The Tampa Bay Rays continue to address their rotation holes, with the latest MLB news hinting the AL pennant winners are nearing a deal with veteran pitchers Rich Hill and Collin McHugh. Pending successful physicals, both should be joining the Rays’ roster for Spring Training.
The Rays have been desperate for starting pitchers after trading away their ace in Blake Snell to the Padres, declining to re-sign veteran Charlie Morton, and losing several pitchers for the 2021 season due to injury. Rich Hill and Collin McHugh join Michael Wacha and Chris Archer as the short-term replacements to fill out the Rays’ rotation.
Latest MLB News: Rich Hill
A tale as old as time itself: in the latest MLB news, Rich Hill will pitch this season. The soon-to-be-41-year-old southpaw debuted with the Cubs at the age of 25 but didn’t fully break out until 2015 at the ripe old age of 35. While Hill has struggled with injuries (including the interminable blister), he’s been a valuable asset when he’s been healthy enough to pitch. He employs a wicked curveball that has not deteriorated with age and came excruciatingly close to a perfect game in 2017.
Since 2015, he’s averaged under 100 IP per season but has put up a sterling 2.92 ERA during that time. In 2020, on a one-year deal with the Twins, Hill pitched only 38.2 innings yet boasted a 3.03 ERA. The Rays reached a one-year, $2.5 million deal for the veteran, who is likely the surest bet for a starting job of all Rays’ offseason signings.
McHugh signed a one-year deal with the Red Sox for 2020 but opted out due to the pandemic as well as a lingering elbow injury that likely would have sidelined him the entire season anyway. Previous to that, he had a successful six-year stint with the Astros, as a starter for the first four seasons (3.70 ERA) before moving to the bullpen in 2018. He had a few more cracks as a starter in 2019 but largely settled into the relief role. While there are certainly question marks following a lengthy absence and injury concerns, the Rays are only coughing up $1.8 million for a one-year deal for the right-hander—a cheap trial runs for a 33-year-old pitcher with a 3.63 ERA since 2014.
While the latest MLB news answers some questions, it raises others: who is actually starting for the Rays in 2021?
De facto ace Tyler Glasnow will likely toe the rubber on Opening Day and southpaw Ryan Yarbrough has settled in nicely with the starting role over the past few seasons, including an impressive 2020 (55.2 IP with a 3.56 ERA, primarily as a starter). While it wasn’t enough to win his arbitration case, he’s likely to have locked in a starting job in 2021. The rest of the rotation is considerably murkier, with the Rays adding Wacha, Archer, Hill, and McHugh all on cheap one-year deals.
With Yonny Chirinos, Jalen Beeks, and Brendan McKay all out for some or all of 2021, the Rays could look towards prospects Brent Honeywell Jr., Shane McClanahan, or recent acquisition Luis Patiño to compete for a starting role or lean on the more experienced but less flashy option in Trevor Richards, who has put up a 4.41 ERA over his first three seasons in the league, mostly as a starter.
Coming off a shortened 2020 season, managing pitcher health is going to be key across the league. As such, teams will have to get creative with pitcher workload and roster creativity is what the Rays do best. A six-man rotation is certainly not out of the question, frequent use of openers is on the table, and of course, full-bullpen games could make a reappearance in 2021.
More Moves Remaining?
With Hill and McHugh joining the Rays’ other two reclamation project signings in Wacha and Archer, none of these four have a solid grip on a starting role. While the offseason is not yet over and we could see another latest MLB news article about the Rays over the next month, I also wouldn’t count on any big-name signings, either. By prioritizing cheap, one-year contracts of pitchers who have struggled and often faced injury problems, the Rays are buying four lottery tickets and hoping at least one or two will pay off as a full-time starter. Given their track record, I wouldn’t bet against it.
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