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Tampa Bay Rays: Who Should Replace Ryan Brett on the Roster?

By Robbie Knopf
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The Tampa Bay Rays’ disabled list continues to grow, with young infielder Ryan Brett set to make it 11 Rays on the major league disabled list. Add in Enny Romero and Grayson Garvin in the minors, and 13 members of the Rays’ 40-man roster are on the DL. At least neither Matt Moore nor Burch Smith count towards the 40, meaning that the Rays have 42 players on their 40-man roster right now, but it has become increasingly apparent that the replacements are not as good as the originals.

Progress is being made as both Drew Smyly and James Loney are set to return in the next few days and Alex Colome isn’t far away either. The Rays’ immediate concern, though, is how to fill the spot on their active roster now vacated by Brett. Marc Topkin suggests Hak-Ju Lee, Mikie Mahtook, Curt Casali, and relievers as possibilities, and let’s go through those options and a few other players that come to mind.

Lee would be fascinating if he was playing well, but given that he once again isn’t hitting at all, he doesn’t make any sense at all. Having Brett allowed the Rays to give Asdrubal Cabrera (most of) yesterday off, but Cabrera will presumably be back to playing regularly. There is no point of the Rays carrying an extra infielder who can’t hit.

Mahtook is qualified given that he has already been in the big leagues and is coming off a nice year at Triple-A. The question is whether the Rays could find him at-bats. The biggest weaknesses on this team right now are first and second base, positions that Mahtook doesn’t play. However, given Allan Dykstra‘s struggles, will the Rays finally try Steven Souza at first to open up more playing time in the outfield for Brandon Guyer and Mahtook? At the very least, Mahtook could be a solid pinch-hitter.

Casali has the most big league experience of this trio, but he didn’t hit at Triple-A or the big leagues last year and isn’t off to a great start at Durham this season. He is probably still an upgrade over Bobby Wilson despite those facts, but the Rays would rather keep getting him Triple-A at-bats and he wouldn’t be as good of a bench bat as Mahtook.

The Rays’ only healthy 40-man roster reliever is Kirby Yates. Yates will be back on the Rays at some point, but the Rays already have an eight-man bullpen and are unlikely to go to nine. If Yates comes up, either C.J. Riefenhauser or Jose Dominguez will go down, but at that point, we are not talking about Brett’s roster spot.

Things get more interesting, though, when we factor in the latest news about Jeff Beliveau. Steve Duemig of WDAE is reporting that Beliveau is heading towards shoulder surgery, which is terrible but would also open up a 40-man roster spot when the Tampa Bay Rays shifted him to the 60-day DL. That means that we can also look at non-40-man roster options as we figure out who the Rays should bring up.

If the Rays were going to call up a reliever right now, it would be Jordan Norberto. With Riefenhauser looking iffy, the Rays don’t have a lefty they can rely upon in their bullpen, but Norberto could change that. He looked good this spring and is off to a fine start at Durham, and that is before we talk about his solid track record with the Oakland Athletics before Tommy John Surgery.

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There are three questions that the Rays have to answer in the affirmative before they call up Norberto: 1) Is he ready? 2) Is there any non-roster player they would rather call up? and 3) If they add him to the 40-man roster, will he have a long-term role? We’ll discuss 2) further, but the answer to 1) is probably yes. The third question is more complicated, but Norberto has the stuff and handedness to stick with this team. Unless the Rays know that they only want a reliever for a few days, the answer to 3) should be yes as well.

Ronald Belisario is another non-roster pitcher worth mentioning, but the more interesting competition for Norberto among his Bulls teammates is Eugenio Velez. Velez is 33 years old, but he could make sense as a short-term fill-in. He is off to a hot start, hitting to a .385/.442/.513 line, and he can play the outfield, second base, and third base. He is a switch-hitter who has always been better against right-handed pitching and even has some speed.

Velez certainly isn’t impressive, but if the Rays want a player who could receive some at-bats at second base and provide versatility off the bench, Velez may be their best option. Adding him could move Forysthe to first base more regularly and negate the need for Allan Dykstra without Souza needing to play first. If he plays well, Velez could even stick on the Rays’ roster until Nick Franklin returns–would it really be hard for him to outlast Dykstra?

If the Tampa Bay Rays are sure enough about Beliveau’s diagnosis to put him on the 60-day DL immediately, then Velez looks like their best option for right now. Otherwise, it is hard to believe that they will recall anyone but Mikie Mahtook, who clearly fits better than Lee, Casali, and Yates. Norberto may be the player we have mentioned who will make the biggest impact for the Rays this year, but for now, they need a position player more and Velez or Mahtook should be the guy.

Next: The Undercards: Tommy Coyle Shows Off Newfound Power

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