Health, flexibility will determine Rays' final roster makeup

Rickie Weeks, who has had a strong spring, is a lock to make the roster.
Rickie Weeks, who has had a strong spring, is a lock to make the roster.
Published March 19, 2017

PORT CHARLOTTE — Opening day is two weeks from today, and the Rays still have a lot to decide.

Or at least, a lot to talk about in making those decisions.

Much of that conversation is going to involve head athletic trainer Ron Porterfield as the health and availability of veterans such as OF Colby Rasmus and RHP Brad Boxberger, and maybe RHP Shawn Tolleson, will be more of a factor than the performance of any others. (SS Matt Duffy is pretty much out of the question for opening day.)

Another off-field factor impacting those decisions is flexibility/availability on the 40-man roster. Especially since the Rays could be looking to add up to four players — 1B Rickie Weeks for sure, RHP Tommy Hunter seemingly likely, C Jesus Sucre a reasonable possibility and potentially either Michael McKenry or a right-handed-hitting outfielder from elsewhere.

They can open one spot by putting Rule 5 RHP Kevin Gadea (elbow), who was headed back to Seattle before his injury, on the 60-day DL. They could have another by doing the same with C Wilson Ramos (knee), though that would delay his hoped-for May return as a DH until June 1, which may at least require some discussion.

From there, it gets dicier.

Going with C Luke Maile rather than Sucre, who has been a big hit with certain pitchers, to pair with Curt Casali?

Deciding between out-of-option relievers Danny Farquhar and Jumbo Diaz, who has been with the Dominican team in the World Baseball Classic since being claimed on waivers May 9?

Picking prospect Daniel Robertson over out-of-options Nick Franklin as a utility infielder?

Keeping one of the impressive young rostered relievers, Austin Pruitt or Jaime Schultz, rather than Hunter?

Trading RHP Erasmo Ramirez, who could have value as a starter elsewhere?

Dropping RHP Ryan Garton, who came through their velocity-building program and showed promise last year?

As they sort out the roster, there is also more to be decided, such as settling on a leadoff hitter and batting order, making final plans on playing time and platoons, etc.

And there are some things that are pretty much set and still have to be finalized and announced, such as the rotation to start the season being RHP Chris Archer followed by RHP Jake Odorizzi, RHP Alex Cobb, LHP Blake Snell and RHP Matt Andriese.

A long spring should come down to an interesting final two weeks.

RAYS RUMBLINGS: Weeks would make $1.5 million in the majors, with $600,000 in incentives. Hunter would get $1.4 million with $1.5 million in incentives. … Announcement of CF Kevin Kiermaier's six-year, $53.5 million extension, with a seventh-year option pushing the total to $64 million, is expected as soon as Monday, pending final results of his physical. … Baseball America's first mock draft has the Rays using the No. 4 pick on North Carolina RHP J.B. Bukauskas. … Kiermaier headlined's pre-season all-underrated team. … Manny Ramirez, who last played in the majors for the Rays in 2011 and professionally anywhere in 2014, is back at it at age 44 with the Japanese independent Kochi Island Fighting Dogs with a deal that reportedly includes unlimited sushi. … MLB will be closely monitoring the new DL rules, which cut the stay to 10 days and limit back-dating to three. … Bovada's online odds have Archer at 14-1 and Jake Odorizzi 66-1 to win the AL Cy Young (Boston's Chris Sale is favored), 3B Evan Longoria 100-1 for the AL MVP (Angels CF Mike Trout favored). … Having profiled Joe Maddon last month, HBO's Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel continues an ex-Rays theme with a 10 p.m. Tuesday look at Matt Bush, who was jailed after hitting a motorcyclist during spring training 2010 and now pitches for the Rangers. … Awesome gesture by minor-league staff, coaches, even some players to take over clubhouse duties so the regular crew could attend the March 11 funeral for Durham clubhouse manager Colin Saunders.