PORT CHARLOTTE — There's two weeks — just or still, depending on your perspective — until opening day, and the Rays have most of their roster set and yet a lot of decisions to make.
To join in the countdown to Chris Archer's first pitch against Boston on March 29, here are 14 things we think we know:
1. The biggest unknown is the makeup of the eight-man bullpen. More specifically, the half counted on to work multiple innings as part of the overall four-man rotation plan.
RHP Matt Andriese is in there, but there are at least five — and maybe a surprise sixth — competing for the other three spots. Figure at least one makes it from the group of right-handers Andrew Kittredge, Austin Pruitt and prospect Yonny Chirinos, who threw three solid innings Wednesday vs. Pittsburgh. To take advantage of forcing teams to adjust their lineups, the Rays may want to keep two lefties, picking from Ryan Yarbrough, Anthony Banda and — here's the surprise candidate — veteran Dan Jennings, who got a look Wednesday starting a minor-league game and working 1 2/3 innings.
2. Moving Jennings to longer relief seems odd given he's been primarily a short man (276 of 310 appearances under two innings). But with Jose Alvarado showing between his 2017 improvement and solid spring he's ready for a job, this is an option to trading Jennings or releasing him for one-fourth of his $2.375 million salary.
3. The rest of the pen is somewhat set, with closer Alex Colome, veteran Sergio Romo, out-of-options Chaz Roe (he of the wickedly viral slider) and either Alvarado or Jennings. Veteran Daniel Hudson is also in camp.
4. Jake Faria still will be part of the rotation despite his bad spring. Faria has been a mess by any measure, including a .522 average allowed (12-for-23), plus five walks. Most telling — no strikeouts in 30 batters faced. It's kind of reminiscent of Blake Snell's struggles last spring, and Faria likely won't have as long of a leash into the season.
5. Though the other starters are set, the order after Archer is not. It's a little tricky with plans to use four starters and have a "bullpen day" when they play five or more in a row, and to limit Nathan Eovaldi in his return from a second Tommy John surgery. One move would be to separate Archer and Snell, given they are more likely to work deeper into games, requiring fewer innings from relievers. Another is to be flexible in deciding when to start Benjamin Bullpen, maybe not necessarily waiting until Game 5 in the opening week.
6. The only open job is for a fifth outfielder, with a right-handed hitter preferred. Jason Coats and Brandon Snyder are the internal candidates, both with strengths and weaknesses. If they go outside, an interesting option could be bringing back Peter Bourjos, who is on a minor-league deal with the Cubs and may not make their team.
7. Despite a shaky spring defensively and a nagging hamstring tweak, Mallex Smith is slated to get the opportunity to play regularly in leftfield.
8. Assuming Smith tightens up his game, the Rays should turn the outfield into a no-fly zone with a very driven Kevin Kiermaier in center and a motivated Carlos Gomez in right.
9. Veteran Denard Span, who kept his job when the Rays instead ditched Corey Dickerson, figures to get a lot of his at-bats at DH but can play all three outfield spots, and could step in if Smith falters.
10. Second base looks to be a job shared between Daniel Robertson and lefty-swinging Joey Wendle, who was acquired from Oakland. Robertson can also backup at shortstop and third.
11. The rest of the infield is set, unless the Rays decide to move on from Brad Miller, who hasn't played since Feb. 23 due to lingering ramifications of a broken toe. They've got Matt Duffy at third, Adeiny Hechavarria at short and C.J. Cron at first, with Miller, a lefty swinger, available to play first, second or DH.
12. Unusual for the Rays, but catcher is the most stable position with Wilson Ramos backed up by Jesus Sucre. There is competition for the "third" spot, which gets filled at Triple-A Durham, between Xorge Carrillo, Johnny Monell and Adam Moore.
13. The batting order is still a puzzle, especially with manager Kevin Cash preferring to alternate righties and lefties as much as possible. The top three probably come from the group of Span, Kiermaier, Gomez and Duffy, with Cron, Ramos and Span/Miller in the middle, then Hechavarria, Robertson/Wendle and at times Smith.
14. In a spring already stocked with trades, injuries and controversy, something else will "happen" to change these plans.
Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]. Follow @TBTimes_Rays
Our best guess
Rotation: RH Chris Archer, LH Blake Snell, RH Nathan Eovaldi, RH Jake Faria
Bullpen: LH Jose Alvarado, RH Matt Andriese, RH Yonny Chirinos, RH Alex Colome, RH Andrew Kittredge, RH Chaz Roe, RH Sergio Romo, LH Ryan Yarbrough
Lineup (vs. Chris Sale)
Carlos Gomez RF
Kevin Kiermaier CF
Matt Duffy 3B
C.J. Cron 1B
Denard Span LF
Wilson Ramos C
Brad Miller DH
Adeiny Hechavarria SS
Daniel Robertson 2B
Mallex Smith OF
Jesus Sucre C
Joey Wendle INF
Peter Bourjos OF*
(Or another external option)