All the buzz at the beginning of the off season was about the Rays’ surplus of starting pitching and how they were going to deal some of it for position players and/or prospects. In fact, they did trade Nate Karns to Seattle for shortstop Brad Miller and 1b/of/dh Logan Morrison. However, none of the other starters have been moved since then. There is probably a good reason for hanging on to those arms as the staff may not be as deep as you think. Let’s take a look at the Rays starting pitching staff in depth.
Barring injuries and a total blowup in spring training, the Rays 2016 rotation would include Chris Archer, Jake Odorizzi, Matt Moore, Drew Smyly and Erasmo Ramirez. This was an excellent staff last year with Archer, Odorizzi, Smyly and Ramirez posting era’s under four runs a game. Moore, recovering from Tommy John surgery, had a rough August but posted a 2.97 era in September.
On the surface, this is a solid staff. However, Archer and Odorizzi have only five complete seasons between them, Ramirez has only one successful season as a starter, Moore has only thrown 63 innings since Tommy John surgery and Smyly has a history of injuries. Ramirez was a great addition to the rotation. After three lackluster seasons with Seattle, he finished the 2015 season with 163 inning pitched, a 3.75 era and a 126k/40w strikeout to walk ratio. As we saw last year with Cobb and Smyly, it only takes a couple of injuries to mess up your starting rotation.
So, there is certainly an element of risk here. Set backs and injuries can leave you wondering who is the next man up and that is not an easy question for the Rays to answer. The leading candidate would seem to be top minor league prospect Blake Snell. However, that call is not as easy as it looks. Snell is only twenty-three years of age and has only thrown 44 triple AAA innings. In addition, he has only thrown a total of 422 innings in professional ball and the Rays like their young pitchers to throw at least 500 innings.
The choices after Snell are less appealing. Matt Andriese threw 35 major league innings last year as a starter with mixed success. Alex Colome and Enny Romero were highly touted minor league starters but their future also looks to be as relievers with Colome as a setup man and Romero’s role to be determined. Andriese will probably start the season at Durham and could be the first one to get called up if a starter in needed.
There are still plenty of free agent starters on the market. Unfortunately, few meet the Rays’ needs. Big names like Cliff Lee, Bronson Arroyo and Tim Lincecum will want significant guaranteed money and a decent shot at a job in the rotation. The Rays can offer neither. One possibility is Afredo Simon. Simon has a decent history as a closer, set up man and starter with Baltimore and Cincinnati. In his six full years in the big leagues, he has had a 17 save season, a 63 relief appearance season and 63 starts. He won’t want a lot of money and offers value as a swingman starter/long reliever. The only issue is his health as he had knee problems last year.
And finally there is Alex Cobb. Once the ace of the staff, he is the latest Rays pitcher to fall to Tommy John surgery. It looks like he will be ready in August but we don’t know the exact date or how effective he will be upon his return. No matter what the scenario, he should be helpful during the September push.
The conclusion that one takes away from all of this is that the Rays don’t have enough pitching depth to trade a starter and may not have enough to get them through the year. Snell, Cobb and a free agent signing will certainly help but a healthy starting rotation is the key to a successful 2016 season.