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Fixing bullpen a priority for Rays this offseason

Tampa Bay Rays catcher Luke Maile (46) exchanges words with Tampa Bay Rays relief pitcher Erasmo Ramirez (30) in the top of the seventh during the game between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Boston Red Sox on Tropicana Field on Sept. 5, 2016, in St. Petersburg, Fla. The Red Sox defeated the Rays 3-2.

ANDRES LEIVA | Times

Tampa Bay Rays catcher Luke Maile (46) exchanges words with Tampa Bay Rays relief pitcher Erasmo Ramirez (30) in the top of the seventh during the game between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Boston Red Sox on Tropicana Field on Sept. 5, 2016, in St. Petersburg, Fla. The Red Sox defeated the Rays 3-2.

ST. PETERSBURG — As Rays officials work through the winter to get back to contender status after three straight losing seasons, finding relief help looks to be their top priority.

"I think there's going to be a lot of conversations about the bullpen, to be honest with you," manager Kevin Cash said. "There will be plenty of opportunities."

Realistically, only three pitchers seem set to return — 2016 All-Star closer Alex Colome, 2015 All-Star closer Brad Boxberger and top lefty Xavier Cedeno.

As a result, the Rays will look for several pieces, externally for experienced options via trades and/or free agency while considering several candidates from their system, including RHP Ryne Stanek, their hard-throwing 2013 top draft pick; Triple-A RH starter Jaime Schultz; and RH knuckleballer Eddie Gamboa, who showed during a September stint he could be an intriguing option. Rookie RHP Ryan Garton and RHP Danny Farquhar also impressed at times.

The Rays' bullpen problems began in spring training when Boxberger, the 2015 AL saves leader, sustained an abdominal muscle tear that required surgery then strained an oblique, sidelining him basically until August.

Though Colome stepped impressively into the closer's role, the rest of the crew was too often ineffective and inconsistent, with RHP Erasmo Ramirez faltering as the season went on and RHP Steve Geltz, LHP Enny Romero and RHP Ryan Webb among those failing significantly.

"When we lost Box … for the better part of the first half, that was a big blow, and we weren't deep there and I think we got exposed," 3B Evan Longoria said.

HUSTLING: Though quite displeased with the performance that led to 94 losses, their most since 2017, Cash said "the effort level this team showed remained consistent … and as a staff, myself, we're really happy with the overall effort."

MISCELLANY: Cash and baseball operations president Matt Silverman will hold their postseason media conference today. … 1B Logan Morrison, a free agent-to-be, is slated for surgery today to repair his injured left wrist. … The 1,482 strikeouts by Rays hitters led the AL and were the sixth most in major-league history; the Brewers set a record with their 1,543 this season. … Longoria finished among the AL leaders in extra-base hits (81, third), doubles (41, sixth) and total bases (330, eighth). … Picking fourth in the 2017 draft will be the Rays' highest selection since taking INF Tim Beckham first overall in 2008.

Marc Topkin can be reached at mtopkin@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.

Marc Topkin's picks

AL wild-card: Jays over O's

NL wild-card: Giants over Mets

ALDS: Rangers over Jays, Red Sox over Indians

NLDS: Cubs over Giants, Dodgers over Nats

ALCS: Red Sox over Rangers

NLCS: Cubs over Dodgers

World series: Cubs over Red Sox

Fixing bullpen a priority for Rays this offseason 10/03/16 [Last modified: Monday, October 3, 2016 8:44pm]
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