This off-season could turn out to be the busiest of Andrew Friedman’s career. With so many free agents, the Rays have a number of holes to fill. And with the payroll expected to be slashed by ~$20 million, Friedman will have his hands tied in the free agent market.

If the Rays do attempt to add players through the trade market, the one area where they have pieces to spare is starting pitching. With Jeremy Hellickson ready to make the jump to the bigs full-time, the Rays have six starting pitchers (seven if we count Andy Sonnanstine).

And while some believe it is a foregone conclusion that the Rays will trade one of their pitchers, Friedman suggests otherwise.

We spoke with Friedman recently, and he suggested that the Rays are more likely to hold on to their six top pitchers. “Starting pitching is one of the most difficult things in baseball to find, and essential to competing in the AL East,” said Friedman. “It’s crucial for us to maintain depth in that area.  We are always open-minded, but we’re not in a hurry to detract from one of our biggest strengths.”

One of our favorite sayings is that winning is about three things: Pitching, Pitching and Pitching. Friedman agrees: “We firmly subscribe to the notion that there is no such thing as too much pitching.”

Keep in mind, Friedman has only traded starting pitchers under one of two circumstances: 1) the player was out of options; or 2) he was blown away with an offer he couldn’t refuse (e.g. Matt Garza and Jason Bartlett for Delmon Young).

So what happens if the Rays open the season with all six starting pitchers? We see two scenarios. The Rays could decide to slow Jeremy Hellickson’s free agency clock and keep him in Durham until August. If the Rays have their eyes set on competing in 2012, this could be the smart move.

But if the Rays want to take a passive shot at competing in 2011 and Hellboy is one of the five best starting pitchers, then it may make more sense to send Wade Davis or Jeff Niemann to the bullpen to start the season.

We know it is tempting to think about improving the 2011 roster through any means possible. But as fans, we may need to temper our excitement and look ahead to 2012. That means not doing anything silly right now.



  1. Gus says:

    At some point it is immoral and against the spirit of the CBA to keep your 2nd or 3rd best starting pitcher in AAA so you can keep his clock from starting.

    With buzzkills like this, the hardest job in America has to be selling season tickets for the Rays (at least the guy in Pittsburgh can sell summer weather in Pennsylvania) if the Rays continue to alienate their fans by making false claims of poverty and then keeping the only buzz about the 2011 team — Hellickson — down on the farm.

    Both Hellickson and Jennings should have been up before Memorial Day in 2010. Imagine Hellickson pitching Game 2 instead of Shields? Imagine Des having had 200 at bats in the bigs and being prepared for the playoffs so the Rays weren’t so one-handed in Septemeber and October? I’m not one for conspiracries, but you start to believe them when you see management float idotic trial balloons like this one.

    • raysfan137 says:

      Not sure why anyone would see this as buzkill. The Rays management are smart and know the game better than any of us. That’s why they have those jobs and we don’t. I agree that starting pitching is the toughest commodity to get and keep in MLB. Just because we have a potential to have six good starters, that means nothing. We also have already lost Benoit and stand to lost Soriano. I like the idea of Neimann or David, or even Shields, as closer type role. We’re one shoulder injury away from needing another starter at any time, also. Lukcily we had Hellboy ready to go when both Neimonster and Davis went down. And the Rays mgt. know who we have down there for 2011 that would be ready to step up like that. My guess is they aren’t as confident in what’s behind Hellickson.

      As for challenges selling tickets, we just won the AL East – with starting pitching. There’s no reason to believe we can’t do it again. All it would take is for one of these younger position players to step up and have a career year, Zobrist to rebound a little, and get the consistency we’re used to from the rest and we’re just as good as this year. Yeah, we played the Rangers wrong in the playoffs and didn’t hit at home. Oh well, it happens. We’re AL East champs and will be hanging a banner again. And we’re going to be competitive into the foreseeable future.

