Rays Begin Construction On Future Bullpens

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.

Pitcher Options FAAfter
Cory Wade 1 2014
Rob Delaney 1 2016
Brandon Gomes 2 2016
Adam Russell 0 2015
Cesar Ramos 1 2015
Matt Bush 2 2016
Dirk Hayhurst 2 2016
R.J. Swindle 1 2016
Sergio Espinosa 3 2016
Mike Ekstrom 0 2015
Dane De La Rosa 2 2016
Ricky Orta 2 2015

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 )

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About Tommy Rancel

Senior Editor/Analyst - The Process Report. Writer/Analyst - Bloomberg Sports. MLB Insider - ESPN 1040
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One Response to Rays Begin Construction On Future Bullpens

  1. buddaley says:

    I think we can add another factor to what you mention. The Rays may also turn some of their starting pitcher prospects into relievers, another way to keep the cost low and the control long.

    I do not mean prospects like Moore. But in recent years, the Rays have done one of 3 things with starting pitcher prospects who continue to show promise. They have made room for them in the major league rotation by trading more expensive or less effective starters such as Kazmir and Garza. They have traded the prospects they considered below first tier hoping to acquire useful talent in return, as they did with Hammel and Talbot. Or more recently, as with McGee, they have chosen high profile starters who may lack a full repertoire or have some other possible weakness to work out of the bullpen. In a slightly different way, Sonnanstine also fits this category as does Howell.

    Given the plethora of pitching prospects in the system, it may become inefficient to keep all of them as starters simply because there is no room for them with a young and still inexpensive rotation in TB. While it is also inefficient to turn real starting talent into relievers, if they cannot get a good enough return in trades, it might serve well to use some of them in the bullpen rather than have them stagnate in the minors. Assuming they remain as promising as they seem now, I assume Moore, Archer and Torres will continue to start, but perhaps starters such as Cobb, Barnese, Cruz and even Colome et al, if they fail to develop as hoped, can be switched to relief to keep the major league bullpen strong, inexpensive and under team control.