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What’s next for Brent Honeywell and the Rays?

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Nov 5, 2016; Surprise, AZ, USA; West pitcher Brent Honeywell of the Tampa Bay Rays reacts during the Arizona Fall League Fall Stars game at Surprise Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

What’s next for Brent Honeywell?

Surgery, probably. Honeywell suffered a tear of the ulnar collateral ligament in his throwing elbow on Thursday, ending his 2018 before it had a chance to even begin — and sidelining a promising young pitcher who was expected to be a major part of a Tampa Bay team that has become decidedly underwhelming over the past few weeks. Honeywell and the Rays haven’t yet decided whether he’ll try to rehab the injury without surgery or go in for the Tommy John procedure, but at this point, given the severity of the injury, that feels mainly like a formality due to not having consulted with a specialist.

Honeywell, of course, was of the opinion he was ready to contribute to the Rays last year, when he put up a 3.49 ERA with 172 strikeouts in 136.2 IP, the vast majority of which came with Tampa Bay’s Triple-A affiliate in Durham. It’s more than a little difficult to argue with numbers like that from a 22-year-old, but it was a foregone conclusion that Honeywell wasn’t going to sniff the majors: The Rays are not an organization that prioritizes winning games over controlling their prospects’ service time, and last year was a lost season anyway.

Should he have stayed healthy, it’s unlikely he would have broken camp with Tampa Bay this spring, either; the Rays would have put out a bloodless, calm release about wanting him to get some more work in at Triple-A, waiting until late May or early June — whenever the proper threshold for maintaining team control was reached — to bring him up to the majors. That’s just how the Rays, and MLB at large, do their business.

Honeywell didn’t particularly help his case by hopping on Twitter and venting his frustrations with other, less valuable pitchers getting their shots in the big leagues — and with the lame excuses that came out of the Tampa Bay front office as it tried to justify those promotions as baseball moves, not financial ones. His first subtweets on the matter came at the end of July of last season, and one presumes he voiced his concerns in a more pressing, direct way off the internet throughout August, when the Rays slapped Honeywell with a four-game suspension for “disciplinary reasons.”

That was the end of Honeywell and Tampa Bay’s drama in 2017, and there’s no indication that it continued into 2018 at all — though the Rays’ top prospect did get hurt a bit too early in camp for anything approaching a battle for rotation spots to develop. A torn UCL renders everything that’s happened before it — in a pitcher’s development — at best a work on hold, at worst a moot point. Tommy John generally takes eight to 10 months to come back from for a pitcher; the earliest Honeywell might contribute to Tampa Bay’s cause again is next spring.

What even is Tampa Bay’s cause at this point? The idea that the loss of Honeywell will drive the Rays into the starting pitching market is farcical; after trading Jake Odorizzi to the Minnesota Twins for a non-prospect, Tampa Bay said it would experiment with a four-man rotation, and all four men it planned to have in that rotation — Chris Archer, Blake Snell, Jacob Faria, and Nathan Eovaldi — remain healthy. Anthony Banda, who just came over in the Steven Souza trade, and Jose de Leon are the next men up for now; if the Rays to return to a five-man rotation, one of those two is likely to get the job rather than Tampa Bay spending any money on the free agents still on the market.

On the eve of signing a massive new media deal with their local Fox Sports network that’s estimated to pay the franchise over $80 million a year in straight profit, the Rays are dedicated to the First Overall Pick Derby and have no intentions of winning games in 2018. In the end, Honeywell might have had cause to be glad he missed this season, if it didn’t impact how quickly he could get out of St. Petersburg and start playing for a team with aspirations on the field.

So Honeywell’s injury is a shame, both for him and for people who like to watch great young pitching, but it’s probably not going to register too much for the Tampa Bay Rays. They didn’t feel they needed him on the club last year when he was striking out over a batter an inning at Triple-A. Then they still had Evan Longoria, Corey Dickerson, Logan Morrison, Steven Souza, Alex Cobb and Jake Odorizzi on the team. Why should they miss him all that much now?

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Jonathan Bernhardt lives and works in the Baltimore area. He has previously covered Major League Baseball for Baseball Prospectus, Sports on Earth, VICE Sports, and The Guardian.

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