The following is not a typo

The Rays are being carried by their pitching staff, one of the best in baseball.

After 12 games the Rays are 6-6 but it could be a lot worse if not for a team ERA of 3.86 good for 4th in the AL. In 2007 the Rays’ team ERA was 5.33. While the improved defense has ceraintly been a factor, the biggest difference may be the ability to throw strikes, walking 22.2% fewer batters this season. In 2007 the Rays walked 3.6 batters per 9 innings. So far in 2008, the Rays are walking 2.8 per 9 innings, good for 3rd in the AL. And this has been accomplished with staff ace Scott Kazmir on the shelf.

Despite strong early-season performances from Edwin Jackson, Jason Hammel and Jeff Niemann, the Rays will be forced to make a series of moves that will shake up the pitching staff sometime in May once Kazmir and Matt Garza reclaim their spots in the rotation.

Here is the projected rotation once everybody is healthy…

  1. Scott Kazmir
  2. James Shields
  3. Matt Garza
  4. Andy Sonnanstine
  5. Edwin Jackson

That means both Jason Hammel and Jeff Niemann are out. If (and that’s a 6’9″ *if*) Niemann continues to pitch as well as he looked yesterday, it will be hard to justify sending him back to Durham. And there is the issue of Hammel’s minor league options. He has none.

The obvious play is for the Rays to trade either Hammel or Jackson. DRays Bay throws out some numbers that show Jackson has been lucky so far, and suggest that the Rays would be better off selling high on Jackson and keeping Hammel. The Rays will also certainly consider service time when deciding whom to trade. Jackson will be arbitration eligible at the end of the season and will be due a big pay raise, especially if he can continue to pitch well.

While we are certain that Andrew Firedman will be working the Blackberry in the next few weeks, a trade is far from a forgone conclusion, especially early in the season. So the question becomes: What do the Rays do with the surplus of pitching if they are unable to find a trade partner?

Keep ‘em all, of course.

If the Rays cannot trade Hammel or Jackson, Hammel would have to clear waivers in order to be sent to the minors (not likely). The only other option is to send Hammel to the bullpen. JP Howell made the bullpen as a long reliever out of spring training, but Joe Maddon has not been afraid to use him in shorter stints in meaningful games early in the season. That leaves an opening for Hammel to assume the role of long reliever. The Rays would then have to DFA Scott Dohmann who would be the 8th man in a 7-man bullpen.

That leaves Niemann. The most likely scenario has Niemann heading back to Durham as insurance for the rotation against any further injuries. However, there is a scenario that keeps him a Rays uniform.

During spring training, pitching coach Jim Hickey expressed that he would not be afraid to use Andy Sonnanstine in the bullpen. In fact, he seemed to prefer Sonnanstine in the bullpen over other options…

According to Hickey, it’s rare that [Sonnanstine or Howell] reports soreness in his arm the day after starting, neither takes particularly long to get warmed up, and both can be relied upon to come in and throw strikes even if they haven’t pitched in a few days…”You kind of target those guys,” Hickey said. “You don’t just take anybody and say ‘This guy’s capable of being a relief pitcher.'”

This suggests that Hickey, Madden and Friedman consider Sonnanstine to be a relief pitcher in the long run. If Niemann stayed in the rotation and Sonny was moved to the bullpen, the Rays would have to DFA a second relief pitcher. Anybody have a problem with Gary Glover being pushed out the door? Neither do we.

With or without a trade, here is what the Rays pitching staff could look like at the end of May…

Rotation:

  1. Kazmir
  2. Shields
  3. Garza
  4. Jackson
  5. Niemann

Bullpen:

  1. Percival
  2. Reyes
  3. Wheeler
  4. Miller
  5. Howell
  6. Sonnanstine
  7. Hammel (or relief pitcher acquired via trade for Hammel)

DFA:

  1. Dohmann
  2. Glover

If this is how the pitching staff shakes out, it would be our contention that for the first time in the 11 year history of the franchise, the Rays would have 12 major league pitchers on the staff…and our 12th Raysmas wish would come true.

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20 Comments

  1. Anonymous says:

    Rotation:

    1. Kazmir
    2. Shields
    3. Garza
    4. Jackson
    5. Niemann

    Bullpen:

    1. Percival
    2. Reyes
    3. Wheeler
    4. Miller
    5. Howell
    6. Sonnanstine
    7. Hammel (or relief pitcher acquired via trade for Hammel)

    DFA:

    1. Dohmann
    2. Glover

    Sounds like a plan to me!

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  2. Scott says:

    I believe you can win with that pitching staff. I really do.

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  3. Sean says:

    Here's the rotation once everyone is healthy:

    1. Kazmir unitl the 6th, Sonny until the 9th.
    2. Shields
    3. Garza
    4. Jackson
    5. Neimann

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  4. The Professor says:

    kind alike how some pitchers require their own personal catcher...Kazmir really does need his own personal relief pitcher. one guy that is always ready to work the 6th/7th innings of his starts.

