Each year it seems that all 30 major league teams are looking to revamp their bullpen in one way or another. A team may be looking for a closer to put them in the playoffs or a lefty specialist to get out a tough left-handed hitter in a crucial situation or a rubber armed pitcher who can go multiple innings if a starter blows up. This isn’t too difficult as relievers tend to be an itinerant lot moving from team to team. Such a pitcher is Burke Bradenhop who, despite excellent stats, has played for four teams in four years and is once again looking for work in February.
The Rays, as usual, have bullpen openings for the 2016 season. They traded setup men Jake McGee and Kevin Jepson and non-tendered erratic middle inning reliever Brandon Gomes leaving them with at least two openings. However, even with two openings, the Rays bullpen is still in better shape than many teams.
The ninth inning looks to be solid for the Rays. Brad Boxberger is a lights out closer having recorded 41 saves in 47 opportunities. He did hiccup a few times when he was asked to perform in a situation that was not the traditional closer role. Without McGee looking over his shoulder, he should be even better in 2016.
The setup jobs are wide open but the best looking candidates are Alex Colome and Enny Romero. Both were highly regarded minor league starters who have been pushed to the bullpen due to a plethora of starters. Colome has a 97 mile an hour fast ball as well as a curve, cutter and developing changeup. Romero has a fastball in the mid 90’s and a slurvy curve. It took awhile for them to get used to pitching in relief but by September they both looked like the real deal.
Going deeper into the bullpen, the Rays feature a lefty specialist in Xavier Cedeno. Cedeno pitched in 61 games and ended the season with a 2.09 era and held left-handed hitters to a .196 average against him. From the right side, Steve Geltz emerged as a strong armed middle reliever. He pitched 67 innings in 70 games and struck out 61 batters. It was only his first year in the big leagues and he could work himself into a setup job in 2016.
That ends the list of pitchers who are pretty much a lock for jobs in the 2016 bullpen and leaves the team with two openings. The Rays might have one answer in Danny Farquhar. Obtained in the Nate Karns deal, Farquhar has been a tale of two seasons. In 2014, he threw 17 innings with a 2.66 era and 81 strikeouts. In 2015, he threw 43 innings with a 5.12 era and 48 strikeouts. If 2014 is the real Danny Farquhar, the Rays have the sixth man in the bullpen and maybe another setup man.
Beyond the obvious six, the choices become more difficult. Overall, the pitchers who signed minor league deals with an invitation to spring training are not an impressive lot. The one exception may be Jonny Venters. From 2010-2012, Venters was one of the most impressive setup men in the game. Sadly, those three years with Atlanta were followed by, believe it or not, three Tommy John surgeries. Venters is attempting a comeback with the Rays and if he in any way resembles the Jonny Venters of old, he can be the seventh man in the bullpen.
The Rays farm system doesn’t offer a lot of immediate help. However, two pitchers who might be useful during the year are Matt Andriese and Andrew Bellati. Neither are top 30 prospects but each pitched reasonably well in brief stints with the Rays last year. Andriese threw 65 innings as a starter and reliever while Bellati threw 23 innings in relief and recorded a 2.31 era. Both will probably start the season at Durham.
The free agent market is still a possibility and the Rays have been linked to premium setup man Tyler Clippard. However, he is expensive and has lost a few miles off his fastball. Matt Silverman may be seeing last season’s Grant Balfour when he looks at Clippard. Hard throwing Tommy Hunter and, our favorite vagabond reliever, Burke Bradenhop are also available.
Yes, there are still holes to plug but the Rays have an interesting group of candidates to fill them. A late spring training trade could bring even more help. Further good news is that the Rays have a very young staff of relievers. Boxberger, Colome, Romero, Cedeno and Geltz should be set and if Farquhar makes the team out of spring training, all six will be under team control through at least 2019. So, keep an eye on this group as they may turn into something special.