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…

WHO’S IN?

  • 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.

WHO’S OUT?

  • 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.

THE MAYBES

  • 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.

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28 Comments

  1. Gus says:

    How exactly is Sonnanstine going "to do the same job" as Cormier in 2010? Is 2009 some kind of abberation? Is there some injury that wasn't made public. Because based on the performances in 2009, Cormier was a solid middle relief guy and Sonnanstine was the worst pitcher in all of major league baseball.

    Sonnanstine should have to prove himself in AAA for some period of time before he ever gets a crack at the majors again. Counting on him in 2010 I just don't get. We have cheaper guys in Durham.

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    • Sonny will make close to league minimum in 2010, so the guys in Durham won't be cheaper. On the other hand Cormier will probably make twice as much as Sonny and whether you like it or not, the Rays will look to save money everywhere possible.

      And Sonny was one of the worst STARTING pitchers. The Rays have long said Sonny could be an effective relief pitcher. Now I am not saying Sonny can be as good as Howell, but go back and look at Howell's stats as a starting pitcher. Not so good. And I am glad the Rays didn't give up on him just because he sucked as a starter.

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    • Dirtbag Fan says:

      I've written several posts/articles about Sonny's potential effectiveness out of the 'pen despite his struggles as a starter.

      If you looked at his splits you'd see that his numbers the first time through a lineup are substantially better than his 3rd or 4th times through... tell-tale signs that relief pitching may be a good fit.

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      • Gus says:

        I'm all for giving a guy a second chance to re-invent himself, but not at the major league level. Right now, he has not demonstrated that he is a major league pitcher. if he can hone his craft at AAA and show he can relieve, I'd be glad to have him, but I'm not holding my breath there. But as I recall, his season at AAA was as a starter.

        I'm not a huge Cromier fan, but if his arb number is decent, bring him back. But to say Andy will be just as good or Andy will be just like Howell, that's not really justified by anything he's done to date.

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        • Dirtbag Fan says:

          I can almost see where you're coming from, but if my memory serves me correctly, Howell didn't make the switch during a minor-league assignment he made the transition during the off-season.

          Sonny has several years of legitimate major league pitching experience under his belt (including a 13 win season in '08), and he deserves the benefit of the doubt- especially considering the fact that he was chosen over both Hammel and Jackson at some point, which means that people within the organization see a decent degree of value in Sonny.

          Keep in mind that pitchers of his ilk can be very effective for many, many years if they can find their groove and keep it... as opposed to pitchers like Kaz who's violent delivery will continually result in injury, or at the very least, a fairly short career.

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          • Gus says:

            When Howell was learning his craft, this was a last place team. I think we all agree that this team is and should be better than that and needs to have a sense of urgency about winning now, while Pena-Zorbist-Bartlett-CC are still in town. Sonny flat out failed in 2009 and that should be enough experimentation at the MLB level for now.

            The thing that go me so exercised about the Kazmir trade was the timing, the predictable negative impact it would have on the club and, more than anything, that Sonny got the crucial Boston start in Kazmir's place. He didn't earn that start with his AAA performance and shouldn't have pitched over Davis or Hellickson (or maybe even Talbot if he was heathy).

            The other thing to consider with Sonny is he's racked up a fair amount of service time, so even if he turned into Greg Maddux of the bullpen next season, he's not really cheap for much longer as he keeps building service time. So AAA only for him until we see several months of results.

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  2. Beth says:

    I have to disagree with you on two matters here:
    1. Like Gus, I'm not convinced that Sonnanstine belongs in the Rays bullpen. The sorts of starters who get turned into relievers are generally those who have too little stamina or too few different pitches to go more than a couple of innings. Does this hold true for Sonnanstine? My recollection of his starts is that he got hammered equally in all innings. Sure, he's cheap, but if they just want cheap they can sign me.
    2. Bennett. NOOOOOO....not Bennett. You say his numbers are inflated by that one awful Texas outing. But 11 walks in 12 innings? Unless 9 of those walks were in that Texas game I'd say that's a lot of awfulness. I can't say I watched every inning he pitched this year, but I can't recall him ever retiring every batter he faced. Or in some cases, any batter he faced. (And how does that work, by the way, if you come in and face two batters and retire neither? How many "innings pitched" are then recorded?)

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    • Dirtbag Fan says:

      Yep... if I see Bennett in a Rays jersey again I may shoot myself... or my TV, whichever one is less painful.

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    • 1. See DBF's comment

      2. Bennett struggled at times with the Rays, but he has shown before joining the Rays that he can be effective. I have no idea why he was so bad at times with the Rays, but I believe he is a better pitcher than that. Like I said, he will have to show something in the Spring, much like Balfour in spring 08 when he didn't make the team.

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  3. Don says:

    I guess no one saw Sonnanstines fine relief pitching in the last game of the season.....I can't remember exactly but I think the Yankees scored 8/9/10 runs in one inning when he was in .....If I have to look at that in 2010 the Rays will do nothing!...shoot that pig..... forget the TV......

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    • It was 5 unearned runs. And did you see Longoria's performance in the game before that? 0-4, 2Ks. What does that one game tell you about Longoria?

