Rays complete deals with Roe, McHugh

February 22nd, 2021

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- The Rays added two respected veteran right-handers to their roster on Monday morning, completing a busy month spent bolstering their pitching depth.

is staying in a Rays uniform after agreeing to a one-year, $1.15 million deal. Tampa Bay officially announced that deal and ’s previously reported one-year, $1.8 million contract. Both pitchers used the same phrase while describing the decision to sign with the Rays: “no-brainer.”

Within the past two weeks, Tampa Bay has acquired Roe, McHugh, , , , and (who should return around midseason) to supplement a talented staff moving forward without Charlie Morton, Blake Snell and Aaron Loup from last year’s American League championship club. Depth has been a hallmark of the Rays’ recent success, and they’ve once again stockpiled a sizable, diverse collection of arms.

“[General manager Erik Neander and the front office] put their heads together and recognized that this is going to be a unique season with so many unknowns just for the pitching side of things,” manager Kevin Cash said. “I think they did an awesome job of recognizing that and going out and bringing guys in that can fulfill multiple different ways of getting us innings on a nightly basis.”

To make room on the 40-man roster, Tampa Bay transferred right-handers (recovering from Tommy John surgery) and Drake (right flexor tendon strain) to the 60-day injured list. The Rays’ roster is full and now better equipped to handle a season that will test the depth of every team’s pitching staff.

“They’ve specifically tailored this staff around what is going to be needed this year,” McHugh said. “So I’m excited about coming in and being a part of what probably will be an experiment across the league about how to figure out how to cover all these innings in 162 games in a season coming off of just 60 games.”

Where will McHugh fit on the staff? Time will tell. Part of what intrigued the Rays, actually, is that he could fit anywhere.

“What we really like about Collin is that he’s pitched in so many different roles,” Cash said. “He’s proven over his career that he can be really versatile and really effective whether it’s starting, whether it’s providing late-inning one-inning stints or a multi-inning role. From talking to him, it sounds like he’s up for whatever.”

The Rays also liked the rave reviews they received about McHugh’s character from many people, including one source they trust quite well: Morton.

“If you’re getting compliments from a guy like Charlie,” Cash said, “you’re in a pretty good spot.”

The 33-year-old McHugh spent the first part of his big league career as a starter for the Mets, Rockies and Astros. He moved to the bullpen with Houston in 2018, and thrived in a full-time relief role, posting a 1.99 ERA and 0.91 WHIP with 94 strikeouts in 72 1/3 innings over 58 outings. He then enjoyed another strong stint in the bullpen in '19 (2.67 ERA, .640 opponents’ OPS) after a rocky return to the Astros’ rotation early that year.

No matter when McHugh enters the game, his flexibility should provide the Rays with some of the innings they need.

“Bringing the guys in that we’ve been able to bring in -- myself, Rich, [], Arch -- some of these guys who’ve had some success in the past as starters but also know the game is changing and know the game is developing in a way in which shorter stints might be what’s asked of you,” McHugh said. “I think we’re all open to it, and we’re all ready to take the ball when it’s given to us. … I think we’ve got a good plan in place of how to fill these innings and how to fill them really effectively.”

The 6-foot-2 righty has seen his arsenal evolve over time, capitalizing on his unique ability to spin the baseball. In 2018, the average spin rate on McHugh's slider (2,835 rpm) was comparable to that of Roe (2,843), and the average spin rate on his curveball (2,799 rpm) was nearly identical to that of Tyler Glasnow (2,802). He threw his slider 43.4 percent of the time in 2019, and he dominated hitters with that pitch. While his four-seam fastball averaged only 90.8 mph, opponents batted .175 with a .343 slugging percentage and a 39.6-percent whiff rate against his slider.

In March 2020, the Red Sox signed McHugh to an incentive-laden one-year deal to carve out a spot on their staff as a starter, reliever or opener. But in July, he elected not to play in the shortened season due to lingering issues with his throwing arm. McHugh missed the last month of the '19 season due to a strained right flexor tendon. He sat out in '20 and resumed throwing shortly after the World Series, taking about 2 1/2 months completely off to let his throwing arm heal.

“I felt great; even better than I expected to,” said McHugh, who pitched in front of interested teams in mid-January. “Have been really pleased with the progress that I’ve made and where I am, back to hopefully where I was before.”

It’s easier to see how Roe will fit into the mix, because he’s done it before: as a short-relief option who dominates right-handed hitters with fastballs and sliders while providing leadership in the bullpen.

This will be the 34-year-old Roe’s ninth Major League season and his fifth consecutive year with the Rays. Over the past four seasons with Tampa Bay, Roe has compiled a 3.54 ERA and 1.27 WHIP with 139 strikeouts in 119 1/3 innings over 151 appearances. In his career, he’s held righties to a .217/.302/.334 slash line.

“He’s been a mainstay in our bullpen,” Cash said.

The owner of one of baseball’s biggest breaking sliders in terms of horizontal movement, Roe has put together a 27.7 percent strikeout rate and 1.27 WHIP since the Rays acquired him from the Braves in July 2017. Roe was limited to only 10 appearances last year due to discomfort in his throwing elbow, and Tampa Bay decided in late August to shut him down for the remainder of the season. The Rays then waived Roe after the season, and he entered free agency.

Roe said he rested through the postseason, watching Tampa Bay's run to the World Series from his home in Lexington, Ky. He began his rehab in the offseason, felt his health improve quickly and said he’s “100 percent ready to go” in Spring Training.

Roe held a showcase to pitch in front of teams earlier this month, and by all accounts, looked like a healthy version of himself. That was enough to convince the Rays to bring him back into their bullpen mix, and Roe didn’t need much convincing on his end.

“I’m just happy to be back here,” Roe said. “I’m happy to be back, and hopefully we can run it back. … I love it here, love the group of guys, so it was a very easy decision on my part.”