Burning Fantasy Baseball Questions: Tampa Bay Rays

by Nicholas Minnix on February 8, 2012 @ 12:32:19 PDT


KFFL answers important fantasy baseball questions for each Major League Baseball team as spring training approaches. What must fantasy baseball players know about the Tampa Bay Rays?

How do roto players handicap this overstocked rotation?

Tampa Bay put the organization in an interesting and yet not unfamiliar position when it signed stud prospect Matt Moore to an exceedingly team-friendly five-year deal that includes options for the three seasons after 2016. The Rays already have five starters with noteworthy major league experience, so the organization seems prepared to sit on Moore.

Tampa Bay Rays SP Wade Davis
What's Davis' future?

David Price isn't going anywhere any time soon. Despite the trade rumors that have surrounded James Shields this offseason, the Rays have wanted more for the right-hander than interested parties are willing to give up. Big Game's peripheral marks are due for some correction, but he should be pretty good in 2012. AL Rookie of the Year Jeremy Hellickson is under team control through 2016. Next up for him is an advancing K/9, should he be willing to rely on his fastball and changeup less often.

That leaves much of the uncertainty for Jeff Niemann and Wade Davis, two right-handers who've been kind of disappointing (by this franchise's standards only, mind you). The Rays have circulated the word: They're willing to part with either of them. But they probably won't take chump change.

Niemann, 29 this month, has a couple of years of arbitration remaining. He's taken strides in his ability to locate and mix sequences, as well as induce grounders, in the past few seasons. Things could be getting better for him, but at his age, he may not fit into the Rays' plans.

Davis, 26, is under contract through 2014, with options for 2015 through 2017. The righty has invoked concern because of his dipping fastball velocity and rate of strikeouts per nine innings, however. He's also failed to make a notable reduction in his rate of free passes issued, and he's yielded fly balls more than 40 percent of the time in the past two seasons. The positive: His off-speed stuff and two-seamer have helped him coax a hearty rate of pop-ups in his career, and perhaps this has been his focus.

Unquestionably, Niemann is the more interesting fantasy pick. Does that change if he's moved? Probably not, although it could easily reduce the gap. A new locale would likely have a much greater impact on Davis. A homer-friendly environment could spell trouble for him, or vice versa. If Tampa Bay peddles Niemann, Davis could continue to grow with the organization that raised him. Niemann is relatively close to being a finished product.

A minor stalling point: The New York Yankees and, to a lesser degree, the Washington Nationals are also in this boat. The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim have a bat to move but no glaring need for a starter. The New York Mets are hurting for MLB-quality arms, but they have nothing of value.

Regardless, folks should expect Niemann or Davis to be gone. Some team will lose a pitcher to an injury or will second-guess the quality of its starting five. Tampa Bay badly needs an upgrade at catcher, and they probably wouldn't say no to a solid middle infield or first base prospect. Just like the Rays did with Jason Hammel one day prior to opening day 2009, they'll ship one of these less vital arms off. The transaction may very well come after most fantasy baseball drafts have passed.

Which, in turn, could serve to keep Moore's auction price reasonable. The Rays know that Moore is ready to pitch in the bigs, or they wouldn't have paid him. They would've been content to delay the onset of his arbitration clock and promote him sometime later this summer. Rotisserie managers should probably ignore any fear they may have about how much the superb southpaw will pitch in the majors this season.

Said 2009 swap came about because Niemann beat out Hammel for the club's final rotation spot then; perhaps things will come full circle. Wherever he ends up, he could be a decent deep-mixed flier pick if he holds his gains.

AL fantasy owners will doubtless take no notice of the upside that still lies in Davis, but signs of it will need to emerge this year for faith to begin the restoration process. He'd probably be better off in a Tampa Bay uni, and he's still worth risking a few bucks on in a mono league.

And the Rays still have serviceable right-hander Alex Cobb, 24, lingering in the background.

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About Nicholas Minnix

Minnix is baseball editor and a fantasy football analyst at KFFL. He plays in LABR and Tout Wars and won the FSWA Baseball Industry Insiders League in 2010.

The University of Delaware alum is a regular guest on SiriusXM Fantasy Sports Radio and Baltimore's WNST AM 1570.

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