Examining the National League’s 2022 40-Man Crunch

© Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

The trade deadline is nearly here and once again, team behavior will be affected by 40-man roster dynamics. Teams with an especially high number of currently-rostered players under contract for 2023 and prospects who need to be added to the 40-man in the offseason have what is often called a 40-man “crunch,” “overage,” or need to “churn.” This means the team has incentive to clear its overflow of players by either packaging several to acquire just one in return, or by trading for something the club can keep — international pool space, comp picks, or, more typically, younger players whose 40-man clocks are further from midnight — rather than do nothing and later lose some of those players to waivers or in the Rule 5 Draft. Teams can take care of this issue with transactions between the end of the season and the 40-man roster deadline in November, but a contending team with a crunch has more incentive to do something before the trade deadline so the results of those deals can bolster the club’s ability to reach the postseason.

In an effort to see whose depth might influence trade behavior, I assess teams’ 40-man futures every year. This exercise is done by using the RosterResource Depth Chart pages to examine current 40-man situations, subtracting pending free agents using the Team Payroll tab, and then weighing the December 2022 Rule 5 eligible prospects (or players who became eligible in past seasons and are having a strong year) to see which clubs have the biggest crunch coming. I then make an educated guess about which of those orgs might behave differently in the trade market as a result.

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 one who is 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 precisely, so if they want to keep some of their injury fill-ins, they have to cut someone else from the 40-man to make room.

In November, clubs have to add certain prospects to the 40-man to protect them from the Rule 5 Draft (you can find more details on Rule 5 Draft eligibility here). RosterResource is the most accessible place for tracking prospect timelines. Most teams add a handful of players every offseason, while others will add just one, and some may add as many as 10.

All of these rosters have a talent foundation at the major league level that likely won’t change, and which I 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 squeezed out by the prospects who are added. 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. You can read my previous look at the American League teams with crunch here. Today, we tackle the National League.

Miami Marlins

Current 40-man Count: 46 (6 on 60-day IL)
Pending Free Agents: 0-3 (Joey Wendle and Jesús Aguilar each have mutual options, but even if Wendle’s is declined, he’s headed to arbitration and likely to be back. Anthony Bass has a modest $3 million club option. That’s it. There aren’t many players coming off here.)
Must-Add Prospects: Peyton Burdick, Andrew Nardi, Josh Simpson, Sean Reynolds
Current 40-man Fringe: Willians Astudillo, Billy Hamilton, Jeff Brigham, Jordan Holloway, Tommy Nance, Jimmy Yacabonis, Huascar Brazoban, José Devers, Sean Guenther (TJ), Dylan Floro, Paul Campbell
Prospects on the Fringe: George Soriano, Zach King, Troy Johnston, Griffin Conine, Eli Villalobos, Anthony Maldonado, Luis Palacios, Osiris Johnson, Jefry Yan, Will Stewart

Even if you just get a flier pitching prospect like the Marlins did for Justin Bour a couple of years ago, they might want to explore a Jesús Aguilar trade. It gives you a jump start on seeing what Lewin Díaz can actually do with a long, uninterrupted stretch against big league pitching. Díaz is out of options, and much more likely to be part of the next good Marlins team than the 32-year-old Aguilar. If it turns out that, as has been the case in limited time so far, Díaz can’t hit in the majors, it’s better for the Marlins to know that going into the offseason when it can be more easily addressed, rather than have to react to it in the middle of next year when they could just be giving Troy Johnston that chance. Aguilar is about a league-average hitter with a gregarious on-field vibe, a fit for contenders that need a righty bench weapon. Toronto’s bench is extremely left-handed, and maybe the defensive flexibility created by a Tatis/Kim/Abrams contingent in San Diego could enable them to roster someone like Aguilar, but most contending teams already have an Albert Pujols or Yermín Mercedes-type of hitter in place, meaning Aguilar isn’t an obvious upgrade for them.

