Over the past few seasons, relief pitching has been a staple of the Rays success. While Andrew Friedman has worked on building a self-sustaining bullpen, the need to augment pieces from year-to-year remains necessary. With Fernando Rodney, Joel Peralta, Jake McGee, Burke Badenhop, and perhaps Wade Davis, returning in 2013, the bullpen is not necessarily a priority this offseason. But adding additional arms is surely on the radar. As a budget-conscious organization, the Rays will have to be wise in spending. That means more of the risk/reward-type deals we have become accustomed to. With that in mind, here are some names that may interest the club:
Joakim Soria – Formerly an All-Star closer, Soria missed the 2012 season, undergoing his second Tommy John surgery. Prior to the injury, he was one of the better high-leverage relievers in the league, producing above-average strikeout numbers while limiting negative outcomes like walks and home runs. Unlike most relievers, Soria boasts an assortment of pitches rather than one or two knockout offerings (so much so that some wondered if he could start). He throws a low-90s, cutting fastball, a mid-80s changeup, and two forms of a breaking ball: a slider in the low-80s and a looping curveball that barely hits 70 mph. Because of his past success as a closer and his relative youth (28), Soria may be in line for a seven-figure guarantee that prices him out of the Rays’ range. But like Jonathon Broxton last winter, the team may kick the tires on one of the better, yet riskier relievers.
Jose Contreras – The former starter has reinvented himself as a late-inning reliever over the past few seasons. The move to the pen led to increased velocity and effectiveness for the Cuban native. As a reliever, Contreras struck out better than a batter per inning and limited the amount of balls leaving the yard. In addition to the results, the shift in role simplified his process leaving him with three main pitches: a fastball, slider, and splitter. Throwing in the low-to-mid 90s out of the pen, his slider and splitter proved to be excellent secondary pitches capable of racking up whiffs in bunches. Despite a lesser workload, Contreras has been unable to stay healthy. He has made just 34 appearances since 2011 and underwent elbow surgery earlier this year. Listed at age 41, he may have thrown his last professional pitch. That being said, if he chooses to continue his career, and is willing to accept a incentive-laden deal, he could be a late-inning rover for Joe Maddon’s crew.
Joey Devine – In 2008, Joey Devine was Fernando Rodney-esque. He allowed just three earned runs in 45 innings out of the Oakland A’s bullpen. Unfortunately, major arm injuries derailed a once-promising career. Devine has had two Tommy John surgeries in the past three years; the most recent in April 2012. Prior to surgery, he owned a fastball in the range of 92-94 mph with a low-80s knockout slider that used to dominate right-handed batters. Having spent more than 600 days on the disabled list, Devine is worth no more than a non-roster invite. At age 29, he could provide the Rays with more upside than your typical lotto ticket.
Bill Bray – After producing solid results in back-to-back seasons, Bray’s 2012 campaign got off to a bad start. He strained his groin in spring training, leading to more than four months days on the disabled list with groin and back problems. The injuries limited him to just 8 2/3 ineffective innings at the big league level. In the two seasons prior to last, Bray struck out nearly a quarter of the batters he faced with acceptable walk rates. A flyball pitcher, he does come with some home-run concerns, but escaping the Great American Ballpark may help. Armed with a low-90s fastball, the former college closer’s best weapon is a late-breaking slider thrown with mid-80s velocity. Recently, he has tried to incorporate a changeup which may aide in shedding the lefty-specialist label he carries. With Jake McGee emerging as the alpha left-hander in the Rays bullpen, and Cesar Ramos out of options, Bray may be a cheaper alternative to J.P. Howell as a third lefty in the pen or waiting for the call at Durham.
Jose Valverde – Gaudy save totals have inflated Valverde’s value in terms of dollars and mainstream coverage. In turn, he has become somewhat of a punchline in advanced circles. Saves and eccentric celebrations aside, Valverde has been a dependable reliever in recent seasons. Since 2010, he has held the opposition to a .200 average with a .606 OPS and shrinking walk rate. Meanwhile, a declining strike out rate, and some changes in velocity, has raised red flags. On the other hand, the right-hander can still bring it in the mid-90s with mid-80s splitter that has been an out-pitch in the past. Looking deeper, the drop in strikeout rate coincides with a decrease in two-strike splitters. Perhaps a correction in sequencing may patch the leaky strikeout numbers. While that may be correctable, the 34-year-old has attributes coveted by the Rays that cannot necessarily be taught: durability, experience, and stuff. Considering his time as a closer, Valverde may generate interest from teams willing to hand him the ninth-inning; however, if that opportunity does not arise, he fits the mold of recent Rays’ signings namely Fernando Rodney and Kyle Farnsworth.