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      • Dirtbag Fan says:

        exactly. Did you see Dirtbag's performance the entire last 2 wks of the season... if I'd never seen him before I'd say he was the worst offensive player on the squad.

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      • Don says:

        "unearned"?? Balls were flying all over the place including over the fenced...but if you say they were unearned...I guess it was "lucky unearned" stuff!
        Also before I would say someone like Longoria didn't belong in the majors I would look at his over all performance record...but even then...
        I wouldn't have to bcause I watch him PLAY...I wouldn't care if he went 0-4 ten nights in a row because he belongs!
        Sonnanstine does NOT belong in the big leagues....If you can't see that
        So be It!

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        • Dirtbag Fan says:

          Don,
          Prof didn't make the rules that determine which runs are unearned. The runs were unearned. Period.

          And if you've watched Sonny pitch from day one you would know that he most definitely has the potential to be a very effective major league pitcher... I know that lots of pitchers have the potential to be good and never actually get there, but to make a blanket statement such as "he does not belong in the majors" is silly fan-speak.

          His capacity to change arm angles and throw 762 different pitches will always keep him at or near the major league level, either here or elsewhere....

          I'd rather see it here in a bullpen role than elsewhere. If he struggles out of the 'pen next season then fine I'll jump onboard the "Sonnanstine sucks express", until then... have faith.

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          • Don says:

            Ok Dirtbag.....Here's one more "silly fan-talk" for you....write it down you heard it 10/16/2009 here on Rays Index...

            Andy Sonnastine will NEVER be a successful Major League pitcher from this date on..I would like to go even farther and say he will never win another game..but even the worst pitcher in the majors win one!
            Is that banket enough statement for you or is it really specific!

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          • Gus says:

            762 very hittable pitches . . .

            We'll see. Personally, I'd love for him to be good because he pitches so quickly and he has a rubber arm; but these are also traits of highly valued batting practice pitchers. Just on the performances I've suffered through, he doesn't seem to be anywhere close and while he may win a game again somewhere along the road, I'd be really surprised if he pitches more than 35 innings in a Rays uniform again, no matter how in love Andy is with him. He's really that terrible.

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  4. MJ says:

    I think you see choate getting that 5th spot before Bennett. Or you see both of them and mgmt spends whatever they are allotting for BP help to one guy, say... Rafael Soriano?

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  5. Dirtbag Fan says:

    Don,

    There is a difference between you and I that is paramount; the fact that I am a student of the game whereas you are a fan of the game.

    I'm not saying one is better than the other, but fans form opinions based solely on what they see; on the other hand students of the game combine what they see with actual statistical analysis and an understanding of how the intricacies of the game work...

    So you can be as blanketed or specific as you please, but those of us who truly know baseball can see through the veil...

    Perhaps we should just call you "Oz"?

    I'm not even a huge Sonny fan, but i can see his inherent value, which makes it impossible to dismiss him altogether... you should see that too, but it's hard to focus when you're looking through "fan-shaped glasses"

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    • Don says:

      Just remember my prediction of today....as I have made many in the past.... ie. EJ, Zobrist, Gabe & Gabe, BJ, CC and on and on..... that have became reality ....then we will know you really are a "student"..still trying to figure out your statistics and intricacies!!

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      • KillaTapes says:

        Sonny was a very effective pitcher in '08, and a big part of the team's success. I guess you don't remember the ALDS when he was lights out?

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        • Dirtbag Fan says:

          preach.

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        • Don says:

          I remember when I used to run 5 Miles in CC practice....now I can't run around the block...
          So Killa what is your point...on Sonn. now???

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          • KillaTapes says:

            The point (although very obvious) is that it's a bit ridiculous to say that a pitcher has no business being in the big leagues when he's had past success and helped a team get into (and far into) the post season just a year ago.

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  6. Don says:

    Killa...sorta like Burrell.....helping the Phillies win the WS in 2008.....
    AND now USELESS with the Rays ...is that what you mean??

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  7. Indiana Rays Boy says:

    I will tell you who is in:
    JP Howell
    Dan Wheeler
    Lance Cormier
    Randy Choate

    who is out
    Andy Sonnanstine
    Jeff Bennett
    Joe Nelson
    Chad Bradford
    Jason Isringhausen
    Troy Percival
    Russ Springer
    Brian Shouse

    maybe's
    Grant Balfour
    Dale Thayer

    the Sonny's and the Jeff Bennett's of the world have no business being with the team. They need a 7th and 8th inning guy with an addition to a REAL closer. Closer by committee will not work in the majors.Relievers like Rafael Betancourt, Joel Biemel, Takashi Saito, Kiko Calero, Michael Wuertz, Jon Rauch will be available along with Joakim Soria, David Aardsma Bobby Jenks, Mike Capps or Heath Bell via trade. If they want to develop a closer: their is guys like Matt Gorgen, Jake McGee, Mitch Talbot, Calvin Medlock and/or Josh Satow are in the farm system.

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  8. delmon333 says:

    What about Winston Abreu? He struggled in a short stint in the minors but was lights out as the closer for Durham

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  9. Peter says:

    Jeff Bennett sucked last year, but he came to Spring Training in HORRIBLE shape and his sinker wasn't really sinking. He can be a useful piece of he comes to camp in better shape in 2010, I would think.

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