When you don't have money, you have to use a little ingenuity. When the glove compartment wouldn't close in my rusted-out Volvo years ago, I could have taken it to a body shop. Or I could have had a custom glove-compartment-holding-shut device made by a metalsmith for a hefty fee. Or I could have taken a pen and wedged it between the glove compartment and console. I already owned a pen. There you go.
Now we seamlessly segue to the Rays and their offseason. Except they aren't a rusted-out Volvo. They're a car that the smart kids in metal shop designed themselves out of stuff they found lying around. The engine is made out of V8 cans because they love irony. The transmission looks like something from the back of the automaton in Hugo. And it runs smooth. Damn smooth. Like, whoa, this car is awesome. But when something breaks, they can't just run to the mechanic to get it fixed. They have to figure it out.
The one thing the Rays had going into the offseason was pitching. Young pitching, younger pitching, left-handers, right-handers. They had so much they could afford to trade James Shields for a player who wasn't going to play right away. Chris Archer would be in a lot of rotations right now, as would Jeff Niemann, but instead they're in the minors and bullpen, respectively. Pitching, pitching, pitching.
So obviously the fourth spot in the rotation goes to a 32-year-old guy who didn't pitch much last year, and was awful the year before when he did pitch.
Roberto Hernandez is the Rays' third starter. Don't confuse him with one of baseball's all-time two-way threats. Hernandez was once Fausto Carmona, a sinkerballer of some note. For the last couple of years, though, the sinkers have found bats, and the balls have found the outfield grass. Since his breakout season in 2007 (fourth in A.L. Cy Young voting), he's been worth minus-1 win according to Baseball Reference (though FanGraphs has him at four wins since then). He was available to whoever wanted him.
The Rays wanted him. Now we get to figure out why. Some theories:
They're over-confident: jugglers moving from bowling pins to running chainsaws because they can
This isn't junior high. I'm pretty sure they aren't trying to impress Monica from homeroom, and they aren't trying to impress the baseball world with their baseball acumen. It kind of feels like an extra padlock on the barrel before it's pushed over Niagara Falls, but it's most certainly not.
They saw film and had an epiphany on how to fix Hernandez
Oh, sure, it went like this:
Stan Boroski: You see this? Lemme slow the tape down. See how he truncates his stride from the stretch?
Andrew Friedman: Oh, god. You're right. Do you know what this means?
/scene with Rays negotiating with Hernandez's agent
/scene with coaches showing Hernandez how to correct the problem
/scene with Hernandez doing chin-ups
The Rays seemed to have it in their heads that Hernandez was going to be in the rotation, so they saw something they liked. But they probably didn't think Hernandez was a talking Krusty doll with a switch on his back that they could just flip.
The Rays weren't sure about Jeff Neimann and Chris Archer just yet, and they needed some innings
Here you go. Niemann's velocity was reportedly down a tick in camp, which doesn't have to be a red flag this early. But considering he's coming back from a leg injury, there's no sense rushing him. And even though Chris Archer is roughly the same age as Chris Sale and Madison Bumgarner, he's still relatively unpolished. Maybe the Rays think it's better for the team and the player to have him in Durham.
Which means there's a need for innings. The Rays seem pretty proud of their new double-play combo, and their infield defense in general, so a sinkerballer makes a little sense. Roberto Hernandez was there and affordable. There you go.
Long article short: Not every Rays move has to be a part of the wizardly schematics that make the team as well run as any in baseball. Sometimes the Rays just need a Jeff Suppan. Not the actual Jeff Suppan. Just what Suppan represented for a few years: the sort of pitcher who's neither here nor there, just floating around the majors, incomplete yet fully formed, throwing a bushel of innings before vanishing as if his parents never kissed at the Under the Sea Dance, never to be heard from again, except as an entry on Baseball Reference that makes you think, "Huh. Right. That guy."
The Rays needed a pitcher to hold down a spot for a while. They got a pitcher to hold down a spot for a while. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.
Now, if Hernandez reclaims his 2007 or 2010 form, let's scrap this idea and get back to the one about the Rays figuring something out and montaging their way to success. Because if Hernandez can make some sort of quantum leap, we'll just have to give up and assume everything the Rays do is right. James Loney? Sure, sure. You know best. Evan Longoria behind the plate? Okay, fine, you've earned the benefit of the doubt.
Most likely, though, the Rays needed innings, and they're going to get innings. By June, they'll probably be getting innings from someone else, which was likely the plan all along.
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