Percival and the Rays Bullpen in ‘09

While the Tampa Bay Rays have continued their miraculous 2008 season by shredding their opponents en route to the World Series, closer Troy Percival is sitting at home watching the action unfold.

Percival has struggled mightily this season, not only with his production, but with a slew of injuries. He has had knee problems, as well as injuries to his lower back and hamstrings that seem to be interrelated. What this really indicates is an aging pitcher who is likely hitting the wall of Father Time.

I was not surprised in the least when it was announced that he would be left off the World Series roster. This is a team of destiny, and I am sure that manager Joe Maddon understands what winning the Series is going to do for this historically-embattled franchise. His current bullpen members are all superior to Percival at this point in his career, so it would not make sense to carry him on the roster just for the sake of doing so.

You really have to give credit to Percival for being the consummate professional here—I have not heard anything negative in the press from him about being left off the roster. He knows he was a big part of their success this season, and the rest of the players know this as well. He has probably done more for this young bullpen staff than we even realize.

The “all hands on deck” committee approach seems to be working wonders for the Rays. Guys like J.P. Howell have been pretty much lights out, while Dan Wheeler has been a go-to man all season long. Grant Balfour and his 98 mph heater have stifled opponents in large part, while newcomer David Price is casting aside any possible doubts that he isn’t ready for the big time. Even Trever Miller and Chad Bradford have made positive contributions.

The Rays control Percival through the end of the 2009 season (at right around $4 million), but it is uncertain at this time where he will be positioned in the bullpen next year. Long relief is out of the question, and he will not be used as a setup man as a bridge to the 9th inning. It is possible that he remains part of a closer-by-committee situation, or he could end up being traded to another team altogether.

2009 Outlook

From a fantasy perspective going forward, I would not draft Percival under any circumstances next season. He has been a dominant closer for so many years—one of my favorites—but his time has come and gone, and there is a new generation of Rays that are ready to challenge the likes of the Yankees and Red Sox for the foreseeable future. If there was a draft held today, I would probably go with Grant Balfour as the leading candidate for closing duties. J.P. Howell is a close second, but he seems well-suited to be a setup guy. Dan Wheeler is likely going to be used as a 6th or 7th inning guy, so both he and Howell should be targeted in leagues that count holds.

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