In 18 days, the Tampa Bay Rays will head to Port Charlotte with an unusual dilemma on their hands — or, in this case, arms.
They have too many of them.
Barring any late deals before pitchers and catchers report Feb. 20, the Rays will open camp with six – possibly seven – starters on the roster: James Shields, David Price, Jeremy Hellickson, Jeff Niemann, Wade Davis, Matt Moore and, following season-ending surgery to remove a blockage near his right rib, Alex Cobb.
The overstocked rotation continues to give the Rays options should any trade possibilities emerge as spring training nears. In fact, it seemed likely that the club would have dealt from their position of strength in the offseason to address other roster needs.
The Rays obtained slugging designated hitter/outfielder Luke Scott and then reacquired power-hitting first baseman Carlos Pena without having to part with any starting arms, so it still wouldn’t be surprising to see one of their hurlers be packaged in a trade if the right scenario materializes.
Obviously, baseball operations chief Andrew Friedman hasn’t found a deal to his liking. But the Rays still have a clear need for reinforcements behind the plate, a catcher to partner with recently obtained veteran Jose Molina. The former Blue Jays standout, who brings one of the best arms in the American League and a .281 batting average in 2011, isn’t an everyday player at 36. And from what we’ve seen, Robinson Chirinos and Jose Lobaton aren’t ready to carry a steady load.
So don’t be surprised if there’s one less starting arm and one more first-line catcher before the Rays open the 2012 season April 6, hosting the New York Yankees for a weekend series.
Here’s one thing we do know now: The Rays’ fixture from the last time those two teams met on the final day of the 2011 regular season, Dan Johnson, won’t be there.
Johnson signed Wednesday with the Chicago White Sox, closing a Rays career marked by some of the biggest homers in club history, including his epic two-out, two-strike, pinch-hit blast in the bottom of the ninth that tied the Yankees 7-7 and set up the 8-7 victory in the 11th in the regular-season finale to clinch the wild-card spot.
The other hero that night, third baseman Evan Longoria, made his own news earlier this week. The man who belted two homers to beat New York, including the walk-off in the bottom of the 11th, was a guest on an MLB Network talk show. Longoria was asked by Kevin Millar about the below-market, long-term salary he signed in 2008 that runs through 2016. The deal pays the third-baseman some $45 million over nine years, including a comparatively low $11.5 million in 2016.