Tomorrow evening, November 20th, is the deadline to add players to the 40-man roster in order to protect them from the Rule 5 Draft in December. The purpose of the Rule 5 draft is to provide a path to the majors for players who are skilled enough to play, but are blocked by too many good players in front of them.
To that end, any players who were 18 or younger on the June 5 before they signed and have been in the system for five years, or who were 19 or older on the June 5 before they signed and have been in the system for four years, and who are not placed on their team's 40-man roster, are eligible to be chosen by another team.
If the player is chosen in December's draft, they must be placed on the active 25-man roster of their acquiring team, and then must remain on the active roster for an entire season (otherwise, they are returned to their original team).
The most infamous Rule 5 draftee in Rays history is of course Josh Hamilton. The Rays left him unprotected before the 2007 season due to struggles with drug addiction and the Reds poached him. He went on to post 27.3 WAR over the next eight seasons, including an eight-WAR season in 2010.
Are there any Josh Hamilton's who need to be added to the Rays 40-man? Probably not, but there are still a few interesting decisions Matt Silverman has to make. Let's step through them.
On the Current 40-Man Roster (38 players)
In judging who will stay or who will go, the first thing we want to look for is expendable players and/or expiring contracts. While the platoon of DDJ and Guyer is an obvious roster overload, but both players are under favorable contracts with solid defense in the corners, and their bats are two sides of a valuable coin for a small market team.
Matt Joyce is in the last year of his contract, making him unlikely to return to the Rays in 2015. If Matt Silverman were to trade Joyce for prospects that don't need to be added to the 40-man roster, it would be optimal to do it before tomorrow's deadline.
On the other hand, if opposing GMs think he has a mindset of "needing to trade Joyce," the Rays are likely to receive lowball offers. I'd imagine that Silverman is maintaining that he has no problem entering the season with the righty-masher under contract, and that he'll continue to hold him until he's offered something real.
Aside from Joyce, everyone here is likely to break camp with the Rays in 2015, but if we had to choose, the speedy Guyer might be at risk.
In this category, we have four starters, three utility players, and three "shortstops of the future." That means that it's a great future, right?
In all seriousness, both Zobrist and Rodriguez are in a similar situation to Joyce. They're entering their last year of team control, and are therefore trade candidates.
Zobrist will surely be held unless someone offers a very strong trade package, and we can doubt that materializes in the next 24 hours. Rodriguez's spot is less sure.
If the Rays think that the killer F's -- Forsythe, Figueroa, and Franklin -- can match his production, then they may be willing to trade him cheaply, as the 40-man roster spot could be used to protect a prospect more important to the Rays future.
However, if any player were to be cut from the ten, keep your eyes out for Cole Figueroa's name on the waiver wire, as he sits at the bottom of the depth chart.
Nothing to see here. If anything the Rays will be adding catchers to the roster.
Nine Starting Pitchers:
No names are at risk to be removed from the roster, if anything the Rays are stuck adding a player who doesn't really have an impact until mid-summer.
During the season, an injured player like Matt Moore could be put on the 60-day Disabled list to free up a spot on both the active and the 40-man roster. During the offseason, though, that's not an option. Moore takes up a spot while he rehabs his arm, and there's nothing that can be done about it.
Ten Relief Pitchers:
Yeah, I'd like to trade Grant Balfour too. Not going to happen.
The thing about the Rule 5 draft is that the bullpen is the easiest place to hide someone claimed. If there's a pitcher with good potential left unprotected in double-A, teams will try to grab him and let him ride the pine and pitch in mop-up duty for a season, regardless if he's a starter or reliever.
It's why, for instance, I'd be very nervous if the Rays were to leave someone like Jeff Ames off their 40-man, even though he's pretty unlikely to contribute to a playoff team for a a couple years yet. That said, this is too many relievers. Guys like Geltz and Rief and even Gomes have value enough to pitch in the show but are not topping this list, so watch all three as candidates to be moved by tomorrow.
Ten Possible Additions:
As it stands now, the Rays have 38 of 40 spots filled. These ten players are not included, but should be identified as possibilities to be claimed. I've ordered them very roughly by how likely I think they are to be protected. We'll go through each one more tomorrow, but here's a brief rundown:
- Mahtook was 25% above average offensively in triple-A Durham last season. He can play all three outfield spots. He was once a first-round pick. A team could very easily make him their fourth or fifth outfielder right now.
- 'Bustin O'Conner still strikes out too much and doesn't walk enough, but that strikeout number is no longer cripplingly extreme, and his vaunted power finally showed up last season in Charlotte, when he knocked 10 home runs in 340 plate appearances. He's also a catcher, and an extremely good defensive one. He probably has the best arm behind the plate in the Rays system. He too could easily be stashed on a bench, particularly for a team with a catcher who rarely takes a night off (like the Royals and Salvador Perez).
- A former second round pick, Ryan Brett is fast and rarely strikes out. He can probably play multiple positions on the infield well, and with his speed, would be a good candidate to move to the outfield as well in the Ben Zobrist model. I think there's a chance he could be snuck through the draft, but I wouldn't bet on it.
- Adam Liberatore is an interesting case. He was eligible for last year's Rule 5 Draft. He was not protected. He was not picked. Then he went and struck out 34.8% of the batters he faced in triple-A while walking only 6.1% over 65 innings. This man will be in a major league bullpen next season -- either the Rays' or someone else's. If Silveman thinks he can't protect him, trade him for something right now.
- No, his numbers aren't eye-catching, but Andriese is already pitching in triple-A. He may not be the biggest of prizes, but he's close enough to the majors to be a target, and can contribute in the show if needed.
- I'm going to lump Jeff Ames, Grayson Garvin, and Merrill Kelly together. They're all guys who might do okay as the last man in a bullpen right now, but who the almost surely aren't ready to contribute at a high level in the majors. I don't think the Rays protect any of them, but I wouldn't be shocked to see them claimed. Ames is a first-round pick who has never pitched above high-A. The other two are closer to the majors but probably have lower ceilings.
Who do you think the Rays should protect? Tune in tomorrow for our concluding coverage on Rays 40-man roster moves, and keep your fingers crossed for a trade. There's some guys I'd rather not see cut.