With the 4 and 5 starters for the Rays struggling mightily (now watch Niemann pitch a no-no tonight just to make my point invalid) how soon will it be before we see a shake-up at the bottom of the rotation, and exactly how much shaking-up will there be?
We know that Maddon likes the idea of Sonny out of the pen, and we can see the potential for Niemann as a reliever, but can/would the Rays move them both to the 'pen in favor of Price who's struggling at the AAA level and Davis who's smoking the AAA level?
Let's venture a guess:
The first question is this: with no options left for Niemann aren't the Rays' hands tied?
To me, it seems fairly simple when it comes to Niemann because I don't see any way the Rays DFA him, so its either he stays number 5, he heads to the 'pen, or the Rays deal him.
The problem with trying to deal him is that his stock is about as low as its ever been, so the return would be a loss for the Rays, thereby rending this option mute in my mind. That leaves the other two options (he stays #5 or he heads to the 'pen).
The question the Rays have to ask themselves is whether or not Price, as Niemann's potential replacement, is pitching down to the AAA level because he's annoyed/frustrated (consciously or subconsciously) about being stuck in the minors when he feels he belongs in the Bigs (especially after watching Niemann and Sonny struggle) or if he's truly not ready for the call-up. If you call him up and he's not ready it could cause serious damage down the line, so the process is a delicate one.
I feel like the decision on Niemann has more to do with Price than it does Niemann, and judging by Maddon's lack of faith/trust in Niemann I'm guessing he feels the same way. Its almost as if they've made it blatantly obvious that Jeff's just keeping the seat warm for King David (which may have been obvious to some, but probably wasn't obvious to Jeff until recently).
The next question becomes: If they decide to replace Niemann with Price then who gets pushed out of the bullpen? I'd say Cormier would be the choice to get the hook given the fact that Niemann would become the long reliever thus making Lance's services unnecessary.
My opinion: I haven't changed my stance on Niemann, I still think he should pitch out of the 5 spot all season because I think he's got some filthy stuff and he'll work it out sooner than later.
I'm afraid the Rays don't agree though. I say they'll call-up Price, move Niemann to the 'pen, and either shop Cormier or send him to the DL until they can figure out what to do with him.
Sonny's situation is quite the quagmire for me because we know the guy can win games, we know that historically he's a fairly efficient pitcher, and we know that because of his efficiency he's capable of helping rest the bullpen because he typically makes it deep into games.
On the other hand, when he's off he's usually way off, so in those cases he has the exact opposite effect on the bullpen (see last night's game in Baltimore).
So what do the Rays do with Sonnanstine? The options for Sonny are fairly limited as well; move him to the 'pen or deal him.
If the Rays make the move to call-up Price in favor of Niemann then the only viable replacement for Sonny, in my mind, is Wade Davis. That being said I just don't feel as if the Rays are going to allow Davis to advance from AAA to replace a guy who already has several years of experience as a starter in the Bigs. Add to that that this would be admitting publicly that they made a mistake by choosing Sonny over Edwin Jackson, which most organizations aren't fond of doing, and I don't see it happening.
So if promoting Davis and pushing Sonny to the 'pen aren't viable solutions that leaves dealing him to another team, but the same problem applies here as with Niemann in that his stock is riding pretty low right now. I don't see any scenario where both Sonny and Niemann are moved to the 'pen and I don't see any way that the Rays try to shop Sonny either, so I've come to my conclusion by default.
My Opinion: Sonny stays as the #4 starter for the rest of the season, or until the Rays fall way off pace and decide to see what Davis has to offer. Then in 2010 he'll either be moved to the bullpen or traded for prospects.