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Inbox: Can Rays' bullpen be like Royals'?

Beat reporter Bill Chastain answers fans' questions

I really liked the way the Royals' bullpen worked this season. If their starters got through five or six innings, they normally won the game, because of their lockdown bullpen. Do you think the Rays can get that out of their bullpen next year?
-- Bill G., Clearwater, Fla.

Rays closer Brad Boxberger had one save more than Huston Street of the Angels to claim the American League saves crown (with 41 saves) in an All-Star season that saw him go 4-10 with a 3.71 ERA in 69 appearances. Making the right-hander's accomplishments more impressive was the fact that Tampa Bay did not designate him to be its closer. Boxberger was used in the early innings at times to try and snuff opposing rallies.

According to Rays pitching coach Jim Hickey, not having a specific role -- particularly early in the season -- was a tough situation for Boxberger. Hickey also pointed out that almost every time Boxberger pitched, he was pitching in a "high-leverage" situation.

However, it's not a given that Boxberger and McGee will both be back. I don't believe the Rays are looking to move either of their valued bullpen pieces, but rumors already are swirling about the interest in both, and the Rays will always listen. Based on the fact that McGee will make considerably more money than Boxberger in 2016, due to the fact he's arbitration-eligible (he made $3.55 million in '15), he appears to be the likelier of the two to be traded. If both are back, along with Alex Colome, that could be a pretty solid back end of the bullpen.   

Brandon Gomes, Steve Geltz, Xavier Cedeno and Enny Romero are strong candidates for the early-relief innings. Thus, my long-winded answer: Yes, I do believe the Rays' bullpen could be like Kansas City's. However, I believe for that to happen, the starting pitching will have to come up with a lot more innings. That way, Tampa Bay manager Kevin Cash can put the relievers into matchup situations in which they have the advantage.

Do you think Rene Rivera's 2015 season was a fluke? Or do you believe it was a precursor for the future? If he's not the guy, will he even be back with the team? In addition, if not Rivera, who is the main catcher in 2016?
-- Greg A., Tampa, Fla.

The Rays definitely didn't get what they thought they would from Rivera offensively, but he did solid work behind the plate. Will he be back in 2016? Some might consider him a non-tender candidate, but my gut tells me that Tampa Bay might like to bring him back and see if he can turn things around. If Rivera is not able to do so, the Rays have other candidates in Curt Casali and Luke Maile. In addition, they will need to make a decision on J.P. Arencibia, who came up in September and bolstered the lineup. If Tampa Bay decides to bring back Arencibia, that would add to the competition. However, Arencibia, like Rivera, is arbitration-eligible. The Rays might decide it's an either/or situation with the pair of backstops. 

After watching the Mets in the playoffs, I thought this could be the Rays. They have the young pitching to make a run if that young pitching can stay healthy. Can they get enough help in the field and at the plate to help that pitching succeed? 
-- Jose A., Tampa, Fla.

The bad news for the Rays in 2015 was Alex Cobb missed the entire season and they did not get much from Matt Moore until the end of the season. The good news is that Moore found himself and they can count on him going forward. In addition, they have the likes of Chris Archer, Jake Odorizzi, Drew Smyly, Erasmo Ramirez and Matt Andriese. And waiting in the wings, they have Blake Snell.

So I believe they have what it takes to be the 2015 Mets in 2016. And based on the way the offense hit down the stretch -- along with the offseason additions of Brad Miller and Logan Morrison -- I believe they will give the pitchers the run support they need. I thought Mikie Mahtook, Richie Shaffer, Tim Beckham and Maile all showed well while playing for Tampa Bay this season. As for signing a free agent or two, I don't think they will get help by signing a free agent. I do think they might make a trade to get a bat or two, though.

Kevin Cash definitely was different than Joe Maddon as the Rays' manager. Maddon seemed more fun and able to keep the team loose. I'm not sure about Cash just yet. What did Cash show you during the 2015 season? Is he the guy to lead the team forward?
-- Bill B., St. Petersburg

Cash indeed was different than Maddon, which was a good thing, because he needed to be himself. I thought he managed the team well, though he admitted there were times when things sped up for him. Cash will be more grounded after getting a season under his belt. He doesn't appear to have a lot of ego and is more than happy to delegate where help is needed. Bottom line: The Rays won 80 games in a season that could have tanked. Cash looks like the real deal.

Bill Chastain is a reporter for
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