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Tampa Bay Rays: How To Use the Abundance of Starters

By David Egbert
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Unlike most teams in Major League Baseball, the Tampa Bay Rays are loaded with quality starting pitching. Furthermore, most of the starters are young, under the team’s control for several years to come, and relatively inexpensive. Today, I’m going to talk about twelve of them and how they might fit into the Rays future plans.

In 2015, the Rays had seven pitchers who started ten or more games. Chris Archer, Jake Odorizzi, Erasmo Ramirez, Nate Karns, Drew Smyly, and Matt Moore were used almost exclusively as starters. Alex Colome, on the other hand, started ten games before being moved to the bullpen. Despite a lack of run support, each of the starters had good seasons. Six of the seven finished with earned run averages of under four runs per nine innings. Only Moore had an inflated era, and even he pitched extremely well to finish the season after his first few starts back from Tommy John Surgery were rough.

Even more promising is the fact that Smyly is under team control through the 2017 season, Moore, Odorizzi and Ramirez through 2019, Karns and Colome through 2020, and Archer through 2021. Moore and Archer have long-term contracts while the other five will go through the arbitration process. And that is before we even get to Alex Cobb, who is still recovering from Tommy John Surgery. He won’t be back until August of 2016 and will have the 2017 season to reestablish his value before hitting free agency.

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As mentioned earlier, Colome started the season as a fill-in starter and then was shifted to the bullpen. He performed well as the straightness of his high-octane fastball wasn’t as big of a deal in shorter stints while his cutter turned into a blistering put-away pitch. He has the look of a future closer but still could start in a pinch. Joining him later in the season was former top prospect Enny Romero. Romero, a starter most of his career, also has a big-time fastball but had serious command issues in the minors. Brought up late in the season to replace the injured Jake McGee, Romero got off to a rough start but finally came around and showed significant promise by the end of the season.

The final three starters are impressive minor league prospects. Number two prospect Blake Snell blew through High-A and Double-A before finishing the season at Triple-A Durham. He had a 15-4 record and a 1.51 ERA over the three stops, taking the next step with his fastball, changeup, and curveball. Number seven prospect Taylor Guerrieri finished the season at Double-A and had a 5-3 record with a 1.84 ERA between there and High-A. Due to Tommy John Surgery, his progress has been slowed, but he’s back on track to possibly join the Rays in 2017 and maybe late next year in a relief role.

Finally, we have the team’s number three prospect, Brent Honeywell, who may wind up being the best of the three. He had a 9-6 record with a 3.18 ERA between Low-A and High-A last season. He has four quality pitches including a mid-90’s fastball and a seemingly unhittable screwball. The screwball has made him stand out, but all of the reports say that his changeup and curveball are good enough that he would be a top prospect without it. He may also have a 2017 ETA as he may be advanced enough to move more quickly but the Rays have no reason to rush him unless he gives them no choice.

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The question is what to do with these twelve starters next season when your starting staff only needs five. The conservative route is to give the top four slots to Archer, Odorizzi, Smyly, and Moore while letting Ramirez and Karns fight for the fifth spot. That would leave the loser of the Ramirez/Karns battle, Colome, and Romero (who is out of options) to help staff the bullpen and be ready if a starter goes down. That’s not the worst scenario as a bullpen of those three combined with Brad Boxberger, McGee, Xavier Cedeno and Steve Geltz would be one of the best in baseball. Snell, Guerrieri and Honeywell would go to the minors with Snell on call if needed.

The less conservative, but perhaps the best route, is to package one or two of these starters and other players or prospects in a trade for left-handed power and/or a shortstop. The pitching is great, but you still have to score runs to win games. There are lots of teams looking for starting pitching, and Matt Silverman must find the right team with an abundance of position players. Of course, they have to be players that the Rays can afford and that would be under team control for a reasonable amount of time.

The Cubs might be just such a team as they are looking for pitching and have players such as Javier Baez, Kyle Schwarber, and Billy McKinney that might be available. Baez could be of help at shortstop short-term and second base moving forward. Schwarber and McKinney, meanwhile, could provide the power, with Schwarber putting on a show in his brief time in the major leagues and in the postseason. The asking price for a guy like him would be high, but the Rays have the pieces to meet that price if they consider it worthwhile.

We know that they say that you can never have enough starting pitching, and the Rays certainly have proven that over the last two years as they have persevered through numerous starting pitching injuries. However, the team can’t keep wasting all that wonderful pitching because they can’t score enough runs to win tight games. The Rays will never be an offensive juggernaut, but it’s time to get back to the days of Carl Crawford and Carlos Pena and add some guys that can hit the ball and drive in runs to complement the great pitching.

Next: Tampa Bay Rays: What Will Asdrubal Cabrera Get in Free Agency?

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