Tampa Bay Rays Begin Spring Training After Making Big Changes To Their Pitching Staff

Lily Belcher, Editor In Chief

With the end of the Super Bowl and the coming of spring, baseball fans nationwide are busting out their jerseys and ball caps awaiting the first pitch of the season, which is less than two months away.  The Major League Baseball Players Association rejected the MLB’s proposal to delay the season, seemingly securing an on-time first pitch on April 1 (knock on wood).

For those who managed to keep up with the Rays off season dealings, it would seem that there were more rumors than action. Headlines claimed the Rays were in the running for top free agent Trevor Bauer or might possibly trade fan favorite Kevin Kiermaier. Bauer ultimately signed with the World Series champions and the Rays’ center fielder and his $11.5 million contract remain a stable part of the Rays’ lineup.

The greatest hits came to Tampa Bay’s pitching staff, with free agent Charlie Morton signing with the Braves and Blake Snell being dealt to the Padres. By trading their two most expensive pitchers (set to make $8.7 million combined in 2021), the Rays have reallotted the money to former Ray Chris Archer (1 year, $6.5 million) and Mets’ veteran Michael Wacha (1 year, $3 million).

Archer, who was traded to the Pirates by the Rays in 2018 for Tyler Glasnow, Austin Meadows, and Shane Baz, is a familiar face in Tampa. Archer made his debut in 2012 and tossed a 4.46 ERA in his career with the Rays. After his second year with the Pirates, the right-hander had surgery to treat neurogenic thoracic outlet syndrome on his right arm. The diagnosis sidelined him for the 2020 season, but, according to the Pirates’ initial report, he was projected to resume pitching in 2021.

While the Rays may have gambled with Archer’s injuries, if Archer does take the mound in 2021, he could earn a spot in the rotation or act as a bulk inning reliever. Archer’s return to Tampa Bay also boosts their fan base, which had grown doubtful of the Rays’ approach to pitching after their off-season trades.

“You guys see the smile on my face is as genuine and pure and sincere as it possibly can be,” Archer said in a video interview.

In December, the Rays also signed Mets right-hander Michael Wacha, who has a career ERA of 4.01 over his eight years in the majors. While his ERA might not be the best on the team, the Rays have gained a veteran of the game and a clubhouse leader. With stints in Saint Louis and New York, Wacha brings experience and the consequential knowledge that younger pitchers, like Josh Flemming and Shane McClanahan, may not have yet.

On Wednesday, a day before pitchers and catchers reported to Spring Training in Port Charlotte, the Rays acquired two pitchers from the Red Sox: Chris Mazza and Jeffery Springs. Mazza has played 18 games in the Majors since his debut in 2019, bouncing between Fenway Park and the Red Sox affiliate in Pawtucket. Springs has served a similar sentence, playing just 59 major league games in three years and spending most of his time in the farm system.

Most recently Tampa Bay signed free agent southpaw Rich Hill, who has dealt with his share of injuries and will turn 41 before Opening Day. However, like Wacha, Hill brings experience playing with winning clubhouses, according to Rays Senior Vice President of Baseball Operations Erik Neander.

Pitchers and catchers reported on February 18 for their first bullpen sessions, receiving praise from Kevin Cash. They will be joined by  the rest of the team and begin their first team workouts on February 22, just 37 days before Opening Day against the Miami Marlins