On December 1, Tampa Bay signed 26-year-old RHP reliever, Jhonny Nunez, to a minor league contract. Nunez is a slider/fastball pitcher with good velocity, in the 94-97 MPH range. Nunez’s big league experience came in 2009 where he went 0-0 with a 9.53 ERA, a strike out ratio of 9K/9IP, and a walk ratio of 3.5/9IP, in just over five innings work. Otherwise, Nunez posted a 28-24 WL record with a 3.77 ERA, and gave up 45 home runs in just over 489 innings of work in the six years that he’s spent in the minors. His strike out and walk ratios really didn’t deviate much from what was mentioned before.
Nunez is largely a pitch to contact type of pitcher which could bode well for the Rays if he’s able to induce ground balls. Nunez can be described as a poor mans Dan Wheeler because of his propensity to give up the long ball. However, he can be effective in the right situations especially against right handed hitters, and we’d assume that Maddon would use him accordingly.
There’s an elephant in the room. With the Rays two newest bullpen acquisitions, what does the future hold for LHP JP Howell and RHP long reliever Andy Sonnanstine? Andrew Friedman has made mention of wanting to add maybe one or two more arms to the pen along with a DH and first baseman. It may be a bit presumptuous, but could Nunez and Josh Leuke get the nod over Andy Sonanstine and JP Howell, both who had staggeringly horrible 2011 seasons?
JP Howell is a non tendered player, who will become a free agent if the Rays do not tender his contract. Howell stands to get $1.5 million if he is re-signed, and I can’t help but question whether the Rays would want to spend that money on Howell who had such an abysmal year, or whether they could put that money to good use elsewhere? As it stands, the Rays have a fairly static bullpen with maybe one or two open seats left. You can expect to see Kyle Farnsworth, Joel Peralta, Jake McGee, and Brandon Gomes back on the roster in 2012. To that end, the odds are looking good that Dane De La Rosa and Cesar Ramos will make the 40 man roster as well. Both McGee and Ramos are LHP who had much better numbers in 2011 (especially late in the season in McGee’s case), than JP, and you’d have to question the necessity of such an inconsistent lefty in the pen in lieu of what they have.
Sonanstine also had his fair share of blunders in 2011. Mind you that he was demoted to AAA Durham toward the end of the season. Sonanstine ineffectively played the role of long reliever in 2011. There are options within the organization, including the Rays newest acquisitions, and when you consider that Sonny is an unrestricted free agent, the doubts begin to linger as to whether Tampa Bay would be willing to spend even the league minimum on him. Sure, Sonny was a good pitcher at one point. However, with a fastball that tops out at 86-88 MPH and control issues, Sonnanstine is more of a detriment on the roster than he is an asset.
Leuke has experience pitching in multiple innings. In eight of 13 appearances last year, Leuke pitched anywhere from one to three innings. That said, there really isn’t a need for a Sonny on the roster. Keep in mind too, that if the Rays are going to open a spot on the starting rotation for Matt Moore or even Alex Cobb, someone is going to have to be moved to the pen or traded. Though I’d love to see a Jeff Niemann trade to open up a spot, no hints as to whether that’s even a possibility have popped up. Most pitchers aren’t very keen on the idea of moving from a starting role to the pen. But, if there is one starter on the Rays roster that could make that transition, it’s Wade Davis. Davis was very effective out of the pen in the post season, and his experience as a starter is very valuable when talking about a long relief role. All in all, I’m not too worried about the Rays pen situation going in to the 2012 season.
In other news, Rays beat writer Marc Topkin tweeted this week,
#Rays to list of teams that have watched Cuban OF Yoenis Cespedes. (And, it should be added, to list of teams that can’t afford him.)
Though the Rays want to add to their offense and it doesn’t seem likely that BJ Upton would be traded this winter, one wonders why the Rays are watching Cespedes in the first place? Are they actively looking for a CF to take the place of Upton, even if Cespedes isn’t the right fit? Are the Rays just doing their due diligence with Cespedes, and no other moves should be anticipated?
Finally, with word that the Rays are pursuing a DH and a first baseman, Andrew Friedman was quoted as saying that free agents Casey Kotchman and Johnny Damon are “very much in the discussion” to be brought back.