Found February 23, 2012 on Fox Sports:
Normally, I feel sorry for the Tampa Bay Rays. Not this time. Oh, the Rays still face their usual low-revenue problems while trying to compete with the big-budget New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox in the AL East. But as the Rays try to pick their best five starting pitchers from a talented group of six, they should not expect a pity party -- particularly when the number of qualified candidates is more like eight. And when the Rays' rotation, no matter which pitchers are chosen, will be -- excuse the term -- an embarrassment of riches. In a perfect world, the Rays would trade right-hander Wade Davis or Jeff Niemann for a starting catcher, someone like the Cincinnati Reds' Ryan Hanigan. But the Rays spent the entire offseason trying to pull off such a move, and now they're thinking that maybe their surplus isn't so bad. "Things always have a tendency of working themselves out, whether it's via an injury or some type of setback, an acquisition, a departure," Rays pitching coach Jim Hickey says. "I'm kind of hoping . . . actually, I don't know what I'm hoping. I'm hoping they all do tremendous and we've got agonizingly tough decisions at the end of spring training." No one should be surprised if that happens. As Hickey says, injuries are possible, a reality of almost every team's spring. But right-hander James Shields, the oldest member of the Rays' rotation, is just 30. Niemann is 28. Every other candidate is 26 and under, including the No. 7 starter, right-hander Alex Cobb, and No. 8, righty Alex Torres. Here's the best part: Torres, acquired from the Angels three years ago in the Scott Kazmir trade, is the only one of the eight who is not homegrown. People always say, "The Rays should be good; they drafted in high positions for so long." True, Niemann was the fourth overall pick in 2004, lefty David Price the first overall selection in '07. But each of the others was a third-round pick or lower, available to all. The Rays don't just draft well; they develop well, too. Righty Jeremy Hellickson (13-10, 2.95) is the reigning American League Rookie of the Year. Shields (16-12, 2.82) was third in last year's AL Cy Young voting. Price was second the year before. And lefty Matt Moore might prove the best of them all. "There are not too many teams that have two lefties throwing 97-plus," Shields says, referring to Price and Moore. There also are not too many teams with two righties who stifle left-handed hitters with changeups the way Shields and Hellickson do. Lefties hit .219 against Shields last season, .230 against Hellickson. Four of the Red Sox's most dangerous hitters -- Jacoby Ellsbury, Adrian Gonzalez, David Ortiz and Carl Crawford -- are left-handed. So are two of the Yankees' best, Curtis Granderson and Robinson Cano. That's the stuff that matters. Six starters for five spots? Who cares? The competition, Hickey says, is "not going to be contract-driven or ego-driven or nice-guy driven or even necessarily performance-in-spring-training driven. It will be, in our estimation, what gives the Tampa Bay Rays a chance to win as many games as they can." The truth is, few teams negotiate 162 games with just five starters; the Rays have used a minimum of seven every year since 2008. Chances are they will need every one of their quality arms, particularly when a postseason berth might come down to the smallest of margins. Some creativity might be warranted: The Rays used a six-man rotation last season for about a two-week period starting in late July. The frequent days off in April would make it impractical to open the season in such fashion, but club officials acknowledge that they could try six again later, buying the pitchers additional rest. "It's something we can consider," manager Joe Maddon says. "We have experience with it now." Moore, who is just 22 and has minor-league options remaining, would be the easiest pitcher to demote, but the Rays would consider that only if he utterly flopped this spring, which is about as likely as Felix Hernandez turning into Felix Heredia. Maddon also dismissed the idea of Moore going to the bullpen; the Rays do not want to retard Moore's development, and he will pitch without an innings restriction this season after progressing steadily through the minors. No, the odd man out likely will be Niemann (11-7, 4.06) or Davis (11-10, 4.45), and Davis addressed the issue this week by telling the Tampa Bay Times, "I'm a starter. I don't see any reason for me to be in the bullpen . . . I definitely want to be a starter and stay a starter forever." Well, what else would you expect him to say? Davis pitched out of the bullpen in last year's division series, and both Maddon and Hickey are confident that the "loser" of the competition, if there is one, would make the same sacrifice for the team. One of Maddon's greatest strengths is the way he connects with players. If a tough decision is necessary, his communication skills will come in handy. "People away from here may read some things. You have to come here to find out the context with which it is said," Maddon says. "We talk every day. There's no animosity in any of these comments. I really believe that however we decide to do this -- if somebody has to run to the bullpen -- I believe it will be met with acceptance based on this pitcher knowing it's what we perceive to be the best for us now. "And, whoever this pitcher may be, we're not looking at this guy being a relief pitcher down the road. This is a guy that we can easily fold back in." The bottom line is that no one will want to disrupt the chemistry. Price (12-13, 3.49), who joined the club in 2008, the year the Rays went to the World Series, says this could be the best Tampa Bay team yet. The Rays brought back free-agent first baseman Carlos Pena (28 HR, 80 RBI) and also added designated hitter Luke Scott, infielder Jeff Keppinger and reliever Fernando Rodney. Most of the team's top players are veterans of multiple postseasons. So now the Rays have too many starting pitchers? Hold your tears. As Price puts it, "I know every team in the big leagues wishes that they had our problem."
THE BACKYARD
BEST OF MAXIM
RELATED ARTICLES
SOMETHING ABOUT TAMPA...

