PORT CHARLOTTE — The final decisions will come down to the wire before the Rays’ April 8 opener because, well, they always do. And something unexpected — trade, injury, new strategy — likely will happen because, well, it usually does.
But the bulk of the Rays’ season-opening roster appears to be in place, with maybe just a half-dozen spots, mostly in the bullpen, open for competition.
There will be some complicating factors in the Rays’ decisions, such as playing 13 consecutive days to start the season, and option rules that will limit some moves during the first 10 days.
But it also helps that Major League Baseball expanded rosters from 26 to 28 through May 1 and postponed limiting how many can be pitchers (13 once they return to a 26-man limit).
So what do the Rays have to decide over the next 10 or so days leading up to the opener?
“I think a lot of it comes down to the pitching,” manager Kevin Cash said.
An 11-man position-player group looks — so far, anyway, assuming centerfielder Kevin Kiermaier is healthy — to return pretty much intact. Joey Wendle was traded to Miami, but switch-hitter Taylor Walls is set to take his place as a utility infielder who will start against most right-handers.
That would seem to leave room for one other player, and a slim chance of two the first month, with switch-hitting infielder/outfielder Vidal Brujan, newly acquired right-handed-hitting outfielder Harold Ramirez and lefty-hitting outfielders Josh Lowe and Luke Raley the likely candidates.
Sorting out the pitching is not nearly as easy. Plus, the Rays, as you know, tend to blur the roles.
The “starting” staff looks to include returnees Shane McClanahan, Luis Patino (assuming his shoulder soreness is gone), Drew Rasmussen and Ryan Yarbrough, plus free-agent addition Corey Kluber.
Slotted into the bullpen are JT Chargois, Pete Fairbanks, J.P. Feyereisen, Andrew Kittredge, Matt Wisler and lefty Brooks Raley, a free-agent addition.
That’s 11 pitchers, leaving room for probably another four, unless the Rays opt to be extra cautious and carry 16 pitchers, and could add five. At least a couple need to be lefties, and a few capable of working two-plus innings.
Those selections seem likely to come from this group: lefties Jalen Beeks, Josh Fleming, Colin Poche and Jeffrey Springs; and righties Jason Adam, Chris Mazza (who isn’t on the 40-man roster) and Ryan Thompson.
Because pitchers won’t be fully built up due to the abbreviated spring training, there will be something of a calculus in the decision-making.
Predicting how many innings the Rays can expect from the starters will dictate how many relievers they need who can work multiple innings (and thus require days off between outings), which impacts the makeup of the rest of the staff.
That Beeks, Poche, Springs and Thompson are coming off injuries is a further complication. Beeks, Fleming and Mazza all can handle multi-inning assignments. Adam, Beeks and Mazza have been sharp and praised by their bosses, as has prospect Calvin Faucher.
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Here’s a kind of early guess at how the Rays might open the season:
Catchers (2): Francisco Mejia, Mike Zunino
Infielders (5): Ji-Man Choi, Yandy Diaz, Wander Franco, Brandon Lowe, Taylor Walls
Outfielders (6): Randy Arozarena, Kevin Kiermaier, Manuel Margot, Austin Meadows, Brett Phillips, Harold Ramirez
Starters (5): Corey Kluber, Shane McClanahan, Luis Patino, Drew Rasmussen, Ryan Yarbrough
Relievers (10): Jason Adam, Jalen Beeks, JT Chargois, Pete Fairbanks, J.P. Feyereisen, Josh Fleming, Andrew Kittredge, Brooks Raley, Jeffrey Springs, Matt Wisler.
Bally Sports Sun has used the Rays radio broadcast (with the addition of sideline reporter Tricia Whitaker) for spring games, but lead TV talkers Dewayne Staats and Brian Anderson are expected back starting with the April 6 spring finale. Per a Bally spokesperson: “Because of the condensed spring training schedule, we had to work around everyone’s availability. We look forward to the full Rays broadcast team starting April 6 for the final spring training game at Tropicana Field and continuing into the season.”
There won’t be a FanFest due to the delayed and abbreviated spring, but the team is planning a series of events leading up to opening day. … With the rescheduled arbitration process completed, there is a window for Rays officials to make their usual runs at players about long-term deals. Randy Arozarena would seem to be among the potential candidates. … Per ESPN’s Buster Olney, the Rays made two offers to free agent Freddie Freeman: $140 million over six years and $150 million over seven. He instead took $162 million over six from the Dodgers, which may not be much, if any, more considering California state taxes. … Charlie Valerio, who played 12 seasons in the minors, Dominican and independent leagues, was hired as a bullpen catcher, replacing Jean Ramirez, who died in January. … Randell Kanemaru was promoted to handling replay duties, with Bobby Kinne promoted to coordinator of major-league operations. … Five Rays made mlb.com’s top 100 prospects list: Shane Baz (12), Josh Lowe (50), Taj Bradley (74), Vidal Brujan (77), Greg Jones (91). … BetOnline.ag has the Rays with an over-under win total of 89½, 5-11 odds to make the playoffs, Shane McClanahan 16-1 to win the AL Cy Young, and Franco 18-1 and Brandon Lowe 25-1 to be AL MVP.
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