40-Man Crunch Situations: American League

The trade deadline is nearly here and once again, team behavior will be driven, at least in part, by 40-man roster dynamics. Teams with an especially high number of both rostered players under contract for 2022 and prospects who would need to be added to the 40-man in the offseason have what is often called a “40-man crunch,” “spillover,” or “churn,” meaning that the team has incentive to clear their overflow of players by trading for something they can keep — pool space, comp picks, or, more typically, younger players whose 40-man clocks are further from midnight — rather than do nothing, and later lose players to waivers or in the Rule 5 draft. In an effort to see whose depth might augment trade behavior, I enjoy assessing clubs’ 40-man futures every year. This exercise is done by using the RosterResource Depth Chart pages to examine current 40-man occupancy, subtracting pending free agents (on the Team Payroll tab), and then weighing the December 2021 Rule 5 eligible prospects to see who has the biggest crunch coming and might behave differently in the trade market because of it.

Some quick rules about 40-man rosters. Almost none of them contain exactly 40 players in-season because teams can add a player to the 40 to replace a player who’s on the 60-day Injured List. In the offseason, teams don’t get extra spots for injured players and have to get down to 40, so if they want to keep some of the injury fill-ins, they have to cut someone from the 40-man to make room.

In November, clubs have to add prospects to the 40-man to protect them from the Rule 5 draft. RosterResource is the most accessible resource for tracking the prospect timelines. Most teams add a handful of players every offseason, while some add just one, and others may add as many as 10.

All of these rosters have a talent foundation at the major league level that won’t be moving, and which I’ll ignore below. Instead, I’m focused on the number of players on the 40-man right now, how many free agents will come off that number at the end of the season, which prospects might be added (or not), and who currently on the 40-man is in danger of being passed by the prospects. For the two categories where the rubber meets the road and it’s unclear what will happen (fringe current 40-man members vs. prospects who’ll possibly be added), I italicize the players I view as less likely to stay, or be added to the 40-man. Today, I take a look at the American League teams with crunch, with the National League to follow.

Cleveland Guardians

Current 40-man Count : 44 (40 + four 60-day IL players)
Pending Free Agents: 2 (Bryan Shaw, Eddie Rosario), plus 3 with club options (José Ramírez, Roberto Pérez, Cesar Hernandez)
Must-Add Prospects: Tyler Freeman, Brayan Rocchio, Joey Cantillo, Cody Morris, Bryan Lavastida, George Valera, Richard Palacios
Current 40-man Fringe: Yu Chang, Blake Parker, Daniel Johnson, maybe Bradley Zimmer or Harold Ramirez
Prospects on the Fringe: Robert Broom, Adam Scott, Aaron Bracho, Jhonkensy Noel, Jose Tena, Jose Fermin, Raymond Burgos

There are a lot of prospects to consider here, and I do think Cleveland has to make a deal in which they consolidate some of their prospect depth in the next couple of months, but this isn’t a four-alarm crunch. Because we’re talking about Cleveland, let’s try to clear as much hypothetical space as possible and fit all the prospects we can. I think either Pérez or Austin Hedges (who is an Arb 4 player this winter) will end up getting cut loose in favor of Lavastida and a veteran journeyman type to serve as the backup until Lavastida is considered ready. Pérez is now two years removed from his great offensive season and the club can probably get similar production from someone making less, which is Cleveland’s modus operandi. Tyler Freeman’s game is very similar to Cesar Hernandez’s, so I think it’s fair to speculate about the team declining Hernandez’s option for similar reasons, even though he is still the same solid, role 45 type of player and a good big leaguer.

If we assume those two transactions are realistic, we’re talking about Cleveland having cleared four spots (two free agents, plus cutting loose a catcher and Hernandez). Then we need only consider a couple of the listed prospects as upgrades to the current 40-man fringe for all of the big names here to fit on the roster. Cantillo hasn’t thrown all year but he’d have to look pretty bad when he comes back not to be added, and if he misses all year then he’s arguably even more likely to be popped in the Rule 5 Draft considering how teams behaved around injured prospects in last year’s Rule 5. Palacios is a positionless bat and becomes a trade candidate if Cleveland doesn’t have the roster flexibility to carry him, unless they consider him an obvious upgrade to the platoon outfielders who haven’t really performed, which I think is possible. Cleveland also has a huge crop of prospects for whom 2022 is their 40-man evaluation year, which is part of why the pieces that came back from the Mets in the Lindor deal were young players with timelines beyond that.

