Tampa Bay’s pre-deadline activity — trading bat-first prospect Nick Solak for electric reliever Peter Fairbanks, then moving recently-DFA’d reliever Ian Gibaut for a Player to be Named, and sending reliever Hunter Wood and injured post-prospect infielder Christian Arroyo to Cleveland for international bonus space and outfielder Ruben Cardenas, a recent late-round pick who was overachieving at Low-A — got us thinking about how teams’ anticipation of the fall 40-man deadline might impact their activity and the way they value individual prospects, especially for contending teams.
In November, teams will need to decide which minor league players to expose to other teams through the Rule 5 Draft, or protect from the Draft by adding them to their 40-man roster. Deciding who to expose means evaluating players, sure, but it also means considering factors like player redundancy (like Tampa seemed to when they moved Solak) and whether a prospect is too raw to be a realistic Rule 5 target, as well as other little variables such as the number of option years a player has left, whether he’s making the league minimum or in arbitration, and if there are other, freely available alternatives to a team’s current talent (which happens a lot to slugging first base types).
Teams with an especially high number of rostered players under contract for 2020 and with many 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 that team has incentive to clear the overflow of players away via trade for something they can keep — pool space, comp picks, or typically younger players whose 40-man clocks are further from midnight — rather than do nothing, and later lose players on waivers or in the Rule 5 draft.
As we sat twiddling our thumbs, waiting for it to rain trades or not, we compiled quick breakdowns of contending teams’ 40-man situations, using the Roster Resource pages to see who has the biggest crunch coming and might behave differently in the trade market because of it. The Rays, in adding Fairbanks and rental second baseman Eric Sogard while trading Solak, Arroyo, etc., filled a short-term need at second with a really good player and upgraded a relief spot while thinning out their 40-man in preparation for injured pitchers Anthony Banda and Tyler Glasnow to come off the 60-day IL and rejoin the roster. These sorts of considerations probably impacted how the Cubs valued Thomas Hatch in today’s acquisition of David Phelps from Toronto, as Hatch will need to be Rule 5 protected this fall.
For this exercise, we used contenders with 40% or higher playoff odds, which gives us the Astros, Yankees, Twins, Indians, Red Sox, and Rays in the AL and the Dodgers, Braves, Nationals, Cubs, and Cardinals in the NL, with the Brewers, Phillies, and A’s as the teams just missing the cut.
Some quick rules about 40-man rosters. Almost none of them contain exactly 40 players in-season because you can add a player to the 40 to replace a player who’s on the 60-day injured list. In the offseason, you don’t get extra spots for injured players and have to get down to 40, so if you want to keep some of the injury fill-ins (like Mike Tauchman of the Yankees), you have to cut someone to make room.
In November, clubs have to add prospects to the 40-man to protect them from the Rule 5 draft, and the protection rules are sort of obtuse, so we’re lucky that RosterResource/Jason Martinez put players’ Rule 5 eligibility on the player pages for us. Most teams add a handful of players and some add just one, while 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 we ignore those below. Instead, we’re focused on the number of players on the 40-man right now, how many free agents come off that number at the end of the season, which prospects might go on (or won’t), 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, possible-add prospects), we’ve underlined the players who we project will be cut from the 40-man or not added to it, respectively.
Now we’ll rank the teams’ 40-man roster status on the peanut butter scale, from the crunchiest to the smoothest:
Two Clubs With Decisions to Make
1. New York Yankees
Current 40-Man Count: 49
Pending Free Agents: 7 (Edwin Encarnación, Didi Gregorius, Austin Romine, Cameron Maybin, Brett Gardner, CC Sabathia, Dellin Betances)
Must-Add Prospects: 3 (Deivi Garcia, Estevan Florial, Luis Gil)
Fringe Current 40-Man Members: 11 (Albert Abreu, Domingo Acevedo, Nestor Cortes Jr., Stephen Tarpley, Chance Adams, David Hale, Joe Harvey, Jake Barrett, Kyle Higashioka, Ben Heller, Daniel Camarena)
Possible-Add Prospects: 15 (Nick Nelson, Oswaldo Cabrera, Miguel Yajure, Luis Medina, Rony Garcia, Michael King, Ben Ruta, Dermis Garcia, Trevor Lane, Kaleb Ort, Pablo Olivares, Freicer Perez, Isiah Gilliam, Jio Orozco, Brooks Kriske)
This simple math (49-7) leaves the Yankees with 42 players at the season’s end, so they’ll need to subtract two from the 11-man fringe category to begin the offseason. Once the offseason starts, they’ll still need to add a backup catcher and some pitching, along with those three big prospects for sure, but more likely about six, as some of the younger prospects represent upgrades to some of the current relievers. It’s typical for the Yankees to lose a few pitchers in the Rule 5, and it appears likely to happen again this year. We think Luis Medina might be too raw for teams to take, and that the Yankees may dare someone to do it.
