ST. PETERSBURG — The decision to send down Andy Sonnanstine to clear space in the rotation for Scott Kazmir's return really wasn't difficult.
The Rays just made it that way.
The more they assessed options, it was obvious Sonnanstine — with a 6.61 ERA through 15 starts that was highest of all regular starters in either league, a losing record despite the majors' best run support and a .305 opponents average — was the one to go.
But they'd remember fondly what he did for them last year, winning 13 games, and they'd stop to talk about other things to stall a decision. They'd reflect on his guts and ponder scenarios to keep him in place of Jeff Niemann or David Price.
And there was a lot involved — Niemann's contract status, Price's psyche, Mitch Talbot's elbow, even Evan Longoria's hamstring.
Deciding between Niemann and Sonnanstine was simple. At 6-4, 4.23, Niemann is at least an average starter this season, and with an upside. It's vital for the Rays to conserve assets, and because Niemann, 26, is out of options, he can't be sent to the minors without being exposed to waivers, so they couldn't risk him likely being claimed (especially with just a $650,000 salary). Nor would a trade make sense. There wasn't room or a role for him in the bullpen.
Deciding then whether to send down Sonnanstine, 26, or Price was trickier. But Price, 23, has had only six starts, vs. Sonnanstine's 15, to show what he can do. His ERA is 2.16 runs lower. His potential is much greater. There's some organizational thought that special players such as Price shouldn't be yo-yoed up and down. And there was some concern how a second demotion, especially coming off Tuesday's rough start, would affect his mind-set.
Deciding to send Sonnanstine to the minors instead of the bullpen was also clear. He has things he needs to improve on that require regular work. The Rays want him to be stretched out should he be needed in case of injury, a larger concern because their depth is thinner with Talbot on the DL at Triple A.
After Winston Abreu, there wasn't anyone else to take out of the pen, which has quietly been doing pretty well as is. And expanding the staff to 13 pitchers and dropping INF Joe Dillon (also out of options) wasn't wise given even slight uncertainty over Longoria's availability.
All things considered, it actually was an easy decision.