ST. PETERSBURG — With newly acquired Grant Balfour anointed the closer, Rays manager Joe Maddon will have at his disposal this season a pair of setup men who have nice résumés as big-league closers.
Heath Bell (168 career saves) and Juan Carlos Oviedo (92) are two right-handers who at this point last week were thought to be the candidates to replace Fernando Rodney at the back of the Rays' bullpen.
Now Maddon can use both along with Joel Peralta as setup men, forming what can be a pretty solid bridge to Balfour and the ninth inning.
This should help Peralta, whose 227 appearances are the most in the major leagues since 2011, the year he joined the Rays.
Maddon likes to have Peralta face the big hitters in the opposing lineups, whether it's the top or the heart of the order.
Oviedo, who missed last season because of Tommy John surgery on his right elbow, and Bell can help ease some of the high-leverage workload on Peralta, who turns 38 in March.
“... the big thing about that is if you have that many capable arms, you're not going to run anybody into the ground,” Maddon said Thursday at the news conference to announce the Balfour contract.
The workload took its toll on Peralta in 2013. Having two more options this year should keep Peralta fresh, and that should further strengthen the back of the bullpen.
Then there's Price
With Balfour on board with a big contract, Masahiro Tanaka now a well-paid member of the Yankees' rotation and David Price still a Ray, it appears as if the 2012 AL Cy Young Award winner will remain a Ray this season and possibly for 2015 as well.
While you never want to say never in baseball, it would be counterproductive for the Rays to trade Price after beefing up the payroll to re-sign James Loney, extending newly acquired catcher Ryan Hanigan to a three-year deal and strengthening the back of the bullpen with Balfour, Bell and Oviedo.
The Rays believe they have a team that can not only play meaningful games in September but also win those games and a bunch more in October. They believe they have the goods to win the World Series.
Take Price out of that mix and those expectations take a hit.
Then there are the comments from owner Stuart Sternberg, who said during Thursday's news conference that he expects Price, who becomes a free agent after the 2015 season, to remain a Ray.
“We expect to have him for the length of his contract,” Sternberg said. “Look back a little bit. Carl Crawford played here through the end of his contract. B.J. Upton played here through the end of his contract. Carlos Peña, the first time when he had all the success, played through the end of his contract. So we actually have more of a history keeping players to the end of their contract than we have trading players. ...
“We have traded players, but there were very, very special circumstances. Matt Garza in particular, where we received a number of players who are helping us now. James Shields was extraordinarily difficult, but you end up getting a guy (Wil Myers) who was rookie of the year. That was unique. David has been a Ray. He has been here through all of our successes and we expect him to be here. Anything can happen with anybody at any time, but the expectation is for him to be here.”
With Balfour, Peralta, Oviedo, Bell, Jake McGee and Cesar Ramos, the Rays have six of the seven bullpen spots filled. Brandon Gomes, Josh Luke, Brad Boxberger, who came to the Rays last week in the San Diego trade, and Mark Lowe, who signed a minor-league contract with an invite to camp, will compete this spring for the final spot. ... Chris Archer donated $6,400 worth of equipment and apparel to young athletes at City Youth, Inc., on Thursday to benefit kids in Raleigh, N.C. ... Former Ray Sam Fuld will host his third annual Sam Fuld Diabetes Sports Camp on Saturday and Sunday at USF. For more information call (352) 334-1321.