Kansas City Royals

Current 40-man Count: 43 (40 + three 60-day IL players)
Pending Free Agents: 8! (Danny Duffy, Greg Holland, Michael A. Taylor, Jarrod Dyson, Ervin Santana, Wade Davis, Jorge Soler, Jesse Hahn)
Must-Add Prospects: Nick Pratto, MJ Melendez, Jonathan Bowlan, Josh Dye, Jon Heasley
Current 40-man Fringe: Richard Lovelady, Daniel Tillo, Hanser Alberto
Prospects on the Fringe: Dylan Coleman, Charlie Neuweiler, Zach Haake, Yohanse Morel, Ismael Aquino

I thought for sure there’d be a crunch here because of all the pitchers whose pre-40 timelines end, but the Royals have so many guys coming off the books that they can not only comfortably fit their must-adds, but could perhaps be a place where other teams with overages find equilibrium.

Minnesota Twins

Current 40-man Count: 45 (40 + five 60-day IL players)
Pending Free Agents: 3 (Andrelton Simmons, Michael Pineda, J.A. Happ, Hansel Robles), plus Alex Colomé has a mutual option
Must-Add Prospects: Royce Lewis, Josh Winder, Jose Miranda, Cole Sands, Joe Ryan
Current 40-man Fringe: Juan Minaya, Derek Law, Kyle Garlick, Tyler Duffey
Prospects on the Fringe: Chris Vallimont, Blayne Enlow

Prior to the Nelson Cruz trade, there was a pretty even balance of players coming and going here. The addition of Drew Strotman (already on the 40) and Joe Ryan (will need to be added) created a three-spot swing that might make it more likely a player with multiple years of control (José Berríos or Byron Buxton) moves this week, since every player controlled through next year who they Twins trade opens up an extra 40-man spot for the upcoming offseason. They’re in a position now where I think they’re more likely to take prospects who are farther away from the 40-man in return for their remaining chips, especially if they only move upcoming free agents.

New York Yankees

Current 40-man Count: 45 (38 + seven 60-day IL players)
Pending Free Agents: 1 (Corey Kluber), plus Brett Gardner and Darren O’Day have player options
Must-Add Prospects: Ezequiel Duran, Glenn Otto, Josh Breaux
Current 40-man Fringe: Everyone up because of the COVID outbreak, Estevan Florial, Lucas Luetge, Greg Allen, Rougned Odor
Prospects on the Fringe: Janson Junk, Everson Pereira, Matt Sauer, Randy Vasquez

The 2021 COVID-19 outbreak roster rules make it so the Yankees won’t hemorrhage upper-level depth when the infected come off the IL. The Yankees are used to losing a player or two in every Rule 5 draft, but especially with Hoy Park and Diego Castillo moving in the Clay Holmes trade and Luis Cessa and Justin Wilson being sent to the Reds, it should be relatively easy for the Yankees to cram all the worthy prospects onto their 40-man this offseason. That’s four cleared spots in the last couple of days, and it’s feasible for them to part with most of the players I have listed on their current 40-man fringe. Rougie Odor hasn’t been good for several years and Ezequiel Duran’s low-end outcome (power, with poor defense and strikeouts suppressing his value) is what Odor is right now. The club recently bent over backwards to avoid promoting Estevan Florial until they absolutely had to, and I’m pretty confident that he’s not going to hit at all. The club may view Everson Pereira, Josh Breaux, Matt Sauer, or Duran as too green for the 40-man, but even with just one certain free agent, the Yanks shouldn’t have issues getting all the guys on the roster this offseason.

Tampa Bay Rays

Current 40-man Count: 50 (40 + a whopping 10 60-day IL players)
Pending Free Agents: 6 (Nelson Cruz, Chris Archer, Michael Wacha, Tommy Hunter, Collin McHugh, Chaz Roe), plus Mike Zunino has a club option.
Must-Add Prospects: Ford Proctor, Blake Hunt, Tanner Dodson, Shane Baz
Current 40-man Fringe: Louis Head, Ryan Sherriff, Brendan McKay, Jake Reed, Sean Poppen Chris Mazza, Mike Ford
Prospects on the Fringe: Ruben Cardenas, Niko Hulsizer, Simon Rosenblum-Larson, Michael Mercado, Jacob Lopez, Miller Hogan, Carlos Garcia, Tommy Romero, Tobias Myers, René Pinto, Jonathan Aranda

