The 40-Man Roster Crunch: Finding Room
Welcome to 40-Man Roster Crunch week here at Crashburn Alley. Over the next few days, I’m going to distract from the fact that nothing is going on with the Phillies as the World Series continues by focusing on the impending struggle to keep all of the team’s best prospects ahead of the Rule 5 draft. For those two don’t know, the Rule 5 Draft occurs every December on the final day of the Winter Meetings. That day, every Minor League player not currently on a team’s 40-Man roster is available to be claimed by another team, providing a couple conditions are met.
Generally speaking, to be eligible for this draft, a player drafted out of high school or signed as an international free agent must have spent five seasons in the Minor Leagues. If drafted out of college, the player must only have spent four seasons in the Minors. There some edge cases (if a player’s original contract is voided, for instance, they are often immediately eligible), but generally, if those conditions are met, a new team can acquire the player for $50,000. The catch is, they must then not only spend the entire next season on the acquiring team’s 40-man roster, but also the active roster. That is often prohibitive. There are some loopholes, as suspended or injured players are not returned, but generally, that’s the idea.
The Phillies have a notable number of players who are not only Rule 5 eligible this season, but are also worthy of protecting from the draft. It’s not the worst problem to have. This series is split into four parts, including one examining prospects who are locks to be added to the roster, another for prospects who are likely to be added to the roster, and a final one for those who have the potential to be lost in the Rule 5 draft. Today, we’ll begin by clearing the table, and examining the Phillies’ current 40-man roster. Doing this will hopefully give an idea of how many spots are actually available for Phillies’ Minor League prospects. This series begins with the basic assumption that the Phillies aren’t interested in selecting a player themselves in the Rule 5 draft, but were an available prospect from another team more valuable than the current player in the 40th roster spot, that might effect their decision. I don’t think that’ll happen though.
We can begin by acknowledging the six players already removed from the Phillies’ 40-man roster. Last week, it was announced that Emmanuel Burriss, Jimmy Paredes, Patrick Schuster, Frank Herrmann, Dalier Hinojosa, and Colton Murray were the first wave of outrights for the Phillies this offseason. None of those moves are very shocking, but I would say that Hinojosa and Murray, relievers who hit 95-96, are the most likely of the bunch to spend significant time on the Phillies in 2017, as bullpen depth. While this move subtracts six players from the end of season 40-Man roster, there are three players (Aaron Nola, Zach Eflin, and Matt Harrison) on the sixty-day disabled list who will need to be given roster spots in the offseason.
Roster spots filled: 37
Departing Via Free Agency
Obviously, after receiving his buyout, Ryan Howard will no longer be a Phillies player. I’d also argue that David Hernandez, Peter Bourjos, and A.J. Ellis will follow him to free agency. Because the team isn’t exactly settled in the bullpen or outfield, I could see an argument for their respective returns, but I think the team will look for some larger improvements on free agent or trade markets in those areas. I feel fairly confident that Jeremy Hellickson will decline the large qualifying offer and magically turn into a first round pick, but I’m also confident that it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world if he accepted.
If he doesn’t, the team will likely still look for a veteran starting pitcher, and I’m feeling increasingly positive about the idea of accepting Charlie Morton‘s mutual option. Depending on the team’s concerns about the injury that ended his season, a $9.5 million, one-year deal for a #3/4 starter would be a bargain in this market. He’s also trying to reestablish his value, so it could work for both sides. Andres Blanco is loved by the team, and he may come back for one more season. Of the seven players, I’m guessing Morton and Blanco return.
Roster spots filled: 35, and a sandwich-round pick
Matt Harrison is the most interesting case here, and is the player with the highest salary currently on the roster. However, presuming he’s on the shelf (only receiving the roster spot for the offseason until he can be placed back on the disabled list), the team only owes him 25 percent of his $13.25 million 2017 salary ($3.3125 million), with insurance picking up the remaining tab. Presumably, if they also expect he won’t pitch in 2018, they’d rather take his $2 million buyout (assuming insurance won’t cover that). He’s paid the same $15.25 million regardless, but if he is given a roster spot, the team only owes him a total of $5.3125 million on his remaining contract. If they release him, the team is on the hook for all $15.25 million. While this doesn’t give an exact estimate how much teams value roster spots, this does offer an interesting benchmark for their value. Some simple math states that if they have a prospect that they value at more than the extra $9.9375 million they’d have to pay, the Phillies should give Harrison’s roster spot to someone else. If they don’t, and don’t expect Harrison to pitch, they value control of the top Rule 5 eligible player sitting in the team’s 41st roster spot at less than that amount. Maybe there’s a flaw in that logic I’m not considering, but I’d guess that there is someone worth that amount to the team, and they DFA Harrison.
Roster spots filled: 34
Per Cots Contracts, there are five arbitration-eligible players on the Phillies’ roster. They are Jeanmar Gomez, Freddy Galvis, Darin Ruf, Cody Asche, and Cesar Hernandez. After their 2016 seasons, Galvis and Hernandez are very clearly safe, and will be tendered contracts. Asche does have a potential role on the team, since there are a couple spots open in the outfield. However, he has been a below-average hitter in the Major Leagues and isn’t liked by defensive metrics. He doesn’t benefit from having large splits that improve his value as a role player. I think he ends up non-tendered this offseason. Ruf isn’t a strong fielder and had a really rough 2016. It is also hard to carry multiple first basemen and given Tommy Joseph’s surprising 2016, he definitely gets a spot. Ruf does still have a career 151 wRC+ against LHP, he could feasibly be a part time bat for someone, but I think he’s in the same boat with Asche.
