Tampa Bay Rays: Candidates for the 2018 Rotation

ST. PETERSBURG, FL - JULY 25: Tampa Bay Rays Pitchers Jacob Faria, Blake Snell and Chris Archer (Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images)
ST. PETERSBURG, FL - JULY 25: Tampa Bay Rays Pitchers Jacob Faria, Blake Snell and Chris Archer (Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images) /

Starting pitching has been the core strength of the Tampa Bay Rays. However, 2018 could be the first time in a long time that the Rays go into the off-season without a firm five-man rotation.

The core strength of the Tampa Bay Rays has always been starting pitching. Pitchers such as Matt Garza, James Shields and David Price have always kept the Rays in the hunt even when their offense was less than spectacular. However, over the last couple of years injuries and inconsistency have plagued key starters and left the team struggling to reach .500.

Who will be in the 2018 rotation and will the staff return to top form or will it be another year of inconsistency? Let’s take a look at the candidates for the rotation and see what they bring to the table.

We need to start the discussion with a pitcher who probably won’t be with the team and that’s Alex Cobb. Cobb is a free agent and will most likely land a multi year six figure contract. The Tampa Bay Rays won’t offer him that kind of deal but will probably make him a one-year $17.5 million qualifying offer on the assumption that he will turn it down and the team will get a supplementary first round draft choice. In the end, they will lose Cobb and leave a big hole in the rotation.

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The two top candidates for the rotation are Chris Archer and Jake Odorizzi. Archer has a world of potential and is signed to a team favorable six year contract. However, he has been inconsistent over the last two years and despite being among the leaders in strikeouts, had a 19-31 won/loss record and an ERA over 4.00 during that period.

Odorizzi had a terrible 2017 and finished with a 10-8 won/loss record with a 4.14 ERA in 143 innings. He was injured and had difficulty getting past the fifth inning in too many games. Both have been rumored to be on the trade market. If either is with the team in 2018, they must live up to their potential.

The third starter could be Blake Snell but he too had his ups and downs in 2017. Touted as the next David Price, Snell has electric stuff but too often struggles with his command. The problem became so serious that he was sent back to Durham twice during the season.

He ended the year with a 5-7 record with a 4.04 ERA. Of most concern was his 119 strikeouts to 59 walks ratio. He’ll have to show better command in order to keep his place in the rotation.

Matt Andriese was the fourth starter at the beginning of the year but he suffered from injuries and only pitched 86 innings. He had an mediocre year when he was healthy and finished with a 5-5 record and a 4.50 ERA. Andriese has pitched as both a starter and a reliever but with the Rays’ depth of young starting pitching, he might be more useful in the bullpen.

For the moment, the last spot in rotation goes to Jacob Faria. An under the radar prospect, Faria stepped up in a big time manner when various members of the starting rotation went down to injuries. He ended the season with a 5-4 record and a 3.43 ERA in 86 innings.

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He will go into spring training as a member of the rotation but other young pitchers may have something to say about whether he is in the rotation on opening day.

And that leads us right into a discussion of Durham pitchers Brent Honeywell, Ryan Yarbrough and Yonny Chirinos and their potential. In 461 minor league innings, this trio was 39-20 with 452 strikeouts versus 101 walks.

The highest earned run average of the three was 3.49. All are in Tampa Bay Rays’ top 30 prospects with Honeywell listed as number one. Any of the three could be in the starting rotation on opening day.

Throw into this mix the fact that the Tampa Bay Rays have a new pitching coach in Kyle Snyder. He was the Durham pitching coach from 2015 to through 2017 and has experience with Snell, Faria, Honeywell, Yarbrough and Chirinos. Will he have enough confidence in their talents to build a staff around them? Only time will tell.

So, how does this play out with such a pitching rich environment? The choices are numerous. Stick with their five proven starters. Trade Archer or Odorizzi and put a young arm in the rotation. Send Andriese to the bullpen and add a young arm. Go all the way and add the three talented rookies to the rotation.

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One thing is certain. For the first time in a long while the Tampa Bay Rays go into the off season without a firm five man rotation. It will be very interesting to see how the front office, Kevin Cash and Kyle Snyder assemble the 2018 staring rotation.