For our purposes here, we’ll project as though they aren’t adding any free agents (since it could be done via trade of players on the 40-man for a net neutral effect), so if you think they’ll sign a free agent, you’ll need to cut another player for each one they add.
This means some players on the prospect list won’t get protected; we did some projecting by underlining the fringe 40-man members who we think should/will get cut, along with the prospects who won’t get added to the 40-man, but could draw some measure of interest in the Rule 5 draft.
The point of decision here would seem to be protecting either Yajure from the Rule 5 Draft, a 21-year-old starter with three pitches who’s performing well in High-A, or holding onto Chance Adams, who has two years of weak performance at the upper levels, with 2020 his last optionable year, for big league pitching depth. That may not seem like a grueling decision, but the Yankees will be trading, cutting, or not protecting a player of some value, and may need to do tougher version of this exercise a couple more times, while other contenders won’t have to make any decisions as tough as Yajure vs. Adams.
2. Tampa Bay Rays
Current 40-Man Count: 42
Pending Free Agents: 3 (Travis d’Arnaud, Avisail Garcia, Eric Sogard)
Must-Add Prospects: 4 (Vidal Brujan, Ronaldo Hernandez, Lucius Fox, Moises Gomez)
Fringe Current 40-Man Members: 9 (Matt Duffy, Ji-Man Choi, Joe McCarthy, Jake Faria, Oliver Drake, Austin Pruitt, Chaz Roe, Mike Zunino, Guillermo Heredia)
Possible-Add Prospects: 10 (Garrett Whitley, Chris Betts, Ryan Boldt, Resly Linares, Joel Peguero, Kean Wong, Matt Krook, Jake Cronenworth, Curtis Taylor, Roberto Alvarez)
The Rays have already made this situation a little less crunchy with their recent moves, and they’ll naturally arrive at an acceptably rostered 39 players when the season ends. By December, some decisions will need to be made as there are four to six prospects to add, and some fringe 40-man types who are eligible for arbitration (Daniel Robertson, Matt Duffy, Chaz Roe, Mike Zunino, Guillermo Heredia); they can likely wait until March to make decisions on Ji-Man Choi and Jake Faria, who are out-of-options.
Whitley, a tweener with big power and big K’s, who missed 2018 with a shoulder injury and is only in High-A, and Betts, a Low-A catcher with thump but an injury history, are both tough carries in the Rule 5 Draft, so we’d expect one or both of them, along with the rest of that 10-man possible-add list, to be left unprotected. Some clubs with less 40-man depth might protect those two to be sure to keep them, but Tampa Bay has lots of major league-quality depth to keep around on the 40-man in lieu of buying it with their meager payroll.
We think the fringe 40-man members who will get bumped are Heredia, a fourth outfielder who’s a hair above replacement level and is entering arbitration, Zunino, who will be due $5 million-plus in arbitration and has a .537 OPS, and Roe, a 33-year old middle reliever with a Wiffle ball slider who’s due $2 million-plus in arbitration and has a 4.82 xFIP. The Rays could just non-tender their three arb cases and hold onto Pruitt, a 30-year-old finesse utility arm who’s out of options in 2020, until they sign a replacement for Zunino, sign their first free agent, or decide to protect Whitley or Betts. If the Rays want to make multiple additions to the 40-man in free agency, or protect both Betts and Whitley, they’ll have to cut some players who would draw trade interest. Wander Franco is also a strong candidate to be added to the roster during the 2020 season.
