Last year the Rays had a lot of success shifting Wade Davis from the rotation to the bullpen, as he went from a mediocre starter to a very good reliever (and then they traded him to the Royals).
This year they’re making the same shift with Jeff Niemann, moving him to the bullpen in an effort to ease his comeback from an injury wrecked 2012 that has left his spring velocity lacking. In his place the Rays have chosen Roberto Hernandez (formerly known as Fausto Carmona) for the final spot in the rotation.
Tampa Bay also has some good young starting pitching waiting in the wings, led by Chris Archer, so Hernandez’s tryout may not be particularly long if he struggles right away. Niemann re-entering the rotation is also a possibility, although with a 4.06 ERA and just 6.7 strikeouts per nine innings in 92 career starts through at age 30 he’s similar to Davis in that his value as a starter hasn’t been huge.
Hernandez missed nearly all of last season after being popped in the Dominican Republic for falsifying his identity and then injured his ankle once he rejoined the Indians, and he’s posted an ERA under 5.00 just once since 2008. Tampa Bay has worked miracles on seemingly washed up pitchers before, though, and if nothing else Hernandez is a ground-ball machine.
On Sunday, we heard from former Ray and current Giants third baseman Evan Longoria. The Rays recently traded pitcher Jake Odorizzi to the Twins for a prospect and designated All-Star outfielder Corey Dickerson for assignment, which didn’t make a whole lot of sense outside of a cost-cutting perspective. Longoria said, “I just kind of feel sorry for the Rays fan base.”
Today, we’re hearing from a current Ray: center fielder Kevin Kiermaier, who is set to enter his fifth full season with the club. Via Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times, Kiermaier said, “I am 100 percent frustrated and very upset with the moves. No beating around the bush. It’s one of those things that makes you scratch your head, you don’t know the reasoning why. And then you see the team’s explanation and still it’s just like, okay, well, so be it.”
Longoria — formerly the face of the franchise — was traded to the Giants in December and the Rays continued to subtract with their recent moves involving Odorizzi and Dickerson. Odorizzi has a career 3.83 ERA in what has been a solid, if unspectacular, career. Dickerson put up an All-Star season, posting an .815 OPS with 27 home runs in 150 games. Moving either player was not done to fix a positional log jam. In fact, with Odorizzi out of the picture, the Rays are planning to use a four-man starting rotation for the first six-plus weeks of the season, Topkin reported on Sunday. Dickerson’s ouster simply opens the door for Mallex Smith, who posted a .684 OPS last year, to start every day in the outfield.
The Rays got markedly worse after going 80-82 last season. They saved a few million bucks jettisoning Odorizzi and Dickerson. And Rays ownership still wants the public to foot most of the bill for their new stadium.
When it was just one small market team pinching pennies, it was fine. But now that more than half of the league has adopted penny-pinching principles popularized by Moneyball and Sabermetrics (with the Rays among the chief offenders), the game of baseball has become markedly less fan- and player-friendly. This offseason has been less about players signing contracts and changing teams in trades — which helps build excitement and intrigue for the coming year — and more about front offices doing math problems concerning the $197 million competitive balance tax threshold and other self-imposed monetary restraints. Fun. Kiermaier is right to be upset and he’s very likely not alone in feeling that way.