The 2010 Tampa Bay Rays posted an impressive record of 96-66 and won the American League East. Their pitching staff was second in 3.78 ERA. Their starters ranked 3rd in the AL with a 3.47 ERA and their relievers led the league with a 3.33 ERA.
Rafael Soriano led the way notching a league leading 45 saves and an impressive ERA of 1.73 while Joaquin Benoit (63 games) and Grant Balfour (57 games) worked as the primary setup man posting ERA’s of 1.34 and 2.28 respectively.
The other main contributors in terms of appearances from the bullpen were Randy Choate (85), Lance Cormier (60), Dan Wheeler (64), Andy Sonnanstine (37), Chad Qualls (27), Mike Ekstrom (15), Jake McGee (8).
After the 2010 season the Rays bullpen underwent a complete overhaul not usually seen of a team coming off 96 wins. Of the 12 relief pitchers to appear for the Rays in 2010 only Andy Sonnanstine, Mike Ekstrom, and Jake McGee made relief appearances for the club in 2011.
A group of five of the relievers from that 2010 pen have gone on to extract a healthy sum of money on the open market while most earned a modest salary with the Rays . Rafael Soriano, Grant Balfour, Joaquin Benoit, Randy Choate, and Chad Qualls earned, depending on bonuses paid out, somewhere in the neighborhood of $12.5M. Since leaving the Rays the group of five has earned approximately $124M in contracts which includes the $12M contract Grant Balfour signed with the Rays last week.
Rafael Soriano: 2010 Rays ($7.5M) Since Departing Rays – $50.5M
Prior to the 2010 Winter Meetings Rays owner Stu Sternberg said “The bank is full…There is no $7 million closer showing up.” Shortly after he uttered those words the Rays traded reliever Jesse Chavez to the Atlanta Braves for closer Rafael Soriano who promptly signed a 1-year/$7.25M contract.
In his one season with the Rays he appeared in 64 games and saved a league high 45 games posting a record of 3-2 with a 1.73 ERA. He was a free agent at the end of the season and cashed in signing a 2-year deal with the New York Yankees worth $21M and a 3rd year player option for 2013 worth $14M. If he decided to turn down the 2013 option the Yankees would pay him $1.5M.
In two seasons with the Yankees he appeared in 111 games (107 innings) posting a 4-4 record with a 2.94. In 2011 he served as the primary setup man for Mariano Rivera and had just 2 saves but after Rivera tore his ACL in 2012 he took over as the Yankees closer and saved 42 games.
After the 2012 season he turned down the 2013 option and tested the free agent waters once again inking a 2-year/$28M contract with the Washington Nationals which includes a 3rd year option worth $14M in 2015. The 2015 option vest with 120 games finished in 2013-2014 (he finished 58 in 2013). In his first season as the Nationals closer he appeared in 68 games (finished 58) posting a 3-3 record with a 3.11 ERA saving 42 games.
Grant Balfour: 2010 Rays ($2.05M) Since Departing Rays – $22.25M
On July 28, 2007 the then Tampa Bay Devil Rays traded Seth McClung to the Milwaukee Brewers in exchange for Balfour. Prior to the 2007 season he had spent parts of three seasons (2001, 2003, & 2004) with the Minnesota Twins before missing the 2005 (Tommy John Surgery) and 2006 (Labrum and Rotator Cuff).
After 8 games with the Brewers Double A affiliate Huntsville Stars and 24 games with their Triple A affiliate Nashville Sounds striking out 68 hitters in 43.1 innings of work he finally made it back to the big leagues appearing in 3 games with the Brewers before the trade.
Over parts of the next four seasons he became a mainstay in the Rays bullpen appearing in 203 games logging 203 innings. He posted a record of 14-7 with a 3.33 ERA striking out 234 batters.
After the 2010 season he signed a 2-year/$8.1M deal with the Oakland Athletics that included a club option for a third year for $4.5M. In his 3 seasons with the Athletics he appeared in 202 games posting a record of 9-7 with a 2.53 ERA. After serving as a setup man in 2011 he took over as the teams closer in 2012 saving 24 games and in 2013 he saved 38 games.
This offseason he agreed in principal to a 2-year/$15M contract with the Baltimore Orioles to replace Jim Johnson as their teams closer but mysteriously failed the O’s phyiscal.
