The Tampa Bay Rays bullpen for 2017 will undergo a makeover and many options could be available via free agency should finances play out in their favor.
It’s no secret that the Tampa Bay Rays will be looking to improve their bullpen this offseason. The bullpen as a whole finished with a 4.09 ERA in 506.1 innings pitched. Good for 21st in the league and while ERA isn’t everything when it comes to relief pitching, it was likely a result of poor depth.
The Rays team defense probably didn’t do the bullpen any favors either as they regressed tremendously and not having Kevin Kiermaier for an extended time was a huge hit as well.
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While Alex Colome was outstanding in 2016 there weren’t enough quality arms in front of him to to get high leverage outs. The Tampa Bay Rays took a huge hit early in Spring Training when Brad Boxberger went down with an injury and was forced to miss half the season.
Xavier Cedeno had an effective season but would be much better utilized in a specialist role and Danny Farquhar ended the season strong and should have a spot in the 2017 bullpen but would be better off pitching lower leverage situations.
Erasmo Ramirez, Matt Andriese and Chase Whitley are all candidates to be in the rotation but could also be nice pieces to have in the bullpen. All three have the ability to throw multiple innings out of the pen which can be extremely valuable as evidenced by the way the Cleveland Indians used their bullpen in the playoffs.
Dylan Floro could also be a name to add to that last group as his extreme ground ball tendencies are a nice piece to have as well. In Durham, names such as Ryne Stanek, Jaime Schultz and Hunter Wood could all be options to move into the Tampa Bay Rays pen at some point in 2017.
Overall this is a pretty good group of names to work with but there is a chance someone gets traded and the bullpen as a whole lacks a ton of experience.
I believe the Rays need to add at least one free agent reliever to solidify the pen and with the amount of options on the market there’s a good chance a good reliever will be on the market come January without a job. That’s where the Rays could swoop in and land one.
Neftali Feliz: Feliz was once a dominate relief pitcher for the Rangers and was one pitch away from ending the 2011 World Series. Since then his career has pretty much gone in a tailspin until 2016.
The main reason for his success was his fastball velocity came back up. When Feliz was at his best, his average fastball velocity hovered around 96 MPH and since undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2012 it hadn’t gotten back up there until now.
His average four seem fastball velocity in 2016 was exactly 96 MPH but that wasn’t the only key to his success. Feliz was the best relief pitcher in the NL when it came to stranding runners. He had an incredible LOB % of 85.4. That probably stems all from his fastball velocity returning.
His K/9 came back up to 10.23 and his BABIP against him was only .240. While the BABIP could creep up a little bit next year the K/9 rate seems sustainable as long as his fastball velocity stays up. Feliz will only be 28 next season on Opening Day and could have some intriguing upside potential as it appears he may have finally fully found his electric fastball that he once had prior to Tommy John.
Felix has had reverse platoon splits for several seasons now as for some reason he’s been more effective against lefties than righties. He’s had some control issues and issues with the long ball but his encouraging 2016 season shows there’s some upside that could be had here.
Maybe he can return to being somewhat the dominant reliever he once was before Tommy John. He shouldn’t come too expensive and could probably be had on a one or two year deal at a relatively low annual cost.
However if the cost goes up to over $4 million a season he’s probably not an option but with the relief market loaded he could potentially get left out on the market and sign late for a cheaper deal then expected.
Santiago Casilla: The 36-year-old closer has had a pretty strong past three seasons with San Francisco. He’s thrown almost exactly 58 innings and his K% has increased in each of them.
Casilla has recorded 127 saves throughout his career which is an indictment that he’s had a lot of success in the closer role.
While the “proven closer” role is something the Tampa Bay Rays don’t need to chase, adding Casilla would give them the flexibility to slot him in the 9th inning.
In doing so, they can move Alex Colome to a more versatile role where he can be brought in to face the opposing team’s best hitters regardless of the inning. Basically he could be used the same way the Indians use Andrew Miller.
According to Fangraphs, his average four seem and two seem fastball velocity was around 94 MPH or within less than one MPH from it each of the last seasons as well. Lefties hit him better than righties (.348 wOBA vs Lefties vs .281 wOBA vs Righties) but doesn’t show an extreme platoon split.
Chances are a reliever of Casilla’s caliber will get a better offer with more money than the Rays should offer. However, if he does get left behind in free agency, the Rays could potentially get him on a 1-year deal and give him another chance to close.
Brad Ziegler: Ziegler has been an exceptional reliever since 2008. His longevity has been impressive and largely due to his unorthodox submarine delivery. It’s constantly produced extreme ground ball rates as he’s never had a GB% lower than 54% in his career.
Last season between pitching for the Diamondbacks and Red Sox he had an LOB% of 80.5 % and GB% of 63.3 %. His stuff has never been overpowering as none of his pitches usually top 85 MPH but he’s consistently gotten results without a huge platoon split.
His strikeout rates are not impressive but his pitch to contact approach just works. He also has experience closing so he could be a candidate to close if they sign him but would likely be better utilized in more of a hybrid role. Ziegler pitched very well down the stretch for the Red Sox so one would imagine they would love to have him back but at age 37 without wipe-out stuff it’s possible his skills could be overlooked.
Ziegler probably can get a 2-year deal with a decent annual value from someone but if left on the market long enough the Tampa Bay Rays could be in play.
Mike Dunn: The only lefty on the list, Dunn represents possibly the most realistic option. He’s a basic two pitch fastball/slider lefty that shows no real platoon split. He’s been a pretty effective relief pitcher for several seasons now and hasn’t shown any notable signs of decline.
Dunn has never been a particularly big ground ball pitcher as evidenced by his GB % never being above 39.5%. But his LOB % has always been strong and was at 82% in 2016. His K/9 was at a career low 8.09 in 2016 but his BB/9 also decreased to a career low 2.34.
He’s probably more in the category of solid middle reliever but his ability to get both lefties and righties out makes him a solid relief option for the Rays. Add in that he shouldn’t cost too much and his only 31 a low cost 2 year deal isn’t entirely out of the question.