Rays Bullpen Undergoing Extensive “Renovations”



 Mike Carlson/AP

Just when I thought I could feel a tad secure about the Tampa Bay Rays unstable Bullpen situation, Rays Vice President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman has to drop another bombshell on the already scarred Rays Republic. With the recent revelations that even Rays stalwart reliever Grant Balfour is shunning the Rays arbitration offer, the team has quickly seem it Bullpen’s health go from unstable to critical.

With a upcoming contract tender decision today concerning Rays long reliever Lance Cormier and Rays jack-of-all-trade Andy Sonnanstine, there was bound to be another interesting twist or two before the Rays began to effectively rebuild their Bullpen and possibly contend again in 2011. But the bomb that came out of Friedman’s mouth yesterday during his pre-Winter meeting press junket might have delivered a death blow to the Rays post season aspirations for 2011.

I instantly felt like Daniel-san from “The Karate Kid” with a hearty leg sweep taking me out and sending me to the canvas. Suddenly the foundation I thought was flimsy but fixable, might just be undergoing a major overhauling. Maybe I invested too much into hoping, praying, thinking that Rays southpaw reliever J P Howell could somehow be that impending shining light we would need in the Spring of 2011 to blaze a Bullpen path.

Instantly, that foundation, that hope of some stability was swept clean, at least for the first few months of the 2011 Major League Baseball decision. Friedman had very encouraging words about Howell’s rehabilitation program since his 2010 shoulder surgery, but the only words echoing through my mind again and again was the possibility he would not be available until May or June. With just those few words it seems that a total transition of the Rays Bullpen was underway, and would Sonnanstine and Cormier be spared from the purge?

In reality, the Rays Bullpen went quickly from a slight rebuilding mode to a full blown reconstruction mode even if Sonnanstine and Cormier are brought back for 2011. Howell was thought to be some of the glue that might bond this unit tighter with his hugely optimistic attitude and energy. But with Friedman’s announcement of a possible road bump in his rehabilitation process, Howell quickly goes from a veteran cog of the Rays Bullpen 2011 machine, to an in-season inserted piece.

Suddenly the instability of the Rays Bullpen reminds me of those moving grass patches in the Florida Everglades that on the surface look like solid ground until you walk on them, then you fall through into the murky water below. Even with young arms like southpaw reliever Jake McGee and righthander Mike Ekstrom possibly returning for another Rays extended gig, Friedman made it clear that McGee would have to prove himself this Spring or possible start the season with the Triple-A Durham Bulls.

With the Rays possibly carrying 12-13 pitchers going into the 2011 season, suddenly only the starting five of James Shields, Matt Garza, David Price, Wade Davis and Jeff Niemann seems to be on any form of solid ground for now. But we have a long way to the Rays first reporting date of February 13th and anything can happen. If the Rays do consider carrying 12 pitchers’, that would mean that 7 new faces could possibly enter the Rays Spring Training complex in Port Charlotte, Florida on that date. I hope the team is stocking up on ” Hi! My Name is….” tags.



Such a major re-configuration to the Rays late inning staff could take them immediately out of the thought process of contending during 2011 and might have damage their post season aspirations for several years. Suddenly the once solid and reliable Rays Bullpen unit is a shadow of its former self. And with the Rays farm system a bit discombobulated after 21 minor league free agents were not offered an olive branch by the parent club, more change is expected.

Going into the Winter meeting in Orlando, Florida the Rays might be going on an extended window shopping journey to see just what affordable options lie within their price range in the free agent and trade routes in regard to relief help. It could easily be considered that any trade even on the back burners would have to have at least one farm hand or MLB ready reliever to even be considered. With the Rays closer, leftie specialist and 3 key set-up pitchers possibly having played their last game wearing the Rays unis, the team might be in definite stealth “buying” mode.

It is a long way to February 13th, and the Rays could possibly entertain a multi-year offer with Balfour, or possibly have the chance to sign Wheeler to a lower salary figure than his declines $ 4 million option and retain some form of reasonable back end stability to the Rays Bullpen. Tendering 2011 contracts to Sonnanstine and Cormier could alleviate a bit of the Rays relief flux, but would only be a band-aid on the seeping wound.

With a limited payroll the Rays will have to effectively find a legitimate closer, a few set-up men and possibly a left-hand specialist. Even with the influx within the Rays Bullpen, McGee and Ekstrom will have to prove themselves to even be considered in the Rays overall relief equation this Spring. What was once a steady and reliable relief unit has quickly turned itself sideways and could be at its weakest point since Rays Manager Joe Maddon took the Rays reigns.


Nice story on our local TV last week about James Shields supporting his old Independent League team, the Santa Barbara Foresters. Apparently, he helps raise money out here every year. Good guy who doesn’t forget his roots!


Shields was the Rays candidate for the 2010 Roberto Clemente Award. He has done a lot here and in Cali for youth. Always a great thing when you can see guys like Shields “giving” back even when the TV cameras are not on them.
Shows a good core value system.

Rays Renegade


This might sound like a dumb question…I’m new to this.

If the Rays hadn’t had such a successful campaign would the players shun arbitration? Is it possible that they feel they have a greater value because they’re with a successful team and therefore will draw more interest from other clubs?

That is actually a really good question.
With Carl Crawford, Rafael Soriano and possibly Grant Balfour there is the distinct possibility that they could get a multi-year contract and a distinctive raise in salary.
With Randy Choate, Brad Hawpe and Chad Qualls, there time was just over with the team. Of the three, Choate might be the only one to get a second glance from the Rays.
Dan Wheeler and Carlos Pena was all about the predicted money they could of gotten through arbitration that might handcuff the Rays.
The five minor league signings, plus the five Rays player offered arbitration could be the first spray of payroll limitations. Once there is a consistent consensus on the overall cost, the payroll number will leak out and the team will do their due dilligence to get themselves the best bang for their buck.

Rays Renegade


Thanks for the explanation. So in a way, a successful season can have an adverse effect on contract negotiations, particularly for a club with a small budget?


I think they can have a kind of a double-edged sword effect. You want success, but that breeds on invrease in payroll and salary oligations. mIt can also boost the stats and confidence of your players when they do have a chance for arbitration, or go elsewhere and hope for that nice payday increase.
Kind of a “Dang if you do, Dang if you don’t” type of scenario. You want the sucess, but at a ceiling increase for salaries. The stark reality of baseball along with any other sport is that success breeds problems.

Rays Renegade


Ooh I understand what you’re going through. Haha the offseason is really too stressful…

Most AL East squads are just trying to establish status quo and solidify their line-ups for 2011 with a few touch-up moves or cosmetic changes.
My team will do an almost enire realignment of their Bullpen. As of right now,only RP/SP Andy Sonnanstine still remains from Opening Day 2010 in the Rays Bullpen.
Going to be an interesting couple of months.

Rays Renegade


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