Boston Red Sox v Tampa Bay Rays

Most teams fresh off trading an innings-eating sub ace like James Shields would have problems filling out their rotation the following year. Replacing the innings and overall goodness of a pitcher like Shields isn’t easy. It’s hard, in fact! That why teams give up their number one prospect to get Shields – guys like him are hard to find.

The Rays are not most teams. The Rays have pitchers – lots of pitchers – ready and willing to fill out their rotation. Can they replace Shields right away with available talent? Apparently the Rays can fill out their rotation without using any of their heralded young starters.

As Spring Training wears on and available innings for non-roster invitees becomes more scarce, teams return their minor league talent to minor league camp, keeping only players with designs on the Majors on hand. The Rays made just such a move this morning, sending Chris Archer, Jake Odorizzi, and Alex Torres to Triple-A.

Using the process of elimination, The Rays Index suggests the Rays will begin the season with a rotation of

  1. David Price
  2. Jeremy Hellickson
  3. Matt Moore
  4. Roberto Hernandez
  5. Alex Cobb

The exclusion of Jeff Niemann is surprising, especially given his relatively high salary for the Rays modest means. By all but guaranteeing a spot for Roberto Hernandez, the Rays famed asset management skills are on display. Turning Hernandez — guaranteed $3.25 million this winter by Tampa Bay — into more promising pieces for their ever-hungry minor league pipeline seems a safe bet. Niemann is a reasonable trade piece in his own right, with one year of arbitration remaining before free agency.

The Rays are not often shy about thrusting young pitchers into big league roles – what they are careful about is waiting until those players are ready. Tommy Rancel of The Process Report silver-linings the decision to send Odorizzi and Archer to the minor leagues, believing the opportunity for these players to develop even further under the watchful eye of trusted coaches will benefit the club down the line.

Chris Archer, as Rancel notes, might already among the four best options. He has electric stuff and already showed he can compete at the big league level, racking up impressive strikeout numbers in six-appearance-cameo at the end of the 2012 season. Control remains a concern, as with many big armed goons still finding their way, so more time refining his stuff in the minors isn’t the worst idea.

One can logically assume the industrious Rays are playing multiple angles at once. They’re the Rays!

While developing players so they can step right in and contribute at the Major League level is the number one priority, gaming service time (Archer) and de-Royalsing (Odorizzi) pre-arb prospects while managing low cost but potentially valuable assets like Hernandez (the former Carmona) and Niemann can never be fair from their hive mind. That they have the depth to pull of such trickery is testament to their overarching philosophy of never paying market price for anything and wringing every last cent from anything of value.