      I’m behind our owners and management all the way on this one. They’ve proven they know how to buy low and sell high with players. Trading someone like Sheilds now would be selling low. Trading Garza would have to be for a killer deal. Keep the strength intact and make some shrewd trades elsewhere.

      • Gus says:

        The foundation underlying all competitive sports is that the best players play. Yes we have rules and drafts and minimum ages and such, but at the end of the day, the best players have to be on the field. If we are keeping Hellickson off the field for another year in the interest of depressing his future earnings and saving Stu a few sheckles, than I think that is immoral. The fans see right through this.

        Andy has this job because of good fortune and his connections (specifically his friendship with Silverman, who worked for Stu). He had no prior professional baseball experience, which proves the point that avid baseball fans (like many of the commenters on this blog and other blogs) know as much about baseball as the people working in the industry. They’ve had nice success. But it doesn’t make these guys infalliable. And if the Rays fanbase serves as a bunch of yes-men to these guys, then we won’t get the most out of this team. If they make this decision to keep Hellickson on the farm if he earns a rotation slot in the spring, it will have disastrous, far-reaching results. When you let the best LF and the best bullpen in baseball walk for a few draft picks (which you may not sign anyway), people will question your committment. You stick it to Hell-boy when he deserves to be in the majors, then you are a Baseball Scrooge.

  2. phil says:

    Jeremy Hellickson – keep him in Durham until August? Try bringing in him up on June 1st …Same with Jacob McGee…Also why mess with heads of Nieman and/or Davis by sticking them in the bullpen?

  3. Michael says:

    I really don’t understand your thought process Cork. As of now, here are the Rays top starters on the team:
    1. Price
    2. Niemann
    3. Garza
    4. Davis
    5. Hellcikson

    6. Shields

    But you intend to keep a pitcher who is a number two the way he pitched (Hellickson) in Durham till August? And then you plan on keeping a bad starter (Sheilds) who we may have to pay a biyout if he has another bad year. And then you go as far as to suggest that we should move on of our top young starters to the bullpen and kill their value. I can’t get the thought process on your or Friedmans part. I respect it, but do not understand it.

    Of course, I firmly believe Friedman is bluffing and saying he will have to be blown away so when we do trade a guy, we think that he was blown away. Also, there are few good starters on the market, making Garza valuable. And if a team like the Reds lets Alonso play, and he becomes good, we lose our chances of aquiring him.

    By getting rid of a starter, we still have a tooooonnnnnn of depth. You still have a sixth starter in Sonny, and Cobb and Torres are sitting in AAA. So if a starter goes down, they can put Sonny in the rotation or pull up one of the two prospects. I don’t know about you, but even if they trade a starter, they still have probably the most depth in the majors at starters.

    • Cork Gaines says:

      James Shields has a track record that includes 4 very good seasons and one average season. To call him a “bad pitcher” is just not fair.

      And if you trade Shields and somebody gets hurt. Where is the depth? Sonnanstine? He hasn’t been a productive pitcher (starter or reliever) since ’08. And Torres is still a year away.

      Besides, if the Rays want to maximize value (which is ALWAYS their goal), they should wait to move Shields at the trade deadline. Sellers always do better in July than they do in the winter.

      • Michael says:

        True. Shields is a good pitcher. Okay, well if we trade a starter and another gets injured, we bring up Sonny. We did it this past year IN THE MIDDLE OF A PLAYOFF RACE. I think we can do it in an off year. Plus, we can even have McGee make some spot starts if needed. And then there is always Cobb and Torres. If both continue to pitch well, they can cover up for injuries. You can even use Aneury Rodriguez if you want someone who has been in AAA.

      • Doug says:

        Waiting until the deadline wouldn’t necessarily maximize Shields’ trade value. If he’s having another mediocre year, teams may not want him as much at the deadline. “He has a track record that includes 4 very good seasons” could turn into “he hasn’t been very good in almost two years”. And if you look back, he had a pretty average 2009. He’s really only had 2 “very good seasons” (2007, 2008). Shields still has good trade value because those seasons are still relatively recent. An organization like the Rays shouldn’t gamble that good value will get better for a guy who has gotten worse two years in a row, especially when a guy like Hellickson is clearly ready. Some people may view it as selling low, but it might be selling while there is still good value.

