Photo from the Tampa Tribune
It's a good year to be a free agent reliever. Rafael Soriano signed with the
New York Yankees for 3 years and $35MM.
So far this off season the Rays have watched as Grant Balfour, Rafael Soriano, Joaquin Benoit, Dan Wheeler, Chad Qualls, Randy Choate and Lance Cormier all departed from their bullpen. This group has signed contracts worth an absurd total of $67.1MM (Cormier is still unsigned) this off season. Instead of resigning any of their departing relievers the Rays have capitalized on MLB's draft pick compensation program. Balfour and Soriano were both Type A free agents, while Qualls and Choate were both Type B. This nets the team 6 draft picks early on in the 2011 draft. Chad Qualls is the most impressive of that group since for all intents and purposes the Rays traded for him during the season last year to gain the draft pick in what scouts are calling a "deep 2011 draft."
Now the Rays still have to replace all of these relievers but they also seem to have figured out that the majority of relievers are a dime a dozen and don't seem to be worth a mutli year contract by the time the contract is over. Minor league contracts and young pitchers who can't crack a starting rotation are good ways of doing so. They have gone ahead and signed Joel Peralta ($900,000k) and Kyle Farnsworth ($3.25MM) as well as re-signed J.P. Howell ($1.1MM) on a team friendly deal. They have also expressed interest in former Red Sox reliever, Manny Delcarmen. Prior to the Farnsworth signing and their upcoming arbitration cases (B.J. Upton and Andy Sonnanstine) the Rays only had $18.34MM tied up this season. That leaves plenty of room in their budget to aquire another reliever such as Delcarmen, who would not cost the team a draft pick. It also leaves room for them to look at sluggers such as Vladimir Guerrero for their DH slot which would offset the loss of Carlos Pena.
The Rays are as progressive of an organization as any out there in sports and they seem to understand their main way to compete is by utilizing the draft. They have maximized that chance this off season by understanding the relief pitching market better than other teams seem to.