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.