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  5. Anonymous says:

    please stop teasing us. this makes too much sense to actually be implemented

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  6. Michael Connell says:

    well, let's wait and see how Niemann does in his next couple of starts before we start going too crazy. i still think Niemann will be in the minors once Garza is back, but this does have the makings of a very strong staff.

    of course we are also assuming everybody gets/stays healthy. at the current rate, that is a big stretch

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  7. Possum Avenger says:

    garza has yet to prove anything. i think we are all jumping ahead a little too much anointing him a quality number 4 starter

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  8. The Professor says:

    that is a fair comment but Garza is not going anywhere. all reports are that Garza has the talent and is ready to be a big league starter. it is just a matter of putting it all together. on a talent-level alone, he is ahead of Shields and second only to Kazmir in the Rays system. remember he was the Twins top prospect.

    he's going to be in the rotation as long he is healthy.

    consider him a more polished version of what Jackson was last year at this time and the team showed they wouldn't give up on him.

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  9. Anonymous says:

    At this point I think that the Ray would be more likely to keep Dohmann or Glover over Howell, and like stated before lets see how Niemann does and (if any --hopefully not) injury's shake out. I think that the Rays will keep the guys with options even if it's in the minors, as oppose to releasing a veteran, unless the kid is clear cut better then the vet. I'm not sure you can say that Niemann has proved, or will prove by May that he is better then Sonny, or that Sonny is a better reliver then Dohmann or Glover.

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  10. The Professor says:

    you never want to lose a player for nothing. and while the level of distinction between Howell and Dohmann/Glover is unclear, there is a distinction. Right now, Howell is getting meaningful innings and much more responsibility than either of the other two.

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  11. Jackson says:

    We have seen Glover here for a long time. And speaking for a lot of Rays fans, I don't think he has ever been all that good. He'll give you one good day, for every 10 innings where he gets completely shelled. Howell's got more talnt and better stuff than Glover and Dohmann.

    And Sonnanstine, while he is doing an admirable job as a starter, just seems like he belongs in the pen. He has great stuff, and his mentality is intense which is good for a relief guy. And what really stands out to me that he may belong in the pen is his delivery. It is very very deceptive the first time through the batting order, and this would work to his advantage out of the bullpen.

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  12. Anonymous says:

    What are some teams with RF options out there if the Rays do decide to move Eddie Jackson? Or is that even their primary concern? Would they go for some left-handed relief arms? Are there any out there?

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  13. Anonymous says:

    I like your thoughts, but if we can get anyone for Hammel I would love to see him gone. I wouldnt mind if they just DFA'd him if no one will part with a reliever or a prospect. I don't see why anyone thinks he is a major league pitcher. He has maybe one good start out of every 10 appearances.

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  14. Wade says:

    I was actually thinking this exact same thing earlier today, even before Sonny got crushed by the Yankees. I think he just just does not have the stuff to go through a good lineup more than once, but I think he could possibly be great as a middle reliever. I think we should keep jackson, unless we get offered a very good deal, because I think he finally has his head on straight now, even if his stats dont really show it, and his stuff his just amazing. I would much rather have hammel and sonny in the pen than dohmann and glover, but dont forget that Salas is coming back at some point this year....

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  15. Jackson says:

    You have to think Salas is a lost cause. Sonnanstine's awful start didn't do anything to make himself look good as a starter, or to make my point that he should be a reliever. He just looked terrible today. He is supposed to be the Rays "control specialist" but his breaking balls looked more like mine during homerun derby with my friends. I am sure it was nothing more than a down day, but Andy needs to have his stuff together because Hammel hasn't done that bad, Jackson has been ridiculous, and even Niemann was pretty good. Not to mention, Dohmann came on and saved Sonny's butt tonight. These mental lapses by the Rays are the number one reason why they have lost so much. They are getting better at ridding themselves of these, but they still hang around. Maybe Reyes needs a good tazer or two to get ready for a game anymore.

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  16. Anonymous says:

    Bailing on Jackson now would make having put up with "No-win Jackson" all of last year totally pointless. Last year we suffered through the growing pains- now lets reap the benefits for a while. I agree that Sonny should move to middle relief...soon. It's early in the season, but my biggest concern is Reyes; he looks pedestrian at best. As an intricate part of the pen we need him to look stellar!

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  17. stunna says:

    We should trade Reyes while we can still get something for him in return. He's starting to remind me of Joe Borowski. Ask any tribe fan how they feel about him.....

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  18. DirtbagFan says:

    I agree with Anonymous from 2 comments up:
    Keep Jackson- move Sonny to middle reliever- and deal Reyes while he still carries some trade value.

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  19. The Professor says:

    Reyes is a free agent at the end of the year so a trade is inevitable. won't get much in return. Think Mitch Talbot or Calvin Medlock. But trading a relief pitcher is tough prior to July just because i feel most teams will try to exhaust all in-house candidates prior to letting a prospect go.

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  20. Anonymous says:

    What's the problem with Dohmann. A sub 4 ERA for 2007 and so far for this year! Sounds good to me. Glover has looked good also.

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