ST. PETERSBURG — The Rays set their opening day roster on Tuesday in picking lefty Adam Kolarek over Emilio Pagan for the final bullpen spot.
So what do they have for their $52 million in on-field payroll (with another $9.2 million in commitments)?
A relatively young group they feel is talented, deep, versatile, motivated and — with good health and help when needed from the minors — capable of returning to the playoffs for the first time since 2013.
“It makes us all pretty confident going in knowing what we have,” infielder Daniel Robertson said.
That includes a 12-man pitching staff, with three traditional starters as they again employ the innovative strategy of using openers twice in a normal five-game stretch. In case you hadn’t heard, that means a reliever getting the first three-six outs usually followed by a converted starter working multiple innings as the “bulk” guy. That can leave a lot of innings for the bullpen to cover, and they feel they have the arms, and mix of styles, to do so. Four of the nine relievers are lefties, including Jose Alvarado, who won’t be called the closer but will work many of the highest leverage situations.
That includes a group of players who can be used at multiple positions, leaving them with only two typical “every day” players, in leftfielder Tommy Pham and centerfielder Kevin Kiermaier. Rotations and platoons are planned at the other spots. Manager Kevin Cash insists that doing so will keep players healthy and more rested, but it also may lead to some bruised egos, which he has been out front of by stressing selflessness.
That includes a mix of young players motivated to show they are indeed legit front-liners, such as outfielder Austin Meadows and infielders Willy Adames and Brandon Lowe, along with veterans, such as catcher Mike Zunino and outfielders Avisail Garcia and Kiermaier, seeking to re-establish themselves after down years.
Something also needs to be said about some of the things they don’t have.
There is no player who has hit more than 25 homers or driven in more than 80 runs in a big-league season. No starter who has thrown more than 180 innings. Perhaps of most concern, no reliever who has more than eight career saves.
Also of note, 11 players who have not yet spent a full season in the majors, and only five, including injured Matt Duffy, who have logged more than one.
Strengths and weaknesses?
“They intertwine,” Cash acknowledged. “Our youth and versatility and athleticism is going to be a strength for us. With that, I did say youth, sometimes, you’re playing veteran clubs, we’ve got to allow these guys to find their way and be patient with them.”
In other words, there are going to be mistakes. Errors in the field, bad decisions on the bases, pitches that shouldn’t have been made and swings that shouldn’t have been taken.
But it was bringing up the young players that sparked the strong finish that led to 90 wins last year, the decision to sign a couple (Blake Snell and Lowe) long-term and try for others this spring, and the basis for the optimism going into this season.
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No less an authority than The Ray, principal owner Stuart Sternberg, said the bullpen will be the key to their season, and that seems a reasonable assumption, certainly the work at the end of games. The starting and bulk pitching, assuming Morton and most of the others stay healthy, should again rank among the league’s best, though will compile the numbers somewhat unconventionally. Glasnow and the lack of a closer are the biggest reasons to worry, as we will see if the Rays are right in putting their faith in the small sample size success of Alvarado, Diego Castillo and Ryne Stanek, plus veteran Chaz Roe.
The offense won’t be slugging it out too often, but the combination of hitters who make contact, work tough at-bats and have emerging power, plus some speed on the bases, when used smartly, should make for a varied attack. Pham has a chance to put up huge numbers. Lowe is considered a catalyst, and potential rookie of the year candidate.
The defense might be the biggest strength, with three centerfielders at times starting in the outfield and slick gloves everywhere but first base, where they are hoping the combination of Ji-Man Choi (who looked good this spring), Diaz and Lowe is good enough to not be bad.
Cash is also a key part, as the pitching plan and deep roster setup requires much more managing, creating the opportunity to seize on and maximize matchups, from a pitching or hitting standpoint, at any moment, not only in late innings.
“We have a lot of depth, no doubt. About that weakness? I can’t pinpoint one right now,” Kiermaier said. “I think I’m speaking for everyone that we’re all feeling pretty darn good about ourselves heading into Thursday.”
Meet the Rays
Here’s the roster Tampa Bay will open the season with at 4 p.m. Thursday at Tropicana Field against the Houston Astros:
Pitchers (12): LH Jose Alvarado, LH Jalen Beeks, Diego Castillo, Yonny Chirinos, Wilmer Font, Tyler Glasnow, LH Adam Kolarek, Charlie Morton, Chaz Roe, LH Blake Snell, Ryne Stanek, LH Ryan Yarbrough.
Catchers (2): Michael Perez, Mike Zunino
Infielders (6): Willy Adames, Ji-Man Choi, Yandy Diaz, Brandon Lowe, Daniel Robertson, Joey Wendle
Outfielders (5): Avisail Garcia, Guillermo Heredia, Kevin Kiermaier, Austin Meadows, Tommy Pham
Injured list (3): Anthony Banda, Jose De Leon, Matt Duffy
The $52 million men
Here’s a look at who’s making what for the Rays, whose opening day payroll will be about $52 million for the 25 active and three players on the IL (marked with an x-). They are spending another $9.2 million, with $5 million to the Indians in the Yandy Diaz trade, $3 million in signing bonus to Blake Snell, $1.2 million to the Giants from the Evan Longoria trade.
Charlie Morton, rhp $15,000,000
Kevin Kiermaier, cf $8,000,000
Mike Zunino, c $4,412,500
Tommy Pham, of $4,100,000
Avisail Garcia, of $3,500,000
x-Matt Duffy, inf $2,675,000
Chaz Roe, rhp $1,275,000
Brandon Lowe, inf $1,000,000
Blake Snell, lhp $1,000,000
Ji-Man Choi, 1b/dh $850,000
Guillermo Heredia, of $782,000
Jose Alvarado, lhp $570,600
Joey Wendle, inf $570,400
Daniel Robertson, inf $570,300
Tyler Glasnow, rhp $566,700
Ryne Stanek, rhp $564,200
Ryan Yarbrough, lhp $563,400
Willy Adames, inf $562,400
Yonny Chirinos, rhp $561,800
Diego Castillo, rhp $561,500
Adam Kolarek, lhp $560,800
Wilmer Font, rhp $560,400
Yandy Diaz, inf $558,400
x-Jose De Leon, rhp $558,000
Austin Meadows, of $557,400
x-Anthony Banda, lhp $556,800
Michael Perez, c $556,700
Jalen Beeks, lhp $556,500
Compiled by staff writer Marc Topkin from MLB sources.