Rays SS having a baby with Playmate?

Rays infielder Reid Brignac is not only dating a Playboy Playmate like his teammate, Evan Longoria, he and his girlfriend, Lauren Anderson, are expecting a baby.

Healthy Howell could be back to his old tricks

PORT CHARLOTTE J.P. Howell feels like his old self again after missing a season. Of course, the Tampa Bay Rays left-handed reliever and ebullient clubhouse presence didnt miss the 2011 campaign he rejoined the team in May and then wobbled down a road marked by inconsistency and intense frustration. The season he missed was spring. And that contributed to his fall. Now, for...

Reid Brignac’s girlfriend Playmate Lauren Anderson is reportedly pregnant

The Tampa Bay Rays are cleaning up this offseason. We don’t mean that the team’s roster has improved significantly. Tampa rarely makes any big splashes during the offseason but always remains in contention, so that isn’t a concern. As far as the players’ social lives are concerned, however, the Rays are dominating the league. Reid Brignac’s girlfriend, former Playboy Playmate...

I don’t know whether to cuddle this Don Zimmer “Zim Bear” or kill it with fire

The Tampa Bay Rays plan on giving away this half-Don Zimmer, half-teddy bear monstrosity, known affectionately as “Zim Bear,” during the upcoming major league season.  If for some reason you wish to scar your children for life, or are looking for that special gift for your family dog to gnaw on, then make sure you find your way to Tropicana Field for the June 29 game against...

The Rays' Zim-Bear giveaway is horrifying

This is Zim-Bear, and it will be running through your head for quite awhile, won't it? The Tampa Bay Rays will be giving this, erm, lovely toy away on June 29th during their game against the Detroit Tigers. We've seen some really odd giveaways during our time, but I do believe that this is the first time I can recall a special advisor (not a coach, or a player...but an...

Sam Fuld’s take on Game 162

ROGER MOONEY “I like to consider myself a coordinated person. I make a living running after baseballs in the outfield, sometimes dodging bullpen mounds, dancing along unpadded walls, even leaping over oncoming teammates on occasion. I think I could more than hold my own on those Japanese obstacle course TV…

Tampa Bay Rays reliever J.P. Howell feeling great at start of spring training

(source feed provided no summary content for this entry)

Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon pleased with team's conditioning, hopes for "high-energy" spring

(source feed provided no summary content for this entry)

What is Your Favorite (Draft) Position?

Evan Longoria is a cool first round pick if you are drafting last. A statistical analysis of the best draft position in your fantasy baseball draft. There’s a lot of debate among fantasy baseball managers as to what is the best position to have in your fantasy baseball league draft.  The reason that there is any debate at all is that most leagues use a snake format.  If you are...

Shields likes role as elder statesman on mound

James Shields is the No. 1 taskmaster among the Rays' starters, and he feels that's part of his job, especially since he's the oldest member of the staff.

Maddon says Howell 'drips with intangibles'

Despite J.P. Howell's disappointing 2011 season, the Rays opted to tender him a contract so he would return this year. Howell said he thought the team's decision to bring him back was a coin flip, but he's happy to be with the team with which he enjoyed great success in '08 and '09 before he missed '10 while recovering from left shoulder surgery.

Pena brings his smile back to Tampa Bay

Carlos Pena and his infectious smile are back in Rays' camp -- that should make everyone in Tampa Bay happy.
MLB News
Delivered to your inbox
You'll also receive Yardbarker's daily Top 10, featuring the best sports stories from around the web. Customize your newsletter to get articles on your favorite sports and teams. And the best part? It's free!

Today's Best Stuff
For Bloggers

Join the Yardbarker Network for more promotion, traffic, and money.

Company Info
Help
What is Yardbarker?

Yardbarker is the largest network of sports blogs and pro athlete blogs on the web. This site is the hub of the Yardbarker Network, where our editors and algorithms curate the best sports content from our network and beyond.