Three Clubs That Will Be Tight
3. Los Angeles Dodgers
Current 40-Man Count: 42
Pending Free Agents: 6 (Russell Martin, Rich Hill, Hyu-Jin Ryu, David Freese, Tony Cingrani, Kris Negron)
Must-Add Prospects: 2 (D.J. Peters, Mitch White)
Fringe Current 40-Man Members: 8 (Brock Stewart, Edwin Rios, Yadier Alvarez, Yimi Garcia, Tyler White, Casey Sadler, Kyle Garlick)
Possible-Add Prospects: 5 (Carlos Rincon, Jordan Sheffield, Cristian Santana, Cody Thomas)
This doesn’t seem like a high-pressure situation right now, but departures in free agency mean the Dodgers will likely try to add a starter beyond simply letting White debut. That might mean exposing Thomas, a tooly, slow-to-develop, two-sport college athlete, to the Rule 5, or perhaps parting with Tyler White, who got squeezed off Houston’s roster recently. The departure of David Freese opens room for more corner infield types even though White, who is out of options, is a similar player to Edwin Rios, who still has two option years left. Alvarez may be a bit of a wild card simply due to his relationship with the org. And remember, Gavin Lux and Dustin May might force their way onto the roster early next year, too.
4. Houston Astros
Current 40-Man Count: 40
Pending Free Agents: 7 (Gerrit Cole, Joe Smith, Robinson Chirinos, Will Harris, Wade Miley, Collin McHugh, Hector Rondon)
Must-Add Prospects: 1 (Abraham Toro)
Fringe Current 40-Man Members: 7 (Derek Fisher, Brady Rodgers, Francis Martes, Reymin Guduan, Dean Deetz, Cy Sneed, Jack Mayfield)
Possible-Add Prospects: 10 (Jojanse Torres, Cristian Javier, Enoli Paredes, Brandon Bailey, Ronnie Dawson, Yohan Ramirez, Jonathan Arauz, Enmanuel Valdez, Carlos Sanabria, Erasmo Pinales)
Houston will need to replace Chirinos and are losing enough high-end pitching that it’s safe to assume they’ll be looking to add some from outside the org at some point, perhaps by targeting pitchers with multiple years of control in the trade market. If they start adding from external sources, and if Forrest Whitley forces his way onto the roster next year, it’s more likely the cuts come from the back of that current 40-man group.
It makes sense for one of Dawson or Fisher to be traded (maybe to Baltimore) rather than for one to be left vulnerable; Fisher will be out of options, and Dawson needs to be added to the 40-man. Valdez is young for High-A but isn’t hitting and some teams are scared of his frame causing early decline. Pinales and Sanabria have good stuff but were unprotected last year.
5. Cleveland Indians
Current 40-Man Count: 46
Pending Free Agents: 2 (Jason Kipnis, Tyler Clippard)
Must-Add Prospects: 2 (Triston McKenzie, Daniel Johnson)
Fringe Current 40-Man Members: 17 (Christian Arroyo, Kevin Plawecki, Mike Freeman, Eric Haase, Hunter Wood, Phil Maton, Jean Carlos Mejia, Dan Otero, Andrew Velazquez, A.J. Cole, Jordan Stephens, Eric Stamets, Cody Anderson, Adam Plutko, Josh Smith, Jon Edwards, Jefry Rodriguez)
Possible-Add Prospects: 4 (Jose Fermin, Luis Oviedo, Ka’ai Tom, Juan Hillman)
The Indians have a lot of fringe guys on their 40-man and the way they’ve gone about acquiring talent (little deals for platoon types to get slightly better, with depth, across the 40-man) seems to indicate they’re aware of this, trying to get better on the margins whenever possible. They’ll need to cut four to start the offseason, then at least two more for November protection time. We don’t think they get to the point of having to dump players who are valuable until Jean Carlos Mejia, so there are still a few more players of buffer if they decide to protect Tom or sign a few free agents.
Six Clubs That Won’t Have a Problem
6. Minnesota Twins: The Twins only have 37 on their 40-man right now, with no one on the 60-day IL, and six pending free agents. Their farm system will eat up most of that open space, with five prospects we classify as must-adds (Brusdar Graterol, Jhoan Duran, Jorge Alcala, Jovani Moran, and Luis Rijo), and a couple more from their deep system we could also justify. Minnesota has a couple of utility arms and C.J. Cron entering his third year of arbitration who can be cut to make room for additions.
