The Rays announced this afternoon that they had claimed right-hander Cole Sulser off waivers from the Diamondbacks. The Rays had an open space on their 40-man roster following the cash deal that sent right-hander Luis Patino to the White Sox prior to the trade deadline earlier this week. Sulser was designated for assignment as part of a series of roster moves on the day of the deadline.
The move reunites Sulser with Tampa Bay, where he made his major league debut back in 2019 with 7 1/3 scoreless innings of work during which he struck out 9 and walked 3 while surrendering five hits. That solid debut didn’t stop the Rays from designating Sulser for assignment at the end of the 2019 campaign, at which point he was claimed off waivers by the Orioles. He struggled in Baltimore during the shortened 2020 campaign but broke out in a big way in 2021 with a 2.70 ERA (166 ERA+) and 2.98 FIP in 63 1/3 innings of work. Those strong ratios were backed up by a excellent 28.4% strikeout rate against a walk rate of 8.9%.
Since his 2021 breakout, however, Sulser has struggled during his time in the majors. In 39 1/3 innings of work split between the Marlins and Diamondbacks the last two seasons, the righty has managed just a 5.49 ERA, with a 5.09 FIP that offers little optimism regarding his underlying performance. Meanwhile, his once-strong strikeout rate has dipped to a more pedestrian 24.4% while his walk rate has spiked to 11%. When those issues are combined with a whopping 20.5% of his fly balls leaving the yard for home runs the past two seasons, it’s easy to see why the Diamondbacks made the decision to move on from Sulser.
That being said, Susler fits the mold of an optionable relief arm that the Rays frequently covet, and has had previous big league success, including during his previous time with the organization. What’s more, Sulser’s downturn in production in recent seasons has coincided with lat and shoulder injuries that have sidelined him for much of the past two seasons. If the Sulser is fully healthy again, it would hardly be a surprise to see him return to being a quality relief arm as a member of the Rays down the stretch. Should he join the big league bullpen immediately, he figures to cover the middle innings for the Rays alongside the likes of Robert Stephenson and Kevin Kelly.