    • phil says:

      micheal what you said is perfect ..i agree with everything you said

  4. Matt says:

    Am I the only one who thinks this is purely a leverage game. Would these pitchers be more or less valuable if everyone knew we needed to trade them? Keep driving up the price. Maybe someone will throw out an offer we can’t refuse.

  5. “The Rays could decide to slow Jeremy Hellickson’s free agency clock and keep him in Durham until August. If the Rays have their eyes set on competing in 2012, this could be the smart move.”

    Um… no? If the goal was to compete in 2012, wouldn’t getting Hellickson experience in the majors in 2011 be a good idea?

    • Cork Gaines says:

      For right or wrong, I dont think the Rays think that way. Hellickson already has more experience than Niemann had prior to the ’09 season and nearly as much as Davis prior to this season. I really dont think the Rays care about getting a player experience. Maybe just enough for them to get past those rookie jitters. And really, isn’t that why most Rays prospects spend so much time in the minors? So that when they are called, they are already ready.

      • Michael says:

        No non-injured Rays top prospect will have ent that much time in the minors.

        • Cork Gaines says:

          you sure about that? You might want to check Wade Davis’ minor league numbers. Even if Hellickson spends the entire season in the minors, he will still not have as many innings as Davis did. And look how strong his rookie season was.

          If you include college, Hellickson is still 20-30 innings short of Price’s totals. And a look at his 2009 season suggests Price could have used a little more seasoning.

          • Sarah says:

            Young pitchers are still in the process of learning. The question (apart from any issues of starting the arbitration clock) is where that happens more effectively — in the majors or the minors? I agree that Price looked a little shaky in parts of 2009. So would he have progressed more quickly if he could have worked things out at AAA, or is there a certain learning curve that can only happen in the majors? I think that’s the question the Rays need to address about Hellickson.

          • Gus says:

            Cork: Don’t be co-oped after one lousy interview! Hold out for some more lovin’ from Rays management before you go in the tank for them like DRays Bay.

            Hell-Boy is so obviously MLB ready to anybody with two eyes. Young pitchers will always adjust somewhat when promoted to the bigs (although 3 killer starts might have over-hyped him a little). Their best chance to win next year is to have him in the rotation.

            Obviously Friedman went off the record with you and is using this forum to float a trial balloon in the Rays universe. Let me just go on record saying: Keeping Hellickson at AAA in 2011 for money (not performance) will be the dumbest thing the Rays have ever done from a marketing persepctive, and one of their dumber pure baseball moves ever.

            Somebody call Murray Chass. He’ll have the union guys’ gunning for the Rays’ heads for this!

          • Michael says:

            I should have explained myself. No other pitcher has played over 2 years at AAA.

  6. MJ says:

    If they keep all 6 starting pitchers (not including sonny), Hell Boy stays in the minors. I can’t see them putting Wade or Niemann in the pen unless they have ideas of leaving them there permanently. They have too much value and upside as SP.

  7. phil says:

    bottom line if they can get something of value in trading shields..then do it ….They have 5 starters plus Sonny Torres and Cobb

  8. phil says:

    The reason ??? they need help in other areas …Bullpen first base and DH!!!

  9. Matt says:

    Trade a starting pitcher or two in the minors for Soria. Royals are talking about dealing him and he’s locked up until 2014.

  10. Jason W says:

    If they put Davis in the bullpen, I would lose some trust in our organization. He still has some very high upside as a starter and he finished the season strong this year. David Price finished the season strong last year, and look what he did. Of course I’m not saying Davis will be Price, but he could have a very good season. If he does bad then talk about putting him in the pen. I say keep Niemann in the pen if anyone has to go there. He looked pretty good at the end of the year from there. No matter what though, I do want to see Hellickson start the year i the MLB as a starter.

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