Every year on 40-Man Decision Day, there are a few typically minor trades as teams with crowded situations seek to move viable big league depth for which they lack roster space. Teams have foresight when it comes to this because they don’t want to end up losing players via DFA or the Rule 5 Draft that they might otherwise be able to trade for something, like an international bonus slot or a prospect. Teams have increasingly addressed this proactively during the trade deadline portion of the summer, consolidating 40-man space by packaging prospects in bigger deals for contributors. Others seek to flip their fringe 40-man candidates for younger players who won’t have to be put on the 40-man for a while, a transaction we call a “40-man churn.” Does your contending team with an aging pitching staff need a spot-starter for next season, just in case you suffer a rash of injuries? Trade me that interesting rookie-level player who’s going to take a few years to develop. This day is about roster equilibrium.
This is one of those unsexy areas where a team’s scouts and analysts get to shine, looking for a developmental project who has some ceiling or someone who has a sneaky ability to play a minor big-league role next year. If you’d like to see analysis of more deals as a way of better understand various club motivations, check out last year’s piece. Here are yesterday’s trades:
C Andres Melendez
2B Mark Mathias
The Brewers 40-man is thin on infielders because the team outrighted Hernan Perez and Cory Spangenberg, neither of which hit last year, while Mike Moustakas is a free agent. This, combined with Keston Hiura’s injury history, creates a need for depth on the infield. With Tyler Saladino and Orlando Arcia on the roster, it’s logical that added depth be offensive-minded, and that’s true of Mathias, who has feel for contact (a 9% swinging strike rate in 2019) and controls the zone (11% career walk rate). He’s played second and third base, so there’s some versatility should he be called upon, though Mathias’ 45-grade power is a barrier between him and regular playing time.
Cleveland had lots of players like this already on their 40, so they churned Mathias for 18-year-old Venezuelan catcher Andres Melendez. Melendez had unremarkable numbers in the 2019 AZL, his first full domestic pro season, but statistical performance at that level isn’t really relevant. Most scouts like Melendez and a few of them texted me last night cursing Cleveland for poaching him. I added Melendez to the Brewers page on THE BOARD during the summer, with the following report:
Melendez is a very twitchy, athletic catcher with great mobility behind the plate. He also has advanced feel for contact and his relatively mature strength lets him hit for gap power presently. He’s not very projetable so it’s unlikely much power will be part of his profile at peak, but he at least has a backup skillset right now, and may be competent enough as an offensive player to be a regular if he hits for enough contact, which appears to be in play.
Melendez hits the ball hard consistently, especially for his age. A source told me a slightly above-average percentage of his balls in play were hit at or above 95 mph, the standard exit velo for hard hit rate assessment. The source indicates our 45/50 visual raw power grade is right, which is already fine for a catcher.
The Brewers liked Melendez, but their desire to compete and have viable depth right now means they value players like Mathias more than long-term prospects like Melendez, and the rate of attrition for teenage catchers makes Melendez quite risky.
Tampa Bay gets:
3B Curtis Mead
LHP Cristopher Sanchez
In part due to injuries, the Phillies were forced to run a bunch of soft-tossers out of the bullpen late last year. Sanchez is not that. A wispy 6-foot-5, Sanchez’s velo climbed from 88-93 to the 92-95 range, topping out at 98, and that was in multi-inning relief stints and starts lasting as long as five innings. His changeup progressed, and he’s now the hardest-throwing lefty on the Phillies 40-man and may compete for a spot in the bullpen during the spring.
Mead, a 19-year-old Australian infielder, is an interesting developmental project for the Rays. He signed with just a few weeks left on the 2017 July 2 calendar and only played four games during the summer of 2018 before picking up at-bats during instructional league. While my scout and front office sources describe him as being raw, Mead performed surprisingly well — .285/.351/.462 with a 13% strikeout rate — against what is almost certainly the best pitching he’s ever seen. Again, rookie-level stats aren’t a reliable means of evaluation on their own, but in this case they underscore a surprising level of competence given Mead’s inexperience.
The international and pro scouting sources I tapped to talk about Mead mentioned his very projectable, 6-foot-2 frame first. He has power projection because of the frame and a fairly advanced hit tool given his background.
Mead played shortstop as an amateur in Australia and all over the infield in 2019. Based purely on how he looks right now, he projects as a corner outfielder, but there may be more room for growth — better footwork and actions — as he accrues reps.
RHP Jose De Leon
Tampa Bay gets:
Cash and a Player To Be Named Later
The Rays began dealing with their very crowded 40-man situation during the summer by trading talented but either risky (Jesus Sanchez) or redundant (Nick Solak, several members of the bullpen) pieces in trades. Most of the space created by those trades was quickly occupied by a bevy of rehabbing pitchers who needed to come off the 60-day IL and be put back on the 40-man. De Leon was one of those pitchers.
A former Top 100 prospect, De Leon missed most of the last several seasons due to multiple arm injuries, including one that required Tommy John. He came back in May and started for two months before the Rays started varying his usage. He threw a few big league innings out of the bullpen in September. He was averaging about 91 on his fastball during his first several rehab starts but was up to 95 out of the bullpen late in the year. Perhaps the Reds’ new approach to developing pitching can help De Leon find a better breaking ball, but realistically he projects as a fastball/changeup reliever, and only if some velo comes back.
As far as the PTBNL in this deal, I don’t know who’s on the list of potential targets nor how long the Rays have to decide, but they’ve picked teams’ pockets on PTBNLs before. The Rays have gone the PTBNL route often enough now that we have some idea of how they go about deciding; they send a stream of scouts in to see the candidates, sometimes multiple scouts at a time. Meanwhile, the Reds are doing a version of instructional league in January.
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.