Most of what I expect will be lots of turnover here comes as a result of the many injuries Miami has dealt with. They’ve put six players on the IL in just the last few days. There are many great baseball narratives among those likely to fall off the 40-man (the journeys of Huascar Brazoban and Tommy Nance, especially), but either because they’ve run dry of options or are getting deeper into arb while comparable young players come through the minors, Miami has to triage a lot of fringe pitching this offseason. If they have suitors for any of the relievers on the 40-man fringe, they can make some “Kick the Can Down the Road” trades without it precluding them from making a separate trade (or trades) for a long-term piece.

Philadelphia Phillies

Current 40-man Count: 46 (6 on 60-day IL)
Pending Free Agents: 6-9 (A lot of veteran pitching in Kyle Gibson, Brad Hand, Jeurys Familia, and Corey Knebel, plus Didi Gregorius, Odúbel Herrera, a complicated Zach Eflin $15 million mutual option, and club options for Jean Segura ($17 million) and Aaron Nola ($16 million, slam dunk))
Must-Add Prospects: Logan O’Hoppe, Johan Rojas, Erik Miller
Current 40-man Fringe: Ryan Sherriff, Damon Jones, Sam Coonrod (currently rehabbing), Mark Appel, Rafael Marchan, Símon Muzziotti, Yairo Muñoz, Luis García, Jhailyn Ortiz
Prospects on the Fringe: McKinley Moore, Ben Brown, Andrew Schultz, Michael Plassmeyer, Scott Moss (currently rehabbing), Jakob Hernandez

There isn’t a big crunch here because the Phillies have enough free agents coming off the roster, but there are some tough decisions to make and few player-for-player swaps with all this steady pitching hitting free agency after the season. Eflin has been one of the better strike-throwers in baseball across the last half decade or so amid persistent injury issues, frequently (and currently) his knees. I think the Phillies would like to exercise their end of the mutual option, but Eflin might be motivated to hit the free agent market as a 28-year-old and secure something long-term as a hedge against his injury history.

Rafael Marchan is being out-hit by Donny Sands (who Philly traded for before the season) and it feels like he’ll be on the outside of the 40-man catching picture once Logan O’Hoppe is added. Marchan has generated trade interest in the past because of his bat-to-ball skills; he’s still just 23. Luis García has been hurt most of the year and recently returned. He’s still just 21 years old, but he’s hitting .143 in a small High-A sample; next year will be his second option year. He would seem to be a logical Fall League candidate so he can get more reps and the Phillies can have a better idea of how good he is. There are Jeison Guzmán trajectory parallels here. Many of the Phillies’ everyday hitters are locked into their given position, so 2023 defensive flexibility is a key component for anyone added from outside the organization.

Chicago Cubs

Current 40-man Count: 46 (6 on 60-day IL, though Adbert Alzolay is throwing in Arizona and might return during the season)
Pending Free Agents: 5-7 (Drew Smyly and Mychal Givens mutual options, Willson Contreras, Wade Miley, David Robertson, Andrelton Simmons, Chris Martin)
Must-Add Prospects: Brennen Davis, Kevin Alcantara, Chase Strumpf, Ryan Jensen, Riley Thompson
Current 40-man Fringe: Narciso Crook, Alfonso Rivas, Frank Schwindel, Michael Hermosillo, Mark Leiter Jr., Anderson Espinoza, Alexander Vizcaíno (Restricted List)
Prospects on the Fringe: Eury Ramos, Bryce Ball, Yovanny Cruz, Richard Gallardo, Yohendrick Pinango, Danis Correa, Chris Clarke, Cayne Ueckert

Much like Oakland, the Cubs have enough young talent coming aboard that they are a little less likely to take on several 2022 40-man additions in exchange for the players they might trade, but the crunch here isn’t so dire that it should impact who they like as the centerpiece of those deals. Unlike Oakland, whose trade chips are slated to be on the 2023 roster if they aren’t moved, which will alleviate some 40-man pressure via departure, the Cubs players most likely to move (Willson Contreras and David Robertson) are pure rentals and coming off the roster anyway.