7. Chicago Cubs: The Cubs have 44 on their roster now and will lose seven to free agency, but only have two must-add prospects in Miguel Amaya and Zack Short; that puts them at 39. But with some real talent leaving they’ll need to replace, some pitching depth will likely get sent off to make room for name-brand bullpen help.
8. Washington Nationals: The Nationals also have a bunch of pending free agents with eight, and only one must-add prospect in Sterling Sharp. They’ll have to cut a few utility arms from the back of their 40, but shouldn’t lose real value doing so.
9. St. Louis Cardinals: The Cards have 43 players on the roster, four coming off due to free agency, and three prospect must-adds in Eleheuris Montero, Randy Arozarena, and Junior Fernandez. They’ll have to cut some of the replacement-level types on the back of the roster, but there are at least three there to allow for some breathing room in free agency.
10. Atlanta Braves: With nine pending free agents, 41 on the roster currently, and only four projected prospect additions (Cristian Pache, William Contreras, Jasseel De La Cruz, Tucker Davidson), the math for the Braves is pretty low stress. The quality young depth of post-prospects also means they don’t have to add a bunch of free agents to improve in 2020, but can add a couple of players (maybe Drew Waters mid-2020 as well) and hope for or expect improvement from the inconsistent 20-somethings.
11. Boston Red Sox: Boston starts at 42, then loses six free agents, has one must-add prospect in Bobby Dalbec and has about six to ten inventory depth types they can lop off the end of the 40 if they add a lot of new big leaguers.
Two Non-Contenders That’ll Have A Lot of Decisions to Make
San Diego Padres
Current 40-Man Count: 48
Pending Free Agents: 1 (Craig Stammen)
Must-Add Prospects: 0
Fringe Current 40-Man Members: 14 (Edward Olivares, Pedro Avila, Anderson Espinoza, Travis Jankowski, Jacob Nix, Miguel Diaz, Robert Stock, Aaron Loup, Brett Kennedy, Gerardo Reyes, Brad Wieck, Jose Castillo, Adam Warren, Luis Torrens)
Possible-Add Prospects: 14 (Buddy Reed, Esteury Ruiz, Jorge Ona, Ronald Bolanos, Trevor Megill, Jason Vosler, Henry Henry, Jordan Guerrero, Dauris Valdez, Starlin Cordero, Brad Zunica, Evan Miller)
You can see how trading one of the big league corner outfielders, like Hunter Renfroe or Franmil Reyes, would make it easier to roster Jorge Ona in the offseason. Jankowski is made expendable by Reed. Most of the decision points here surround likely relief pitching (for us, it’s a question of Megill and Bolanos versus the guys already on the 40), and you can pref those guys out in a couple acceptable ways. Ruiz will be an interesting case since he’s a good prospect but has had a bad year. Last year, we saw the Padres wait until the deadline to clean up the 40 and they walked away with some interesting stuff, including Vosler and two prospects (Esteban Quiroz and Ignacio Feliz) who aren’t near the 40-man.
Current 40-Man Count: 46
Pending Free Agents: 4 (Asdrubal Cabrera, Hunter Pence, Edinson Volquez, Logan Forsythe)
Must-Add Prospects: 7 (Nick Solak, Anderson Tejeda, Tyler Phillips, Sherten Apostel, Emmanuel Clase, Leody Taveras, Joe Barlow)
Fringe Current 40-Man Members: 13 (Danny Santana, Shane Carle, Ariel Jurado, Adrian Sampson, Zack Granite, Scott Heineman, Tim Federowicz, Luke Farrell, Taylor Guerrieri, Phillips Valdez, Locke St. John, Rafael Montero, Jesse Biddle)
Possible-Add Prospects: 7 (Eli White, Demarcus Evans, Pedro Gonzalez, Yoel Espinal, Brendon Davis, Reid Anderson, Mike Matuella)
This situation, in which Texas is poised to have a lot of 40-man turnover as it prepares for a wave of prospects to join the rebuild, might make it harder for the Rangers to find a trade partner with a contender this week, since they’re not a natural fit to take on a contenders’ 40-man crunch. As you can see, Texas has to jettison almost all of their fringe 40-man members if they stand pat late into November.