After trading Odorizzi, the Rays are planning to use a four-man rotation in 2018

Over the weekend the Tampa Bay Rays finally traded right-hander Jake Odorizzi, and I say finally only because it seems like Odorizzi's name has popped up in trade rumors every week for the last three years or so. Odorizzi went to the Minnesota Twins for shortstop prospect Jermaine Palacios.

The trade leaves the Rays with five starters for five rotation spots: Matt Andriese, Chris Archer, Nathan Eovaldi, Jake Faria, and Blake Snell in whatever order. The team will not use five starters to start the season, however. Manager Kevin Cash told reporters, including Steven Kinsella of Sports Talk Florida, the club will stick with a four-man rotation as long as possible to start the season, with Andriese moving to the bullpen.

"We are going to a four man rotation out of the gate. A lot of that is because of the schedule. If we ran a five man rotation, you're talking an extra day, an extra two days almost every time through." Manager Kevin Cash said. "I'd think any starting pitcher would tell you that it's not ideal for them. We are going to just shorten that up and insert a starter, a spot starter, or a bullpen day on those days that are needed."

April is always loaded with off-days to help deal with the weather, and sure enough, the Rays have five off-days within the first 26 days of the season even though they play their home games in a dome. They have eight off-days within the first 43 days of the season. The MLBPA successfully negotiated more off-days into the schedule this year and this is the result.

Now, despite all those early off-days, the Rays are going to need a fifth starter a few times in the season's first month. In fact, they start the season with five games in five days, so right away they'll use a spot starter or empty their bullpen in the fifth game of the season. Looking through Tampa Bay's schedule, I count four instances in which the team will need their fifth starter within the first 43 days of the season:

  • Monday, April 2 at Yankees (next day is an off-day, giving relievers rest after a potential bullpen game)
  • Wednesday, April 11 at White Sox (next day is an off-day)
  • Tuesday, April 17 vs. Rangers (game the next day)
  • Saturday, April 28 at Red Sox (game the next day)

That's four instances in which the Rays will use a spot starter or go with a bullpen day, according to Cash. Andriese will remain stretched out as a multi-inning reliever, making him the obvious spot starter candidate. Then again, this is all five weeks away, so we'll see where the Rays are at with the rotation when the time comes.

Other teams, most notably the Angels with Shohei Ohtani, are trying to find a way to use a six-man rotation these days. Starters are throwing fewer and fewer innings with each passing season, but the Rays are doing the opposite. Everyone is zigging and they're zagging. The Rays will use a four-man rotation as long as possible this year rather than give their starters extra rest.

MLB: Los Angeles Angels at Tampa Bay Rays
Matt Andriese is expected to start the 2018 season in the bullpen. USATSI

Of course, this four-man rotation plan also makes it easier for the Rays to keep top pitching prospect Brent Honeywell in Triple-A a little longer, allowing them to push back his free agency and possibly his arbitration years as well. The union could file a grievance on Honeywell's behalf given the service time manipulation, but MLB readiness is hard to prove.

For now the Rays will stick with their four-man rotation plan until forced to change things up, either by the weather or poor performance or an injury. At a time when most teams are trying to get their starters extra rest, especially early in the season, the Rays are going to ride their top four starters hard early on.

CBS Sports Writer

Mike Axisa joined CBS Sports in 2013. He has been a member of the BBWAA since 2015 and has previously written about both fantasy baseball and real life baseball for MLBTradeRumors.com, FanGraphs.com, RotoAuthority.com,... Full Bio

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