BB/9. The Rangers turned him into a starter in 2011 and he was up to the task, pitching to a 3.51 ERA (3.65 FIP/3.94 xFIP), a 6.7 K/9, and a 2.3 BB/9 in 29 starts and 169 innings pitched. That season, his numbers were good enough to net him 3.7 wins above replacement.

Due to a rotation logjam and injury concerns, Ogando was moved back to the bullpen in 2012. He would appear in 58 games (66 innings pitched) and once again had success, posting a 3.27 ERA (3.73 FIP/3.58 xFIP) with a K/9 rate of 9.0. That wasn’t enough for him to stay in the bullpen, though, as his rotation of roles continued the following season.

Injuries caused Alexi Ogando to miss a big portion of 2013, and when he was healthy, he was mainly a starter. He pitched in 23 games (18 starts) and threw 104.1 innings with a 3.11 ERA (4.36 FIP/4.64 xFIP), a 6.2 K/9, and a 3.54 BB/9. Of course, his peripherals declining that year were probably the result of a lingering injury.

A sprain in the ulnar collateral ligament in his Ogando’s elbow basically wiped out his 2014 season as he only was able to throw 25 innings in relief and had a 6.84 ERA (3.81 FIP/5.17 xFIP) with a 7.9 K/9 and a 5.4 BB/9. The Rangers non-tendered him following the season rather than paying him a projected $2.6 million in his second time through arbitraion.

Alexi Ogando’s repertoire has always consisted of a four-seam fastball, a slider, and a changeup, and he has tended to rely heavily on his heater. His fastball velocity has always been his calling card as his fastball averaged 96.2 MPH in 2010, 95 MPH in 2011, 96.9 MPH in 2012, 93.5 MPH in 2013, and 93.9 MPH in 2014. The velocity decline of his fastball the last two seasons is likely once again a result of his elbow injury.

Ogando’s mid-to-upper-80’s slider has been his best secondary pitch, serving as his put-away offering against right-handed batters. His mid-80’s changeup, meanwhile, can be effective against lefties. Ogando has never had tremendous strikeout rates despite good stuff, but he has also never had trouble keeping the ball in the park and usually generates weak contact. Hitters have never managed a BAbip higher than .265 against him in a season with the exception of his injury-shortened 2014.

It is pretty evident that when healthy, Alexi Ogando can serve as a capable starter or a solid reliever with the ability to go multiple innings. The obvious question regarding Ogando right now is just how healthy his elbow really is.

If the Tampa Bay Rays feel that Ogando is healthy enough to his pre-2014 form then they should look into signing him to an incentive-laden minor league deal. Ogando could compete with Alex Colome and Nate Karns for the 5th starter role until Matt Moore returns from elbow surgery. If he loses out, he could still be a nice bullpen piece.

Every since Jeremy Hellickson was traded, we have talked about the Rays needing a pitcher capable of either starting or relieving, and they won’t find a better candidate than Ogando. His recent success in both roles is unparalleled among the remaining free agents and he has the ability to be an asset for the team. If the medicals check out, then the Rays should definitely be interested in Alexi Ogando.

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