Breaking News: Rays Sign Ronald Belisario, Alexi Casilla Next

With the 2015 MLB Season rapidly approaching, the Tampa Bay Rays are putting the finishing touches on their roster picture entering spring training. Two spots that will be determined in the spring are the last man in the bullpen and the 25th man on the roster, and now the Rays have added a pair of experienced candidates who will enter those races.

Marc Topkin reports that the Rays have signed right-hander Ronald Belisario and infielder Alexi Casilla to minor league contracts with invites to big league camp. The deal with Belisario is particularly interesting because he had reportedly signed with the Toronto Blue Jays before the move fell through.

The Belisario situation sounds an awful lot like a micro version of what happened with Grant Balfour. Belisario was going to make $1.7 million guaranteed if he made the Blue Jays’ roster, but Toronto backed out for some reason and a problem with his physical is a sensible explanation.

In any event, the Rays swooped in and signed him, presumably for less than $1.7 million if he makes the team but more than what the Jays were willing to offer after the physical (or whatever happened). Rays fans can’t love any signing being compared to Balfour’s, but the good news here is that the Rays can cut ties with Belisario with minimal cost if he’s not healthy this spring.

Belisario, 32, managed just a 5.56 ERA in 66.1 relief innings for the Chicago White Sox in 2014 but comes with several other reasons for encouragement. Belisario’s sinking fastball averaged 94.8 MPH in 2014 and he pairs it with a halfway decent high-80’s slider. His FIP was also an excellent 3.54 while his groundball rate was a superb 59.3%.

Belisario comes with his flaws. He misses very few bats, managing just a 6.4 K/9 the last two years, and is quite weak against left-handed batters, who have a .280/.379/.393 line against him for his careers. On the other hand, he is very good against righties, shows strong control (although he does walk an unusual amount of batters intentionally), and threw at least 1.2 innings in 14 different appearances last year.

Belisario immediately heads to the front of the Rays’ competition for their last two relief spots. The Rays don’t have any reliever who forces a lot of groundballs and they also have few pitchers capable of throwing multiple innings. You can make the case for Jose Dominguez or Kirby Yates being better than Belisario, but he has a very good chance of making the team as at least a long reliever.

Alexi Casilla, on the other hand, faces a much sketchier path to make the team. The 31-year-old primary second baseman is best known for his basestealing–he has stolen 80 bases in 91 tries (87.9%) in the major leagues–but would not give the Rays much else. Casilla has limited experience at shortstop and third base plus one game in the outfield, but he has never really hit.

Casilla, a switch-hitter, has just a .247/.302/.331 line (73 OPS+) in 1893 big league plate appearances. At the moment, the Rays especially need a bench player who can hit left-handed pitching, but Casilla is better against righties for his career–not that he has hit much at all against either side. Casilla is more like a Jayson Nix type who the Rays would stash at Triple-A than a player the Rays would want to have on their bench.

Tim Beckham is a complete question mark, so you can say that Casilla is a better option for the Rays’ roster than him, but at least Beckham is better against lefties and has played more shortstop. If the Rays can carry a lefty bat, meanwhile, Casilla almost surely falls short against Juan Francisco. It is always nice to have big league experience at Durham, but Casilla won’t realistically be more than that.

The signings of Ronald Belisario and Alexi Casilla add to the Rays’ depth, and Belisario could actually be an impact player at the major league level. Low-risk minor league signings are always great for teams, and the Rays think that they have made at least one such move that will help their team next season.

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