The Rays cleared two of next year’s spots with the Nelson Cruz deal but still have an in-season crunch on their hands because of all the players they have on the 60-day IL, some of whom are currently rehabbing and will need to be put back on the roster soon (Tyler Glasnow, Nick Anderson, Chris Archer). There is more than one transactional road for the Rays to travel as they try to avoid losing players for nothing, and they can clear their logjam in two stages, with one right now and one after the season. Some of it has to be done right now before the injured pitchers come off the 60-day, either by trading players currently on the fringe of their 40-man for players who won’t have to be put on for a couple of years, or by consolidating a combination of current and near-future 40-men in a big trade this week. Based on the way the Nelson Cruz deal came together, the Rays willing to pay retail if it means releasing 40-man pressure. Doing the latter assumes that the team they trade with has the long-term 40-man space to accommodate taking several pieces in return, which eliminates Joey Gallo (the Rangers have a crunch of their own to consider, as you’ll see next). They could trade fringe pieces (either prospects or players currently on the 40-man) in the offseason to teams further down the competitive continuum who consider guys like Tommy Romero or Niko Hulsizer, or those Mike Ford types, either an upgrade to what’s currently in their org or worth a big league trial run.

Texas Rangers

Current 40-man Count: 48 (40 plus seven 60-day IL players and one on the paternity list)
Pending Free Agents: 4 (Ian Kennedy, Brock Holt, Charlie Culberson, Jordan Lyles), plus Joely Rodríguez has a club option.
Must-Add Prospects: Steele Walker, Hans Crouse, Ricky Vanasco
Current 40-man Fringe: Brock Burke, Joe Palumbo, Jason Martin
Prospects on the Fringe: Cole Uvila, Bubba Thompson, Fernery Ozuna, Kelvin Gonzalez, Hever Bueno, Nic Laio, Alex Speas, Jake Latz, Scott Engler, Cole Ragans, Yonny Hernandez, Chris Seise

I wrote on the team’s prospect list that the real date for Rangers fans to watch is around December 6, 2022, when 15 prospects from said list will either be put on the 40-man or exposed to the Rule 5. There will certainly be attrition among that group, but it’s large enough that the Rangers will have to keep its size in mind as they complete deals this week and beyond. They’re not at risk of losing anyone truly impactful this offseason — they have several up/down middle relief type arms in that fringe prospect group who are typically exposed to the Rule 5. It’s a sign the team has competitive homegrown pitching depth on the way, but they may still be motivated to package some of these arms to sweeten a Gallo deal this week.

Eric Longenhagen is from Catasauqua, PA and currently lives in Tempe, AZ. He spent four years working for the Phillies Triple-A affiliate, two with Baseball Info Solutions and two contributing to prospect coverage at ESPN.com. Previous work can also be found at Sports On Earth, CrashburnAlley and Prospect Insider.

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2 years ago

Yes! Thank you for this!

I would also like to take this moment to lobby for 40-man timelines to be included on the main page of THE BOARD. Right now there’s a lot of running back and forth if you want to see this. Because it’s already on Roster Resource, you should be able to pipe it in, I think. And I strongly agree that trade behavior at the deadline is often driven by 40-man roster management. It might not affect future value but it does affect trade value, in the sense that teams are often more willing to give up players who are going to be eligible that winter than equivalent prospects who are not.

2 years ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

This article is just what I was talking about the other day. Was this always an annual thing and I just forgot about it?

And, yes, 40 man timeline on THE BOARD!

2 years ago
Reply to  dozingoffdad

Eric started doing it last year, I think. Maybe two years ago? I love this stuff. Right now, it’s more useful to look at Roster Resource than the board to figure out who is going to get traded, since so many of the moves have 40-man roster implications for one team and because organizational rank is on roster resource. What would be really awesome is to have FV and 40-man timeline in one place.

2 years ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

Came here to see how many ST comments there would be. I am not disappointed…

2 years ago
Reply to  gettwobrute79

Glad to be of service 🙂

2 years ago
Reply to  gettwobrute79

The ‘bone is the straw that stirs the drink around here. I’m just always astounded that someone else has as much time to sit on this site as I do.

2 years ago
Reply to  dozingoffdad

Although I would like to chalk this up to being a weird year (and that’s probably true, too), I also don’t have any social media accounts and so this is probably what gets substituted for it.

2 years ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

You have definitely been spending more time commenting on the site (which I appreciate) in the last 6 months than you did in the same months in 2019. I just need to write a comments scraping script to compare comment keystrokes and put some numbers behind that.

Bartolo Cologne
2 years ago
Reply to  gettwobrute79

Yes, I saw this headline and thought, “I didn’t realize that July 28 was Christmas Day in Sad Trombone Land.”