The Tampa Bat Rays have claimed all winter that the key to success in the 2016 season was a healthy team. Everything was going along well on that front until the announcement, two weeks into spring training, that closer Brad Boxberger would have to undergo core muscle surgery and would miss the first one to two months of the season. Not a good way to start your year. The loss of Boxberger was a an even bigger concern to the Rays since they traded high profile setup man and closer Jake McGee to Colorado.
So, it looks like it is next man up for the Rays and that is Alex Colome. Once a top prospect as a starter, he brings a high nineties fastball and an assortment of off speed pitches including a cutter and a curve. Command issues kept him out of the rotation but he was effective in limited bull pen use last year. He seemed to be the logical setup man for Boxberger before Boxberger was hurt.
Colome as a closer leaves the Rays without a set up man. The Rays have some nice arms in the bullpen but they are mostly role players. Xavier Cedeno is very effective against left handed hitters, limiting them to a .196 batting average in 2015. Ryan Webb does a nice job against right handed hitting and inducing groundballs. Stan Getz has emerged as a steady middle inning workhorse pitching 67 innings in 70 games last season. Taking any of these three out of their comfort zone could mess them up.
Digging deeper into the bullpen, there are two other set up possibilities in Enny Romero and Danny Farquhar. Like Colome, Romero is a former top five prospect as a starting pitcher but, once again, lack of command sent him to the bullpen. He does have a mid nineties fastball and a nasty curve. He’s fairly new to the bullpen but has had a good spring training. Farquhar was acquired from Seattle in the Nate Karns deal and has had an up and down career with good years in 2013 and 2014 but a forgettable year in 2015. He too has a fastball and struck out 81 batters in 71 innings in 2014.
Last but not least is Erasmo Ramirez. Penciled in as the number five starter, he won’t get a lot of work in the month of April. That makes him available for some bullpen duty and he has some experience out of the pen. It’s tough to use a starter out of the bullpen and still keep him in the rotation but it’s another arm if needed.
Perhaps the biggest potential issue facing this group is not lack of talent but lack of a track record of success, Of the seven pitchers we mentioned, only Ryan Webb has a history of more than one year of success at the major league level. Colome, Romero and Ramirez are starters with minimal bullpen experience. Even Brad Boxberger, who had a breakout year in 2016 with 41 saves, was a setup man with only 3 saves prior to 2015. The good news is that if they all work out, everyone except Webb in under team control until at least 2019.
Finally, there is always the possibility of a trade. Barring another injury, the Rays will probably have to move either Desmond Jennings or Brandon Guyer. If needed, the Rays could add a minor leaguer to the package and acquire a setup man. Zack Duke of the White Sox comes to mind. At any rate, it’s going to be a busy rest of the spring for Kevin Cash, Jim Hickey and the always optimistic Tampa Bay Rays as they once again try to put together an effective bullpen.