The Rays’ bullpen figures to be a season-long work in progress. The team will continue to explore the trade market, and could make another move or two before the end of spring training, when teams look to move out-of-options players and non-roster invitees.
For now, four relievers appear set – right-handers Kyle Farnsworth, Joel Peralta, Andy Sonnanstine and Adam Russell. A number of other pitchers – veterans such as non-roster righty Juan Cruz, youngsters such as lefty Jake McGee - are competing for the final three spots.
“Every year, we wonder, ‘Is our bullpen going to be there? Is our bullpen going to be there?’ The next thing you know, they’re there,” says right-hander James Shields, one of the Rays’ starters. “That has a lot to do with the starting staff going deep into games, letting those guys rest as much as they possibly can, stay fresh all year.”
The difference this season, of course, is that the Rays lost almost their entire bullpen to free agency – right-handers Rafael Soriano, Joaquin Benoit, Grant Balfour and Dan Wheeler, plus lefty Randy Choate.
The trick for the Rays will be to find seven relievers who complement each other – and seven who can succeed in the rough-and-tumble AL East. Club officials are not worried about the talent level in camp. They are concerned about the lack of experience.
The Rays could get a boost if lefty J.P. Howell returns from shoulder surgery, but that will not happen until at least May. Manager Joe Maddon might need to be aggressive in his usage patterns early, allowing his relievers to build confidence and removing them quickly.
Handling a bullpen is a manager’s most difficult task. Maddon's new nickname could be "The Juggler." He likely will spend the entire season adjusting roles, incorporating new arms, seeking proper fits.
— Ken Rosenthal