The Cubs will need to add Brennen Davis despite his injury because otherwise another team will Rule 5 him and put him on the 60-day IL, which the Cubs can also do once things get underway next year. Yohendrick Pinango will be an interesting decision. Davis’ injury puts his 2023 readiness in doubt, the Cubs are slated to use a purely developmental spot on Kevin Alcantara, and many of the other 40-man outfielders (like Nelson Velázquez, Christopher Morel and Alexander Canario) are very young. This might be a scary detail for a contender, but for the Cubs, it’s more of an indication of where they are in their rebuild (the youths are starting to get opportunities).

There are arguably more fringe pitchers here, guys like depth starter Javier Assad, once-exciting high school draftees Jeremiah Estrada and Bryan Hudson, and some of the college arms like Hunter Bigge and Michael McAvene who looked like they were breaking out but have plateaued. But while that group might play a depth role in 2023 and beyond, I don’t think anyone but Assad (because he’s a starter) would creep to the top of another team’s Rule 5 pref list.

Milwaukee Brewers

Current 40-man Count: 42 (3 on 60-day IL)
Pending Free Agents: 3-6 (Omar Narváez, Andrew McCutchen, Jace Peterson, Jake McGee, club options on Brad Boxberger ($3 million) and Kolten Wong ($10 million))
Must-Add Prospects: Brice Turang, Felix Valerio, Antoine Kelly
Current 40-man Fringe: Trevor Gott, Luke Barker, Miguel Sánchez, Jonathan Davis, J.C. Mejía (Restricted List), Luis Perdomo
Prospects on the Fringe: Zach Vennaro, Carlos Rodriguez, Jakson Reetz, Justin Jarvis, Eduardo Garcia, Cam Devanney, Abner Uribe, Victor Castaneda, Nick Bennett, Taylor Floyd

The Brice Turang/Felix Valerio skill sets overlap enough with Kolten Wong’s that my guess is he’ll be allowed to walk. Jakson Reetz has really performed in the upper levels and might have played himself into an opportunity with Omar Narváez coming off the roster, while Pedro Severino (recently back from a PED suspension), Alex Jackson and Mario Feliciano have their issues and aren’t 40-man locks.

There’s a deep group of fringe prospects here, without many obvious bottom-of-the-40 types who lack options or who are further into their arb years to clear space for it. You could conceivably move on from Jonathan Davis to make room for Carlos Rodriguez, or be fearful that things might click for hard-throwing (and wild) Abner Uribe during someone else’s spring training. Eduardo Garcia is also a tough add due to his distance from the big leagues and the way his defensive skill set overlaps with Turang’s.

Pittsburgh Pirates

Current 40-man Count: 45 (5 on 60-day IL)
Pending Free Agents: 5 (Ben Gamel, José Quintana, Yoshi Tsutsugo, Roberto Pérez, Jake Marisnick)
Must-Add Prospects: Ji-hwan Bae, Mike Burrows, Matt Fraizer, Endy Rodriguez, Dariel Lopez
Current 40-man Fringe: Chris Stratton, Kevin Newman, Josh VanMeter, Greg Allen, Duane Underwood Jr., Dillon Peters, Manny Bañuelos, Bligh Madris, Canaan Smith-Njigba, Cal Mitchell, Miguel Yajure, Jack Suwinski, Eric Stout, Yohan Ramirez, Hoy Park
Prospects on the Fringe: Austin Roberts, J.C. Flowers, Jared Triolo, Blake Sabol, Abrahan Gutierrez, Maikol Escotto, Matt Gorski, Mason Martin, Santiago Florez, Eddy Yean, Tahnaj Thomas, Ricky DeVito

