Before we jump into the 25-man and 40-man roster projections next week, let’s take a look at the one area where we can expect the most change, the bullpen. But before we start thinking about who the Rays may add to the mix, let’s take a look at who might be back in 2010…
- JP Howell, Dan Wheeler, Grant Balfour and Andy Sonnanstine look to us like the only sure-things. We suppose the Rays could dangle Sonny and see if anybody still thinks he can be a big league starting pitcher, but we have a feeling that the Rays see Sonnanstine as worth more in their bullpen than on the trade market. And it wouldn’t surprise us if the Rays feel Sonny can grow into the relief role the same way Howell did.
- We don’t see the Rays re-signing any of their free agents (Chad Bradford, Russ Springer, Troy Percival, Jason Isringhausen).
- The Rays do not need both Brian Shouse and Randy Choate as lefty-specialists. Choate was nearly unhittable against lefties and will be a lot cheaper, so the Rays will decline Shouse’s 2010 option.
- Randy Choate is a very effective lefty-specialist, but he is also arbitration-eligible. Might the Rays find somebody even cheaper for league-minimum?
- Lance Cormier gave Joe Maddon good depth in the bullpen all season. He is arbitration-eligible. While he won’t make a ton of money next year, Andy Sonnanstine will be cheaper and figures to be able to do the same job.
- Jeff Bennett brings something to the table that none of these other “Maybes” can do…a mid-90s fastball…something that is lacking in the bullpen outside of Grant Balfour. And keep in mind that his numbers were inflated by one outing at Texas in which he gave up 5 runs without recording an out. Our gut says Bennett is more “IN” than “OUT” but may have to win a job in the Spring.
- Dale Thayer is a bit of an enigma. He is young in terms of experience, but he is not young. He seems suited to be the “Down 12-3″ mop-up reliever. But more likely he will start the season in Durham as the Rays 8th relief pitcher (waiting for somebody to go on DL).
If we assume that the Rays will indeed bring back all 4 of the “Ins”, that would leave 3 open spots. Bennett might have the inside-track on one of those openings. That would leave 2 spots to be filled via free agency or trade.