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Could Yarbrough’s Loss Start Push Back Against Bulk Work?

Wherever he is this offseason, Jeff Samardzija is probably laughing.

When the Rays were busy in 2018 trying out the opener to try and win games, the right-hander was busy ripping the concept.  He called it “a load of crap,” and told the San Francisco Chronicle that pitchers that went along with it were sheep.

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It turns out that the concept may also cost pitchers money in arbitration.

The Rays won their arbitration case against left-hander Ryan Yarbrough Saturday, saving $800,000 in the process.  They will only reportedly pay the 29-year-old $2.3 million to play in 2021 versus the $3.1 million he asked for.

The fact that for a majority of Yarbrough’s career, he has come into a game behind an opener as opposed to starting was probably a big part of the team’s case.  Never mind the fact that he has averaged over 4.1 innings pitched per appearance in his three seasons in the big leagues; over 62 percent of those appearances are considered to be in relief.

The question now has to be asked: will pitchers start to resist the bulk role because it could affect their bottom line in the future?

Tampa Bay once again has a number of young pitchers on their staff this season in their early to mid-20s.  Some already have big league experience, others may not.  But the opener has shown since its debut in 2018 that it helps acclimate young potential starting pitchers to big-league hitting by ensuring that the best hitters in the opposing lineup don’t see them too often in a single game.  It also makes sure that in a bulk role, those future starters also don’t miss out on accumulating the proper number of innings to be stretched out carefully over the course of their first few seasons.

But the prospect of buying in to the bulk concept has now shown that arbitrators are likely to side with the team rather than the player when it comes to deciding salary.  Will that now lead these professionals to tell the team they want the ball every fifth day or not at all?

My guess is: no.

The Rays are nothing if not transparent and communicative with their players.  The front office and coaching staff have discussed the concept with players at length, and while they haven’t said as much publicly, it would not surprise me that they even admitted that the concept could be detrimental to those looking to just fatten their wallets.

If the team didn’t, I’m sure the players’ agents, if they’re worth their weight, did.

And on top of being able to stay in the big leagues for almost three complete seasons, it also allows the left-hander to go through the process an extra time, being a “Super Two” designate.

So if you think that Ryan Yarbrough is going to complain, you might want to think twice.

Written By

Steve Carney is the founder and publisher of St. Pete Nine. One of the people most associated with baseball coverage in Tampa Bay, he spent 13 seasons covering the Rays for flagship radio station WDAE, first as producer of Rays Radio broadcasts, then as beat reporter beginning in 2011. He likes new analytics and aged bourbon, and is the owner of one of the ugliest knuckleballs ever witnessed by baseball scouts.

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