The Pirates’ go-wide approach to their rebuild has made it so they have no choice but to cycle through these young big leaguers quickly, giving them enough run to hopefully make an accurate assessment as to their viability, and then perhaps moving on if Pittsburgh thinks things won’t work out. The wave of young players that has begun to arrive has another building up behind it (with another next year), and it’s likely to get bigger as the Pirates trade some players over the next few days. There are so many players here that Pittsburgh can’t keep/add them all, and while enough will likely fall off the bottom of the 40-man for the Pirates to roster the must-adds and the fringe pitching they like, and at least one of the catchers (Blake Sabol, Abrahan Gutierrez), there will undoubtedly be opportunities for a team that thinks it can augment one of the frame/arm strength pitchers on the fringe (Tahnaj Thomas, Santiago Florez, Eddy Yean) or that wants to hope it’s getting a rested/healthy Ricky DeVito or Cody Bolton, etc.

I’ve written this before, but it bears repeating with the Pirates in mind. Teams seem to be growing less inclined to 40-man (verb) prospects on the fringe, especially if they’re a hitter (because pitchers feel more at risk of being taken and sticking with their new teams in a limited role). Some of that has to do with the timing of last winter’s lockout and clubs guessing that there wouldn’t be a Rule 5 after it had ended, as well as the reverberations of the lost 2020 minor league season, but many more teams tended not to add players on the fringe after last offseason. When the Rule 5 Draft finally rolls around, there are only so many teams with 40-man space — the chances that any of your players is at the very top of those teams’ pref lists are remote and then after all that, the player needs to stick on the active roster for an entire season, which makes it even less likely that you’ll lose a player via this niche means of acquisition. The more teams flood the player pool with fringe prospects (which is what the Pirates are in position to do), the lower the likelihood that any of them is actually selected. Of course, the optics of losing a Shane Victorino or a Garrett Whitlock via the Rule 5 aren’t great, and neither is putting the org in a situation where it has to choose between J.D. Martinez and L.J. Hoes and maybe pick wrong. But the consequences of adding a player prematurely are not small. You often burn two option years, or compress the developmental timeline of the player in a consequential way for him and the org, all while occupying a valuable 40-man spot, which comes with its own set of opportunity costs. Despite the numbers here in Pittsburgh, it might be more likely that the Pirates leave room on their 40-man so they can add Rule 5 guys, since at worst they’re likely to break even in the unlikely event that one or two of their guys gets popped.

Los Angeles Dodgers

Current 40-man Count: 50 (10 on 60-day IL)
Pending Free Agents: 9-15 (David Price, Clayton Kershaw, Craig Kimbrel, Andrew Heaney, Tyler Anderson, Tommy Kahnle, Kevin Pillar, Jake Lamb, Trea Turner, mutual option with Justin Turner ($16 million), club options on Max Muncy ($13.5 million), Daniel Hudson ($6.5 million), Danny Duffy ($7 million), Hanser Alberto ($2 million), Jimmy Nelson ($1 million))
Must-Add Prospects: Michael Busch, Miguel Vargas, Andy Pages, Jonny DeLuca, Diego Cartaya, Jose Ramos, Carlos Duran
Current 40-man Fringe: Mitch White, Trayce Thompson, Cody Bellinger, Phil Bickford, Caleb Ferguson, Eddy Alvarez
Prospects on the Fringe: Alex De Jesus, Ryan Noda, Ryan Ward, Gus Varland, Mark Washington, Jose Adames, Guillermo Zuniga, Hyun-il Choi, and a couple hard-throwing pitchers at Rancho who aren’t throwing enough strikes to be considered.

This is perhaps the most interesting situation in baseball, as the Dodgers have a metric ton of free agents leaving the roster and a big chunk of high-profile prospects to add. Many of those prospects have overlapping roles (Michael Busch and Miguel Vargas, Jonny DeLuca, Andy Pages and Jose Ramos), but there is no shortstop and only a little bit of pitching on the way. Busch and Vargas (and Jorbit Vivas, who is already on the 40-man) are direct replacements for Justin Turner and Max Muncy if you want them to be, but as much as I like Jacob Amaya, there’s no internal star shortstop to replace Trea Turner.

