Bullpen Options | The Process Report

Bullpen Options

The Rays sit at 47-43 at the All-Star Break and a potential playoff spot is firmly in their sites. The July 31st trade deadline is fast approaching and the Rays’ biggest need is pretty clear. The Rays’ bullpen is near the bottom of the league by almost every metric.

They have gotten some help recently. Brad Boxberger returning from the DL is a huge boast and adds another reliever capable of getting high leverage outs. As seen Thursday night, a 7-8-9 combo of Boxberger, Tommy Hunter and Colome could be pretty effective in the 2nd half. But adding another high leverage arm certainly wouldn’t hurt and most people want to see the Rays’ address through trade. Fortunately, the Rays already have a few internal options who can possibly fill the need for an additional high leverage arm.

Jaime Schultz: Schultz is currently rehabbing from a groin injury but will hopefully be rejoining Durham soon. The power right hander has been seemingly destined for a major bullpen role for awhile. His upper 90’s fastball and wicked slider have helped him cruise through the Rays’ minor league system with excellent strikeout numbers. He also had a strong showing this past Spring Training and struck out 35% of the hitters he faced. Simply put, he has real swing and miss stuff and should be able to get big outs. If he’s healthy, he has the potential to be a difference maker out of the pen down the stretch.

Brent Honeywell: Fresh off of being named the Future’s game MVP on Sunday, Honeywell is garnering some national attention.

Everybody loves talking about the screwball, but he’s so much more than that as evidenced on Sunday. In the 2-inning relief like stint you saw Honeywell show off his mid-90’s fastball with a devastating change-up. Mix in the old screwball and it’s just not fair. Every pitch he throws has movement on it as well. He’s got frontline starter potential and there’s definitely a possibility he finds himself in the big league rotation making starts come late August/September but he could also be a huge weapon out of the pen. The Rays could also limit his innings by putting him in the pen. Honeywell looked dominant against the games top prospects on Sunday but his stuff should have no problem getting major league hitters out.


Ryne Stanek, Diego Castillo, Jose De Leon

We’ve seen Stanek already make a few appearances with the big league club and shows off an impressive heater that can hit triple digits but not much else. The command needs work and so does his off-speed stuff. He might be an upgrade over Jumbo Diaz but the Rays can’t bank on him in high leverage spots just yet. Castillo showed off some decent stuff in the AFL this past fall but has struggled since being promoted to Durham. De Leon is still recovering from a groin injury and hasn’t begun a rehab assignment yet. Once he returns to full health, the Rays could consider putting him in the big league pen but they’ll likely want him to stay stretched out in Durham as a starter in case they need him to make a spot start in September.

The Rays definitely won’t be going after the high priced relievers on the trade market this deadline. This is no surprise though as the Rays’ tend to not give up significant prospects for relievers (as they shouldn’t) That means names like Brad Hand, Pat Neshek and David Robertson won’t be coming to the Rays. They are a few intriguing names though that shouldn’t cost too much prospect wise that I wouldn’t mind seeing them go after.

Anthony Swarzak RHP CWS:  Swarzak originally came up to the big leagues as 5th starter/long reliever type with a basic four pitch mix and found modest success. After bouncing around between a couple teams, he changed his approach. Instead of living off of his four seem fastball like he had in the past, he started throwing his slider more often. He became a two pitch reliever throwing his fastball 48% of the time and his slider the other 52%. His fastball velocity has also gone up the past two seasons likely as a result of this new approach. So far in 2017, Swarzak has been outstanding in the White Sox bullpen. He’s made 35 appearances (41 innings pitched) and been good for a 2.41 ERA (2.17 FIP and 3.64 xFIP) along with the best K/9 rate of his career at 9.44. He’s shown no platoon split as neither righties or lefties have hit him well. Swarzak has been one of the top ten relievers in the game against left handed hitters in terms of wOBA. He’s making less than a million this season and is a free agent at season’s end so Chicago will more than likely be trading him. There’s going to be other teams interested but due to the fact he’s a rental it shouldn’t be an enormous cost. You can bet the Rays will be keeping an eye on Swarzak.

Joe Smith RHP TOR:  This past off-season, I wrote a piece suggesting that Rays should sign Smith as a potential bounce back candidate. He then went on to sign a one year deal with Toronto and has been excellent this season. In 34 appearances this season (31.2 IP), he’s produced a 3.41 ERA (2.26 FIP and 2.16 xFIP) with an exceptional 13.36 K/9. He’s had some difficulties getting lefties out but is dominating righties who has only produced a slash of .217/.243/.313 (.239 wOBA) against him. Smith has also been quite unlucky with a BABIP against him of .362. That’s especially unlucky when considering that nearly 50% of the balls put in play against him are ground balls. Smith is currently on the DL with should inflammation and that would give any team looking to add him pause. He appears to be close to starting a rehab assignment and could be back pitching in high leverage spots for the Jays fairly soon. Toronto will probably be open to offers on Smith due to their last place in the AL East standing. He’s a free agent at the end of the season and his recent DL stint will probably limit the return which puts him firmly in the Rays’ price range. The Rays hardly ever deal with teams in the AL East but the cost on Smith shouldn’t be enough to deter them from at least inquiring about him. If the medicals on his shoulder check out, the Rays should take a long look at adding Smith.

Nick Vincent RHP SEA:  Vincent is a more off the radar option who hasn’t gotten much attention in terms of trade rumors. He might not even be available at all seeing as how Seattle might not consider themselves sellers at all. He’s a guy I like for a few reasons though. Jeff Sullivan touched on how effective his fastball is despite it only sitting in the low 90’s. His main pitch is a cutter and he sprinkles in an occasional changeup as well. So far in 2017, he’s been very good as evidenced by his 2.02 ERA (FIP 2.59 and xFIP 4.57). His strikeout rate has been surprisingly down at 6.81 K/9 but it hasn’t effected his ability to get outs. He has no platoon split as lefties and righties both have had difficulty squaring him up. What makes him especially appealing is that he has two more seasons of control left after this year and is still cheap for the remainder of the season. The cost for Vincent will definitely be higher than the previous two pitchers mentioned but it’s possible the Rays could get him without surrendering the farm. With Jerry Dipoto in charge, maybe the Rays can rob him again and steal a high-leverage reliever from him. It’s unlikely the Rays make a play for Vincent but its an interesting idea worth entertaining.

Whether the Rays decide to stay in-house or find someone outside the organization, they have some options. The Rays have already brought in Trevor Plouffe and Adeiny Hechavaria which signals their willingness to improve their current roster. Expect them to do the same with the bullpen and add another arm that could possibly cover some high-leverage situations.

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