The Rays and Depth
The Mark Lowe signing means it’s time to talk about the Rays and their depth-favoring ways again.
Let’s rewind to last spring. The Rays had a decision to make between Jamey Wright and Brandon Gomes for the last remaining bullpen spot. Although Wright and Gomes had similar numbers, the Rays were doing more than choosing which twin they liked more. If they kept Gomes, they would lose Wright to free agency; conversely, keeping Wright meant also keeping Gomes, albeit in the minors.
At the time, many favored Gomes to Wright. Gomes was younger, had more experience with the club, and hadn’t allowed a bushel of home runs during spring training. Yet the Rays kept Wright (and Gomes) regardless, and had their decision pay dividends a few times over. Gomes wound up in the Opening Day bullpen anyway, following an injury to Jeff Niemann, and missed most of the year due to aches and pains of his own. Wright went on to allow four home runs during the regular season, same as Gomes, but in about 51 more innings.
Another decision to keep depth paid off for the Rays last season, when they opted for Jose Lobaton (who was out of options) over Chris Gimenez (who spent the majority of the season in Triple-A and didn’t perform well there). Whether those were the correct calls at the time is up for debate, but both reflect well on the pattern of keeping as many assets as possible within the system.
Flash forward to next spring. The odds are Lowe (or someone like him) will be battling Gomes (or someone like him) for a roster spot. Lines will be drawn and arguments made both ways, but the Rays are probably going to opt for depth again because that’s what the Rays do. And when you think about it, it makes sense.
Consider this thought experiment. Say Player A and B are competing for one roster spot. Both have the same talent level and attributes, with the same expected role and health. Player A can be retained either way, but Player B can opt for free agency if he’s not placed on the roster. Now, let’s consider the probabilities of a few different outcomes—for our purposes we’re assuming each player has a 50/50 chance at a successful season (note the exact percentage doesn’t mean much here, and you can insert your own without it changing much):
Odds Player A has a successful/unsuccessful season: 50 percent
Odds Player B has a successful/unsuccessful season: 50 percent
Odds both have a successful season: 25 percent
Odds both have an unsuccessful season: 25 percent
Odds one has a successful season: 50 percent
When laid out like above, you’d be foolish not to keep both players around. That is, essentially, the math the Rays do every spring when they let contractual matters dictate the margins of their roster. Likewise, that’s also why it makes sense to add alternatives to the in-house players each winter (at least those who can be optioned). The veteran additions might not always have a sizable advantage over the romantic youth, but they add a layer of probabilistic security that the club clearly values. Keep that in mind as the Rays add to their roster in the coming weeks.