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Tampa Bay Rays: What Is the Final Plan for the Roster?

By Robbie Knopf
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The Tampa Bay Rays made some roster moves last night, designating Ronald Belisario for assignment and optioning Kirby Yates to Triple-A while calling up C.J. Riefenhauser and Preston Guilmet. We already know, however, that the Rays will need to make another move before Thursday’s game. Belisario’s DFA opens up a spot for Matt Moore on the 40-man roster, but somebody–likely Riefenhauser or Guilmet–will be sent back to Durham to accommodate Moore on the active roster. At the end of the day, though, the short-term moves don’t mean much. What matters more is what the Rays’ 25-man roster will be once the next wave of injured players return. Let’s discuss that.

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The Rays’ starting rotation will consist of Chris Archer, Jake Odorizzi, Matt Moore, Nate Karns, and Erasmo Ramirez. Alex Colome would be another option, but Ramirez has pitched extremely well and the Rays have no intention of removing him from the rotation now. If Moore can come back strong after Tommy John Surgery and Odorizzi can recapture the form that he displayed earlier this season, that could easily be one of the best starting staffs in baseball. Archer is a true ace while Odorizzi and Moore have both shown flashes, plus Karns and Ramirez are more-than-capable No. 4 and No. 5 starters.

We know for sure that Brad Boxberger, Jake McGee, Kevin Jepsen, Steve Geltz, Brandon Gomes, Xavier Cedeno, and Colome will be in the Rays’ bullpen, at least for now. The roles have been pretty well-defined for the first six of those guys. Boxberger, McGee, and Jepsen pitch in the late innings while Geltz, Gomes, and Cedeno appear in middle relief. Colome, meanwhile, should start in long relief, but he has the stuff to ascend to a much higher-leverage role if the Rays so desire.

There are other pitchers worth noting, like Andrew Bellatti and C.J. Riefenhauser, but expect both to spend most of their time at Triple-A the rest of the season. Bellatti could be stretched out in case the Rays need him as a starter while Riefenhauser will join guys like Enny Romero, Jose Dominguez, and Yates as up-and-down arms. Matt Andriese, meanwhile, could be an effective reliever, but the Rays would rather have him continuing to start at Triple-A knowing that he will eventually be needed for a spot-start or two. Having him could also give the Rays more flexibility using Colome in shorter stints.

On the position player side, the players that are guaranteed spots on the Rays’ roster are Rene Rivera and Curt Casali at catcher, Evan Longoria, Asdrubal Cabrera, Logan Forsythe, and James Loney on the infield, Kevin Kiermaier, Steven Souza Jr., David DeJesus, and Brandon Guyer in the outfield, and John Jaso at DH. That leaves two spots, and for the moment, those players will probably be Joey Butler and Jake Elmore.

Butler has been given a few days off, but he has played extremely well and has a spot if he’s healthy. Elmore gets the nod over Grady Sizemore because the Rays need a backup infielder and over Tim Beckham because the Rays are going to have almost no playing time available. Better to have Beckham playing every day and improving his versatility at Triple-A. Sizemore has played well the last few games, but it will be difficult to find him a spot with the lefty bats of Loney and Jaso returning. In any event, we can expect the Rays’ lineups to look something like this.

Vs. RHP:

1. Kevin Kiermaier, CF
2. John Jaso, DH
3. Evan Longoria, 3B
4. James Loney, 1B
5. Logan Forsythe, 2B
6. David DeJesus, LF
7. Steven Souza Jr., RF
8. Asdrubal Cabrera, SS
9. Rene Rivera, C

Vs. LHP:

1. Brandon Guyer, LF
2. Joey Butler, DH
3. Evan Longoria, 3B
4. James Loney, 1B
5. Logan Forsythe, 2B
6. Steven Souza Jr., RF
7. Asdrubal Cabrera, SS
8. Rene Rivera, C
9. Kevin Kiermaier, CF

Butler would play a good amount against right-handed pitching, with Jaso and DeJesus getting occasional days off, and Brandon Guyer will also get a start every now and then. Against lefties, meanwhile, Jake Elmore will need to replace Loney or Kiermaier at least once every three games because he has to play at some point. Guyer would shift to center with Elmore in left, and the Rays at least have to consider using Forsythe at first base with Elmore at second. And, obviously, Casali will back up Rivera at catcher.

The Rays’ rotation is about to get significantly better with Odorizzi and Moore back, and their lineup will also receive a nice boost from Loney and Jaso. The offense certainly won’t be great, but like we have been saying all season, this Rays team can go places if its offense is even respectable. Loney and Jaso will help them approach that, and they can be the Rays’ “trade deadline acquisitions”–they don’t need anyone beyond that.

I hope this analysis makes clear that until Desmond Jennings moves towards a return, the Tampa Bay Rays have no need to trade DeJesus, and Butler will get every opportunity to prove that his incredible run can last. It also explains why Tim Beckham is in Durham, because he simply needs to play and the Rays don’t care as much with Elmore. In any event, we will have to see how far this team can go, especially as they come close to their “A” roster for the first time all year.

Next: Tampa Bay Rays MLB/MiLB Recap: 3 Rehabbers in Charlotte

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