Rays have knack for acquiring veteran relievers

Rays have knack for acquiring veteran relievers

ST. PETESBURG -- Roberto Hernandez joined the Rays last week to add depth to the team's pitching staff, and executive vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman is confident the right-hander is going to help Tampa Bay get meaningful outs and will continue to allow the club's pitching to be a strength.

"We're not sure exactly what role we'll use him in, but obviously he's got a lot more experience starting than pitching out of the bullpen," said Friedman. "We feel like there's a lot of upside with him and that with his ground ball tendencies, he'll fit in extremely well with our infield defense and what we're envisioning it to be in 2013."

Though it's yet to be determined whether Hernandez will join the rotation or the bullpen, his acquisition brings to mind the history of sound pitching moves the Rays have made over the course of the past six years to strengthen the staff.

Save for the acquisition of Matt Garza prior to the 2008 season, the Rays' rotation has been home-grown for the most part. David Price, James Shields, Wade Davis, Matt Moore, Jeff Niemann, Andy Sonnanstine, Alex Cobb and Jeremy Hellickson all came up through the club's farm system.

Tampa Bay's management feels strongly that having to go outside the organization to acquire starting pitching would be a catastrophic situation. Friedman has said time and again that the team can't "go to market" to get starting pitching help.

However, building a bullpen has been a different matter.

Beginning in 2007, the Rays have done a miraculous job of putting key pieces into place that have paved the way for the bullpen to be successful.

Count Al Reyes as the first in a long line of many veteran acquisitions who turned out well for the Rays after he signed as a free agent in February 2007. The right-hander came through with 26 saves that season. Tampa Bay also acquired Dan Wheeler and Grant Balfour via trades that year, which helped bolster the team's bullpen for '08 and years later.

A parade of successful bullpen acquisitions followed.

Veteran Troy Percival signed with the Rays prior to 2008 and picked up 28 saves. Trever Miller also joined the team before the start of the season, and Tampa Bay added Chad Bradford after the non-waiver Trade Deadline to complete a playoff-ready bullpen.

Randy Choate came aboard prior to the start of the 2009 season. The cagey southpaw didn't make the team out of Spring Training, but he eventually did, making 61 appearances in that year before recording a club-record 85 appearances in '10.

Tampa Bay's front office did some solid work prior to the 2010 season by trading for Rafael Soriano, who became the team's closer and saved 45 games, and signing Joaquin Benoit, who successfully returned from shoulder surgery to become one of the best setup men in the Major Leagues. Each of the relievers left the Rays to sign large deals via free agency.

Without Soriano and Benoit, Tampa Bay went back to the drawing board to retool the bullpen for 2011. Once again, the Rays came up big, signing veterans Kyle Farnsworth, Joel Peralta and Juan Cruz. That trio combined to save 31 games and make 190 appearances.

Fernando Rodney, who appeared to be a closer in decline after two disappointing seasons with the Angels, was signed prior to the 2012 season. When Farnsworth started the season on the disabled list, Rodney stepped into the closing role and had an historical season by posting a 0.60 ERA while recording a team-record 48 saves. Even more remarkable was the fact that Tampa Bay signed the veteran right-hander to a two-year deal with a club option for 2013. Rodney will be the best bargain in baseball this season, as he'll make just $2.5 million.

While the Rays have been shrewd in picking up veteran bullpen pieces, there is no question that having 200-inning pitchers such as Price, Shields and Garza have allowed the bullpen to remain rested for the most part. Nevertheless, the job the club has done in filling out its bullpen has been remarkable.

Hernandez appears to be Tampa Bay's latest find. Given the club's history in recent years, what else would one expect?

Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.