The outfield group here is very interesting, and is where the crunch really comes in. I expect Ramos, Pages, DeLuca, Ryan Noda (arguably not an outfielder) and Ryan Ward would all be high on Rule 5 pref lists if left unprotected. Ramos and Pages have huge tools, but in all likelihood the Dodgers would be using a developmental 40-man spot on both of them (and Diego Cartaya) next year, as each has a risky hit tool. Fans should start to get used to the idea of Cody Bellinger being non-tendered, as he’s hovered around replacement level for the last couple of seasons and will likely be due close to $20 million in arbitration. Be it his shoulder injury, an inability to make adjustments at the plate, or some combination of those, it’s unfortunate how things have trended for him. Even if I’m right about that, it’s still tough to see the Dodgers loading five outfielders onto their 40-man in one fell swoop. The versatility of Zach McKinstry (and to a lesser degree Eddys Leonard and Gavin Lux), gives you some room for redundant/developmental players on the 40-man roster, but this group has as many as nine of them if you also count Alex De Jesus. It’s logical for some of this tension to be relaxed via trade, either now or after the season.

Other Thoughts

Some of the Arizona Diamondbacks’ pitching prospects will begin to arrive next year, as Ryne Nelson, Drey Jameson, and Tommy Henry all are in line for a 40-man spot. They have two December 2022 pitchers currently at High-A — Conor Grammes and Justin Martinez — who are each returning from injury and have shown really nasty late-inning bullpen stuff in the past. If either of them looks to be in peak form, they’ll be interesting 40-man decisions for the D-backs. Arizona also haa a thicc upper-level outfield contingent in compact catalyst Jorge Barrosa, corner platoon type Dominic Canzone, and 23-year-old power breakout guy Leandro Cedeno, while 21-year-old toolshed Wilderd Patino has had a bounce-back year at High-A and is Rule 5 eligible this offseason.

The San Francisco Giants have some tough calls. Luis Matos isn’t hitting, and I can’t even play the Arbitrary Endpoints Game to make it look like he’s hitting recently. I can do that with Hunter Bishop, who is hitting .252/.345/.465 since he took a little break to re-work his swing in May, but I’ve written about my skepticism there. Jairo Pomares is also striking out a ton. All are in their 40-man evaluation years.

The Colorado Rockies also have an interesting situation brewing. Most of Double-A Hartford is Rule-5 eligible (both newbies like Michael Toglia and Grant Lavigne, and passed-over types like Riley Pint and Hunter Stovall) and while I’m not especially high on that group, it’s likely a few of the org’s faves from that contingent will be added. I’m more interested in the A-ball hitters, like Ronaiker Palma, Warming Bernabel, and Julio Carreras, who has had a bounce-back season. The hitters at Low-A I like most (Juan Brito, Juan Guerrero) probably aren’t adds right now.

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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1 year ago

I don’t think that any of the Marlins, Phillies, Brewers, or Cubs have particularly tough choices. The Cubs I think are the best example of this, because that entire 40-man fringe could be DFA’d and no one would miss them. You’d need a couple of extra relievers if you’re getting rid of Leiter and Espinoza but Alzolay and Brailyn Marquez might be a bullpen arms at this point anyway, and a couple of those must-add prospects can serve as upper-level pitching depth.

So those teams will be okay. You can easily imagine the Brewers trading any of Turang, Valerio, or Carlos Rodriguez. Or maybe Eduardo Garcia or Mario Feliciano or Keston Hiura if you’re dealing with a team like the Marlins. But they don’t have to. And the Phillies–when they’re searching for upgrades–prioritize dealing O’Hoppe, Rojas, Muzzioti, Ortiz, and Marchan. But again, they don’t have to.