The Orioles loss opened the door for the Rays to re-sign Balfour to a 2-year/$12M contract.
Joaquin Benoit: 2010 Rays ($750K) Since Departing Rays – $31.5M
In parts of 8 seasons with the Texas Rangers organization (2001-2008) Benoit appeared in 273 games (55 starts) and posted a 30-26 record with a 4.79 ERA. He had his breakthrough season in the Rangers bullpen in 2007 appearing in 70 games (82 innings) posting a record of 7-4 with a 2.85 ERA striking out 87 batters and saving 6 games. In 2008 he missed 34 games due to a sore right shoulder that required rotator cuff surgery after the season.
After missing the 2008 season he signed a minor league contract with the Rays that paid him $750K if he made the team and included $500K in performance bonuses. He started the season with the Rays Triple-A affiliate Durham Bulls but once he was able to pitch in back to back games he was summoned to Tampa where he dominated the league posting a 1.34 ERA in 63 games.
After the 2010 season Benoit signed a 3-year/$16.5M deal with the Detroit Tigers. At the time it was the richest contract for a relief pitcher topping Scott Linebrink‘s 4-year/$19M deal signed with the White Sox in 2007. Overall he appeared in 205 games (199 innings) posting a record of 13-7 with a 2.89 ERA. After being the primary set up man for Jose Valverde in 2011 and 2012 before taking over as the Tigers closer in 2013 recording 24 saves.
This off-season he signed a 2-year/$15M contract to serve as the primary setup man for Huston Street with the San Diego Padres.
Randy Choate: 2010 Rays ($700K) Since Departing – $10M
Randy Choate had spent four years with the New York Yankees (2000-2003) and four years with the Arizona Diamondbacks (2004-2008) before spending the 2009 season with the Milwaukee Brewers Triple-A affiliate Nashville Sounds. The Rays signed him to a minor league deal prior to the 2009 season.
Joe Maddon utilized him as strictly a platoon matchup against left handed batters in 2009 and 2010 facing 228 left handed batters and only 108 right handed batters. He held left handed hitters to a .141 average in 2009 and .202 in 2010. Overall, he appeared in 146 games in his highly specialized role logging only 81 inning. He posted a record of 5-3 with a 3.89 ERA.
After the 2010 season he signed a 2-year/$2.5M deal with the Miami Marlins and was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers along with Hanley Ramirez at the trade deadline in 2012 where he finished the season. With the Marlins he appeared in 98 games logging only 50 innings posting a 1-1 record with a 2.16 ERA. He appeared in 36 games with the Los Angeles Dodgers logging just 13.1 innings.
Of all pitchers that faced a minimum of 350 left handed batters from 2009 through the 2012 season only Netfali Feliz had a lower batting average against (.161) than Randy Choate (.167). Following the 2012 season he cashed in on his ability to retire left handed hitters landing a 3-year/$7.5M contract with the St. Louis Cardinals.
Chad Qualls: 2010 Rays ($1.48M) Since Departing – $9.7M
At the trade deadline in 2010 the Rays picked up Chad Qualls from the Arizona Diamondbacks for a player to be named later (Matt Gorgen). At the time of the trade he was 1-4 with a 8.29 ERA and he improved slightly with the Rays finishing the season with the Rays appearing in 27 games (21 innings) posting a 2-0 record with a 5.57 ERA.
After the 2010 season he signed a 1-year/$2.55M contract with the San Diego Padres that included a 2012 option for $6M. After the 2011 season in which he appeared in 77 games posting a 6-8 record with a 3.51 ERA the Padres elected to go another direction rather than pay the $6M owed for 2012.
Back on the free agent market he signed a 1-year deal with the Philadelphia Phillies but after an inconsistent 3 months with the Phillies (1-1, 4.50 ERA in 31 games) he was designated for assignment and traded to the New York Yankees where he appeared in only 8 games before being sent to the Pittsburgh Pirates in exchange for Casey McGehee. He finished the season with the Pirates working in 17 games and posted an ERA of 6.59 (10ER/13.2IP).
He returned to the Marlins on a 1-year/$1.15M contract and was impressive working in 66 games posting a record of 5-2 with a 2.61 ERA striking out 49 batters in 62 innings.
He turned his strong performance with the Marlins in 2013 into a 2-year/$6M contract with the Houston Astros that includes a club option in 2016 worth $3.5M.