Tampa Bay Rays: Silverman’s Off-Season Priority the Bullpen

Apr 1, 2016; Lake Buena Vista, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Jaime Schultz (78) throws a pitch during the fifth inning against the Atlanta Braves at Champion Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 1, 2016; Lake Buena Vista, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Jaime Schultz (78) throws a pitch during the fifth inning against the Atlanta Braves at Champion Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /

Whether changes come from within the organization or from outside, a bullpen makeover is the Tampa Bay Rays top priority this offseason.

The annual challenge is in motion for Tampa Bay Rays President of Baseball Operations Matt Silverman and manager Kevin Cash to begin improving the team for the 2017 season.

Speaking to the local media at their annual end of season conference on Tuesday morning, Silverman and Cash acknowledged the disappointment of the season but are confident of and committed to improving and getting back into contention.

Silverman’s top goal is improving the bullpen and Cash said improving the baserunning is going to be a priority for spring training.

However, any changes that the Rays will make this offseason will be without the benefit of an increase to the $68 million that they started the 2016 season with, which includes any money payable to released players (Loney).

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When the Tampa Bay Rays ended their 19th season with a rare extra-inning 6-4 win over the playoff bound Texas Rangers, they finished the season at 68-94, which was the worst record for the Rays since 2007.

Some of the Rays players as well as others seem to feel that they were not as bad as their record indicates.

Unfortunately, the record is the only thing that fans actually look at when it comes to evaluating the team, not the fact that there is a talented core of players on this team.

Injuries played a significant part in the Rays record. More so was the disappointing bullpen where the most changes will happen.

“The core is talented,’’ Silverman said. “And the core is intact. But we’re going to need to make some changes. We’re going to need to bring in some new players.’’

If you know anything about baseball then you know it does not matter how many runs your team scores if your pitchers cannot hold those runs.

The bullpen always seems to go through offseason makeovers and this offseason will be a bit different from the years past.

What is almost certain is that Boxberger, Colome and Cedeno are sure bets of returning to the bullpen in 2017.

“We need to be more talented there,’’ said Silverman where the bullpen went 20-33 losing a major league-high 33 games while pitching to a 4.09 ERA, the 10th-worst in all of baseball. “We need to be deeper there.

The brightest spot in the bullpen belonged to Colome, who had never closed a game in his entire professional career until this year.

He finished the season with 37 saves and a 1.91 ERA upon inheriting the closers role from Boxberger who had sustained an abdominal muscle tear requiring surgery during spring training.

With the return of Brad Boxberger, Xavier Cedeno, Alex Colome, Enny Romero, Steve Geltz and the new additions in Ryan Webb and Danny Farquhar the bullpen looked good early on.

Meanwhile, as the season progressed, the bullpen became inconsistent and ineffective with the exception of Colome.

During the course of the season, 18 different pitchers toed the rubber in relief roles, which included rookies Ryan Garton, Eddie Gamboa and Dylan Floro. As well, Justin Marks, Tyler Sturdevant, Dana Eveland, Jhan Marinez, Erasmo Ramirez, Kevin Jepsen, Matt Andriese and others.

In order for the bullpen makeover, Silverman will not only look internally but also use his options through trades and or free agency.

Some of The Options

Internally, Silverman is likely to consider a few of the pitchers that made an impression late in the season, which included Farquhar, Garton, Chase Whitley and Gamboa.

Farquhar returned in August for good following his stint in at Durham was impressive and allowed just one run over his last 18 appearances.

Garton, who appeared in 37 games, rejoined the Rays from Durham in the first wave of September call-ups after three previous stints also impressed during the final two months.

Chase Whitley underwent Tommy John surgery as a member of the Yankees in May 2015. The Rays claimed him off waivers in November 2015 and would spend the season rehabbing before getting a September call up.

Primarily a starter, the Rays used him out of the bullpen where he made four appearances going 0-0, 1.74 ERA allowing just two unearned run on three hits, 11 strikeouts and a pair of walks in 10.1 innings recording three holds.

Those performances led to the Rays rewarding him with a start in the final game of the season against the Texas Rangers where he allowed two runs on four hits, with four strikeouts and no walks in four innings.

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Finally, there is knuckleball pitcher Eddie Gamboa who signed as a minor league free agent in January following eight seasons in the Baltimore organization.

Gamboa was 6-4, 2.68 in 27 games for Triple-A Durham this season, making 12 starts before joining the Rays in September and making his major league debut on Sept. 2 against Toronto.

Gamboa would appear in seven games going 0-2, 11-Ks, 8-BB, with a 1.35 ERA over 13.1-IP while holding opposing batters to a .196 average.

Continuing with organizational options, two of the more interesting additions would be Ryne Stanek and Jaime Schultz.

Stanek split the year between Montgomery and Durham (4-10, 4.30 ERA, 3-SV, 113-Ks in 102.2-IP). He began the season in Montgomery’s rotation before the Rays moved him to the bullpen where he excelled.

The Rays continue to develop Schultz as a starter, but are considering a shift to the bullpen, as his command and control remain questionable. What is not in question is his velocity, fastball and curveball that could play out well in a relief role.

This season with Durham, Schultz made 27 starts going 5-7 with a 3.58 ERA in 130.2 innings. He struck out 163 while walking 68.

Among some others options that Silverman could look at is moving Drew Smyly and or Matt Andriese to the bullpen on a permanent basis, which could then allow the Rays to use Schultz in the rotation.

My guess is that Andriese is the better option, since he has already proven his capabilities in that role.

Next: Tampa Bay Rays: Shortlist of Potential Needs for 2017

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If Silverman is able to add at least one or two relievers internally, he could then focus his attention on some of the available free agent relievers, however only if the price is right.