Gomez somehow ended the season with a 4.85 ERA, while also loading up with 37 saves (however, that was all with a 94 FIP- and strong groundball rates). He’ll gain a big boost in arbitration because of those saves despite ugly run prevention numbers. He’s more of a borderline case for non-tender than I would have thought, but there aren’t a lot of other financial commitments, his season isn’t quite as bad as it looks, and there’s a lot of volatility in the bullpen as-is. I think he stays.
Roster spots filled: 32
I’ve grouped the below players first by role, and then by arbitrary, indefensible odds purely meant to communicate my gut instinct, so take those with a massive grain of salt.
The 100 percent section shouldn’t be shocking to anyone. as those six players comprise the Phillies’ current starting rotation and closer. The 85 percent grouping consists of hard-throwing rookies Ramos and Rodriguez, as well as prospect Cordero (he hits 102 mph). The odds are good that those guys remain. Morgan and Asher are two options for rotation depth in triple-A, Major League long-relief, or just your standard relief conversion. Morgan is a lefty, so he’s probably marginally ahead of Asher. A couple of the remaining pitchers will likely make the roster, but you could convince me that it will be basically any two of them. I’m moving forward with Michael Mariot, and Luis Garcia (his pitches are straight as an arrow, but he at least might be the quietest 100 mph pitcher in the Majors).
Basically all of the remaining pre-arbitration bats are certain to remain on the 40-man Roster. Goeddel was last year’s Rule 5 pick and didn’t have a great debut, but I don’t think the team stashed him on the roster all season just to DFA him the second they gained complete team control. Like Alfaro, he’ll probably begin 2017 in the Minors, but all of these players are staying.
MLB Roster Picture:
Pitchers (15): Nola, Velasquez, Eickhoff, Thompson, Eflin, Morton (or another veteran starting pitcher), Neris, Gomez, Ramos, Rodriguez, Cordero, Morgan, Asher, Mariot, Garcia.
Catchers (2): Rupp, Alfaro.
Infielders (5): Franco, Galvis, Hernandez, Joseph, Blanco.
Outfielders (4): Altherr, Herrera, Quinn, Goeddel.
Roster spots filled: 26
Spots to Fill:
Looking at the above summary, there are still a few spots that need to be filled. Assuming Jorge Alfaro begins the season in triple-A, that means the Phillies need a backup catcher. That jump to triple-A for Alfaro means that Andrew Knapp needs somewhere to go, and that may be Philadelphia out of Spring Training. Spoiler alert, but Knapp is one of the locks that will be discussed in tomorrow’s post anyway. Given that he didn’t hit as well as many hoped in triple-A, I was initially reluctant to the idea of him breaking camp with the team. However, he needs everyday at-bats and if he isn’t traded, that might have to be at the Major League level. A less convenient alternative would involve the team signing a light-hitting, veteran catcher who is probably a strong receiver (AKA, re-signing A.J. Ellis). I’ll move forward presuming Knapp though.
Since Goeddel will be in the Minors, there are two bench outfield positions open on the roster. As Matt Winkelman recently wrote, this means that either Cody Asche, or his replacement on the roster, will be the bench OF favorite in Spring Training. I might be in favor of instead resigning Bourjos, who is a comparable hitter, but stronger defender in the field than Asche. Since two spots are needed, I also imagine they’ll acquire a starting outfielder, given all of the time the team has spent talking about acquiring multiple veteran bats this offseason. There is also a bench infield spot available, and that may go to an outside hire, likely in the form of a super-utility starter (in the mold of Ben Zobrist, Martin Prado, et al.). On the pitching side, we’ve already accounted for a veteran starting pitcher in Morton, but it is possible that the team acquires a different player. I also imagine they will sign another rebound candidate free agent reliever. In total, that is another four spots on the roster.
Roster spots filled: 30
So, after all of these roster gymnastics, we are able to field an entire 25-Man roster, with a little MLB-ready pitching depth. By my count, that’s six definite MLB starting pitchers (maybe Eflin begins the season in triple-A if everyone is healthy). Morgan and Asher are either triple-A as rotation depth, or are multi-inning relievers who can be stretched if necessary. Fronted by Hector Neris and a newly acquired veteran, the bullpen has 8-9 relievers in competition for spots. On the position player side, there’s a full bench and a slightly improved lineup due to the amorphous, hypothetical “veteran bats.” Additionally, if the team does decide that Andrew Knapp is a Major League catcher on day one, that’s one of the Rule 5 eligible prospects already on the roster. This estimates that roughly 30 roster spots will have been filled at this point, leaving room for 10 more players.
Wow! Ten whole roster spots. There’s no way that there could be more Rule 5 Eligible players worth adding to the Roster, right? We’ll take a look at that tomorrow with a continuation of this series, examining the players who are locks to join the roster.