Topkin: Rays may look within organization to find relief

WILL VRAGOVIC   |   Times
Tampa Bay Rays manager Kevin Cash (16), center, talks with relief pitcher Jose Alvarado (46) as catcher Jesus Sucre (45) translates after the top of the seventh inning of the game between the Cleveland Indians and the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Friday, August 11, 2017.
WILL VRAGOVIC | Times Tampa Bay Rays manager Kevin Cash (16), center, talks with relief pitcher Jose Alvarado (46) as catcher Jesus Sucre (45) translates after the top of the seventh inning of the game between the Cleveland Indians and the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Friday, August 11, 2017.
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There will be much that will be interesting to see as the Rays maneuver through an offseason in which they are at least open to trading almost any player.

And how they assemble an effective bullpen is moving high on that list.

Consider that manager Kevin Cash has already said they plan to pull some starters early in games, meaning they will put more of a load on the pen.

Consider that, even after seeing the benefits of a beefed-up pen in the second half last season, they let three veterans leave as free agents (Steve Cishek, Tommy Hunter, Sergio Romo) and last week ditched three other experienced arms — Brad Boxberger (traded for a low-level prospect), Xavier Cedeno (nontendered) and Chase Whitley (waived, for a $50,000 return) — who didn’t fit their plans.

And consider that closer Alex Colome, who led the majors with 47 saves, is high on the likely-to-be-traded list.

"We certainly have our work cut out for us to put a group together that we think has a chance to contribute as well as a lot of the guys who left for free agency," senior vice president Chaim Bloom said. "At the same time, you look at some of the arms that are coming, guys, whether they have been starters or relievers, that have a chance to impact us, some of whom we got to see a little bit in 2017, and see them make progress right before our eyes.

"While we want to make sure we have a stable group, we also want to ensure we are giving every opportunity to those guys to realize their upside."

The young arms they saw last year include Jose Alvarado, Chih-Wei Hu, Austin Pruitt, Ryne Stanek and, briefly, Jose De Leon and Hunter Wood. Others on the way include Diego Castillo, Yonny Chirinos, Ian Gibaut, Brent Honeywell, Jose Mujica, Jamie Schultz and Ryan Yarbrough. Also on the roster or on minor-league deals are Andrew Kittredge, Dan Jennings, Adam Kolarek, Vidal Nuno, Chaz Roe and Burch Smith.

And, even after losing Alex Cobb to free agency and potentially trading Jake Odorizzi or Chris Archer (or both?), they also have returning starters Matt Andriese, Jake Faria and Blake Snell, plus a healthy Nate Eovaldi.

Miller time

The Rays showed faith in INF Brad Miller by tendering him a contract with a projected $4.4 million salary, but that doesn’t mean he’s definitely sticking around, just that they felt he had more value, to them (at first, second or DH) or in trade, than being cut free for no return. "Obviously there’s a lot of offseason left and a lot of different things that can play out," Bloom said. Plus, the contract is not guaranteed, so the Rays could drop him and pay basically one-sixth of his salary.

Broadcast news

Dave Wills’ new multiyear deal keeps intact one of the game’s best radio teams for a 14th and 15th season, as partner Andy Freed is signed through 2019. Plus, pre-/postgame host Neil Solondz returns for his seventh season. … On the TV side, boothmates Dewayne Staats and Brian Anderson are also set to return.

Rays rumblings

Potentially interesting names from the nontender pile are groundballing RHP Jared Hughes and slugging 1B/DH Matt Adams. … Archer had his say on Twitter after an eventful Monday: "Got hit with a random BLOOD and URINE test for performance enhancers today. Y’all came to the wrong house. This is wild, free roaming, 100 percent grass fed, antibiotic & hormone free over here. I ain’t mad though, I want a clean sport." … If the Cardinals don’t land Giancarlo Stanton from the Marlins, there’s chatter they could expand their interest in Colome to also include 3B Evan Longoria. … Whitley, an Alabama native, will get a shot to start for the Braves. … Though he took a minor-league deal with the Angels, ex-Rays C Curt Casali seems well positioned to win the backup job. … Tip of the (lens) cap to Will Vragovic, who leaves the Times to become the Rays’ team photographer. … Bloom said waiver-claimed INF/OF Micah Johnson had appeal given his versatility, speed and being "an interesting guy, a good fit in the clubhouse, a cerebral player." … Canadian RHP Curtis Taylor, acquired for Boxberger, slots in as the Rays’ 26th best prospect, per mlb.com, compared to 14 in Arizona. … Ex-Rays/current Cubs manager Joe Maddon hosts his annual Thanksmas fundraising dinner Friday at the neighboring Ava and 717 South Tampa restaurants, with celebrity bartenders including Archer and Kevin Kiermaier. Proceeds to Maddon’s Respect 90 Foundation; call (813) 300-5070 for reservations. … Former Rays RHP Brandon Gomes was promoted to director of player development with the Dodgers. … This azsnakepit.com headline seemed a little strong: "Diamondbacks signal they’re going for it in 2018 with Brad Boxberger trade."

Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected] Follow @TBTimes_Rays.

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