The Rays do not say much publicly about their plans or strategy. And who can blame them? Already at a disadvantage in terms of revenue, why give the competition an even bigger advantage. There has been no formal announcement; however, the Rays have slowly gathered a collection of under the radar arms for future bullpens in hopes of avoiding the painful free agent process we saw this winter.
Since the end of the 2009 season, Tampa Bay has added several low cost and controllable arms mostly for the future. The acquisition process has covered multiple avenues including: trades, waiver claims, and low-cost free agent deals both domestic and international. Like most things in baseball, the success rate of the group will not be high; however, if the Rays find just a few useful arms among the bunch, it should be considered a fruitful experiment.
|Dane De La Rosa||2||2016|
The names above have all been acquired by Friedman and co. during the last 15 months or so. In each case, we have an arm attached to a body with potential and more importantly control. The earliest one can become eligible for free agency is after the 2014 season and that would only be if Cory Wade was called up this season. The “free agent after” column is estimated as if the pitcher started this year in the majors and stayed for each season thereafter. In most cases, this means their free agency is even further away than listed.
A few weeks ago, I wrote an article for Fangraphs titled What Percival Taught Friedman. Since signing Troy Percival to a two-year contract prior to the 2008 season, Friedman’s group has avoided multi-year commitments to veteran relief pitchers. Instead, the team has taken low-risk, one-year gambles as well as compiling the list of players from the top. Because of this, the bullpen may become as self-sustaining entity similar to the rotation that anchors the team. Recently, Andrew Friedman echoed that sentiment saying ““If we can get a core group of bullpen guys that we can grow with for the next 3-5 years that’s gonna be really valuable for us.”
The strategy makes sense for several reasons with the most important being dollars. Quite frankly, we all know the Rays cannot compete with most teams on the open market for free agents. And even if they could, tying up a significant portion of your team’s payroll in relief pitching does not exhibit good process. By acquiring low-cost, controllable relievers the team can safeguard themselves from injury and ineffectiveness generated by the volatility associated with bullpen performance. What the Rays are doing here is not the next big market inefficiency, some elaborate stroke of genius, or something others team haven’t tried before (Braves and Padres being good examples). Instead, it is just another example of the organization adapting to the current situation and doing things “another way.” (Hat tip to Joe Maddon )