The Rays decided against cashing in on their starting pitching depth over the winter and will enter spring training with six realistic candidates for five spots. David Price, James Shields, Jeremy Hellickson and top prospect Matt Moore are essentially locks for the rotation at this point, which means Wade Davis will compete with Jeff Niemann for the final spot.
Davis, who posted a 4.45 ERA and 105/63 K/BB ratio over 184 innings last season, has never pitched in relief as a pro and told Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times earlier today that he has no interest in doing so.
“I’m a starter,” he said. “I don’t see any reason for me to be in the bullpen. I understand they’ve got to do certain things, but we’ll see. … I definitely want to be a starter and stay a starter forever. And that’ll be my mentality.”
Niemann, who had a 4.06 ERA and 105/37 K/BB ratio across 135 1/3 innings, at least appeared to be more open to the possibility.
“Right now, I think we’ll just deal with that when we have to,” he said. “I’m just looking forward to going out there and building up (innings) the way we normally do it and see how things play out. It’s just an unknown, a definite unknown.”
Topkin notes that Davis “wouldn’t have much leverage to force a trade,” so the reality is that he’d have no choice but to accept a bullpen role if Niemann begins the year in the starting rotation.
Davis, 26, signed a four-year, $12.6 million extension with the Rays last season which will pay him $1.5 million this season, $2.8 million in 2013, $4.8 million in 2014 and includes club options for 2015 and 2016. Niemann, who turns 28 later this month, will make $2.75 million this season and remains under team control through 2014. Depth is certainly a nice luxury to have, but it’s unlikely the Rays will keep both pitchers for the long haul.