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McGee trade creates hole in Rays' setup role

Alex Colome appears next in line to become the Rays’ eighth-inning reliever after having some success late last season.
Alex Colome appears next in line to become the Rays’ eighth-inning reliever after having some success late last season.
Published Jan. 31, 2016

Trading for Corey Dickerson last week was the latest move in an offseason clearly designed to bolster the Rays' typically impuissant offense.

But in giving up one of their top relievers, Jake McGee, to add the lefty slugger to what now is a crowded, if not overcrowded, lineup, the Rays created a big hole in a bullpen that will be integral to any success they expect to have.

With the first workout for pitchers and catchers three weeks from today — and the season opener in nine — it's unclear, and has to be somewhat concerning, how they will get the ball to Brad Boxberger, now the clear closer.

It would seem RH Alex Colome, who had some late-season success, is the likely eighth-inning guy in a bullpen order the Rays don't formally acknowledge. LH Xavier Cedeno, who had considerable success in managed matchup situations, also is likely to get in on the action.

Neither, though, is likely to provide the consistency, reliability and weaponry the Rays would have had with McGee.

The rest of the bullpen looks to include RHs Steve Geltz and Danny Farquhar and LH Enny Romero, with one spot open. That could be RH Andrew Bellatti, who was impressive as a rookie, or a nonroster invitee such as LH Dana Eveland or RH Jhan Marinez.

Moving RH Erasmo Ramirez to the pen could help, though they would need to be confident that top LH prospect Blake Snell is ready to join the rotation — after a couple of weeks of Triple-A "seasoning" that will make sure he can't be eligible for free agency a year earlier (unless he signs a long-term deal). LH Jonny Venters, trying to return from a third Tommy John surgery, could be a midseason boost.

For now, it's more likely the Rays would look for help on the free agent market — not as prime as former All-Star RH Tyler Clippard but more affordables such as LH Craig Breslow, LH Randy Choate, RH Tommy Hunter or RH Ryan Webb.

Or they could find a reliever via trade, which brings us back to the sudden surplus of hitters.

Though his concern for depth is valid, baseball operations president Matt Silverman concedes they "probably have one too many."

At the least, 1B James Loney would seem to have to go to create at-bats for Logan Morrison and now Steve Pearce. But that has been the case most of the offseason, and the Rays haven't found a taker for Loney's $8 million salary, even though they're willing to eat part of it.

But they could be better off also trading one of their outfielders, either Desmond Jennings (who may first have to show he is healthy in the spring) or Brandon Guyer, which would give them additional flexibility — and at-bats — to best take advantage of their additions. And to keep most of them happy. (The Angels, Cubs, Nats and Royals are among those said to be looking.)

Also a factor is that Dickerson is a much better hitter than defender, and given that he missed chunks of last season due to foot issues (plantar fasciitis), it's easy to see the Rays sliding him into at least occasional DH duty.

One thing that's clear is that the Rays still have a lot to figure out. Another is that they still have more moves to make.

TRADE TIDBITS: Rockies GM Jeff Bridich seemed to throw a little shade on Dickerson when explaining why he traded him after signing Gerardo Parra: "Corey is a very talented offensive player; the things he always needed to work on at the major-league level were his outfield defense and his baserunning. … He's got a bright future if he can stay healthy. … With some of the things he does well and some of the things he struggles with, the American League can be good for him." … One benefit in trading McGee now is to avoid a repeat of last July, when Silverman and Co. riled the clubhouse by dealing RH Kevin Jepsen while the Rays were still in the playoff race, and to a team they were competing with.

LONG-TERM VIEW: With the Rays now having permission to explore stadium sites in Hillsborough and Pinellas, commissioner Rob Manfred sounds optimistic and willing to be patient. Asked by Yahoo Sports how soon he would consider relocation as an alternative for the Rays and A's, Manfred said, "Tampa (Bay) just opened a chapter that could be really positive in that process, so I think it's going to be some time there."

RAYS RUMBLINGS: McGee was with the Rays for 11 years, seven months and 20 days; only RHP James Shields (12.3.29) was longer. … Snell was 14th on mlb.com's top 100 prospects list, RHP Brent Honeywell 43rd, SS Willy Adames 81st. … Adding Dickerson and Pearce for about the same $4.8 million McGee was making doesn't have any impact on the team's chances — unlikely anyway — of signing free agent SS Ian Desmond. … Plans are in place for a March 28-30 trip to Cuba but are still awaiting government and MLB approval. … Fox Sports/MLB Network's Ken Rosenthal ranked the Rays rotation fifth best in the majors (Mets, Cardinals, Indians, Nats); USA Today has it 14th overall. … OF Dante Baldelli, youngest brother of Rays 1B coach Rocco, is a second-team preseason All-American at Rhode Island's Bishop Hendricken High. … Dickerson ranked ninth on MLB Network's Top 10 Leftfielders Right Now show. … RHP Jae Seo, who spent 2006-07 with the Devil Rays (4-12, 6.15) before going back to Korea, announced his retirement after spending the past eight seasons with his hometown Kia Tigers.

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

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