ST. PETERSBURG -- Of all the spots on the field, the Rays' bullpen appears to be the biggest question mark heading into Spring Training.
However, a question mark and a problem are different. Tampa Bay has plenty of bullpen options; the question is which pitchers the club will select.
Gone from last year's bullpen are Brad Boxberger, Sergio Romo, Steve Cishek, Tommy Hunter and Xavier Cedeno, and Chase Whitley and closer Alex Colome could follow if trade rumors come to fruition.
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But for now, Colome will be the team's closer, and he's a good one. Last season, he led the Major Leagues in saves with 47. He also will make $5.3 million, which puts a trade target squarely on his back since the team is looking to pare its payroll. Plenty of teams were interested in Colome earlier in the offseason, and no doubt that interest will be renewed once the logjam of free agents finally breaks loose.
Like other teams in the Major Leagues, the Rays are apprehensive about letting their starters pitch a third time through the order. Based on that feeling, along with the fact the Rays have a lot of positional flexibility on their everyday roster, the chance exists that the Rays will employ eight relievers rather than seven.
Right-handers Nathan Eovaldi, Chih-Wei Hu, Austin Pruitt, Jaime Schultz, and Ryne Stanek appear to have solid chances, though Eovaldi could very well become a starter depending on how the rotation shakes out.
Other right-handed candidates include Andrew Kittredge, Chaz Roe and Hunter Wood.
Dan Jennings and hard-throwing Jose Alvarado could be the only left-handers in the bullpen. But there's a good chance that one of the team's non-roster invitee left-handers could find a spot. That trio includes Adam Kolarek, Vidal Nuno and Jonny Venters.
With or without Colome, the Rays will have a young bullpen. But that's not necessarily a bad thing, particularly given the fact that Stanek, Alvarado and Schultz bring high '90s heat to the party.
The biggest challenge for this young bullpen will come in finding the strike zone. If the relievers can minimize the walks and trust in their stuff collectively, the Rays could form a special bullpen they can utilize for the next several years.