The 40 Man Trumps All! A look at this offseason's 40 man roster situation

We've only got about three more weeks before the regular season ends and the playoffs (hopefully featuring the Rangers) begin.

With the offseason thus not too far off, I thought it would be worthwhile to take a look at the Rangers' 40 man roster situation, who is likely to be added this offseason, who is dropping off, and what tough decisions will have to be made in the 2011-12 winter.

Questions about how the 40 man roster works?  Check out this primer at MLB Daily Dish.

First, a rundown of the 40 man roster, as it stands now:

 

 

Pitchers Positional Players
Mike Adams Mike Napoli
Omar Beltre Taylor Teagarden
Fabio Castillo Yorvit Torrealba
Miguel de los Santos Matt Treanor
Cody Eppley Elvis Andrus
Scott Feldman Adrian Beltre
Neftali Feliz Andres Blanco
Wilmer Font Esteban German
Mike Gonzalez Ian Kinsler
Mark Hamburger Mitch Moreland
Matt Harrison Engel Beltre
Derek Holland Julio Borbon
Eric Hurley Endy Chavez
Michael Kirkman Nelson Cruz
Colby Lewis Craig Gentry
Mark Lowe Josh Hamilton
Darren O'Day Leonys Martin
Alexi Ogando David Murphy
Darren Oliver Michael Young
Yoshinori Tateyama
Mason Tobin
Koji Uehara
Merkin Valdez
Brandon Webb
C.J. Wilson

 

At this point, there are 44 players on the 40 man roster, as four players are currently on the 60 day disabled list.

Of those 44 players, Mike Gonzalez, C.J. Wilson, Darren Oliver, Brandon Webb, Matt Treanor, and Endy Chavez are free agents.  Once they file for free agency, that will drop the 40 man roster down to 38.  

In addition, Merkin Valdez and Esteban German are guys who were added for September, and aren't likely to be kept on the roster beyond season's end.  German is arbitration eligible, and the Rangers aren't going to go to arbitration with him.  Valdez does not appear to have the service time necessary to be arbitration eligible, but he's out of options and can elect free agency if the Rangers outright him this spring, so it is unlikely they'll keep him on the 40 man roster.

That drops the guys under team control on the 40 man roster down to 36, but there are players currently in the minors who the Rangers will be adding to the 40 man roster to protect them from the Rule 5 draft.

If we look at Scott Lucas's invaluable breakdown on the Rule 5 eligibility of the Ranger minor leaguers, we can figure out who we know will be added, and who is on the bubble.

There are two players who are in the slam-dunk, no question category:  Neil Ramirez and Martin Perez.  Both pitchers are Rule 5 eligible for the first time, and both will be added.  That gets you to 38 players on the 40 man roster.  

Then there are the bubble players...the guys who aren't, at this point, guys we can identify as no-doubters, but who have good shots at being on the 40 man roster.  Those guys are:

Roman Mendez

Justin Miller

Tomas Telis

Matt West

Jake Brigham

Beau Jones

Johan Yan

Yan and Jones are both minor league free agents after this season, which means they can leave the organization if they aren't added to the 40 man roster and sign with any team.  The others listed are simply Rule 5 eligible, which means that another team would have the option of selecting one of them in the Rule 5 draft and keep them so long as the player is kept on the 25 man roster all season.

At this point, my guess is that Mendez, West and Yan are the most likely out of this group to be added, with maybe a couple of the others -- probably either Miller or Brigham, plus Telis -- also protected.  

If we assume that five of those guys are added to the 40 man roster, that gets you to 42 players, before we even take into account the possibility of C.J. Wilson or Darren Oliver being brought back, or free agents from other teams being signed.  

All told, there will likely be anywhere from five to seven 40 man roster casualties this offseason, players who the Rangers will decide to trade, non-tender, waive or release rather than keep them on the 40 man roster.

Who are the most likely candidates?

There are four arbitration-eligible players who I think are in danger of being traded or non-tendered this offseason, and whose departure would mean a 40 man roster spot opening up.  

David Murphy is entering his second year of arbitration eligibility, and is likely looking at a salary in the $4-4.5 million range for 2012 through the arbitration process.  Though he's heated up in the past few weeks, his 2011 season has been disappointing, overall, and $4 million is a lot of money for a fourth outfielder.  That said, the Rangers are likely going to have to rely on their fourth outfielder more than most teams, because of the history of injuries that Nelson Cruz and Josh Hamilton have.  

Andres Blanco is arbitration-eligible, but realistically, he's not a player the Rangers would go to arbitration with.  He would either agree to a one year deal for around what he made in 2011 -- $520,000 -- or the Rangers will non-tender him.  The Rangers like what they get from Blanco, but his injuries this season may put the Rangers in a situation where they feel like, even if he'd agree to a half million dollars for 2012, they'd rather not commit a 40 man spot to him, and instead try to bring him (or someone similar) into camp on a minor league deal.

Mark Lowe is in his final season of arbitration eligibility, and is probably looking at a significant raise over the $1.2 million he is making in 2011.  The presence of Mike Adams and Koji Uehara makes Lowe more of a luxury, although if the Rangers are serious about moving Neftali Feliz into the rotation in 2012, Lowe would probably join Uehara in a setup role behind Adams as the closer.  My guess is that Lowe is back at around $2.5-3 million, but depending on other moves the Rangers make (or want to make), it wouldn't shock me if he were dealt.

Darren O'Day is the fourth trade/non-tender candidate.  After impressing in both 2009 and 2010, O'Day has been a disappointment in 2011, logging just 13 2/3 major league innings in 13 appearances this year, and spending time both in the minors and on the disabled list.  He's seemingly been passed in the sidearming righthander pecking order by Yoshinori Tateyama, and there's only so many sidearmers you can have in one pen.  On the other hand, he has a track record of success, and is optionable, which means keeping him around gives the Rangers flexibility.  He's another tough call, but I think he's someone the Rangers keep if they can strike a deal pre-arbitration to pay him something similar to the $1.251 million he made this season.  Otherwise, I think he's part of a deal.

Three other players to keep an eye on, who are under contract for 2012 but who could be moved, are Yorvit Torrealba, Scott Feldman, and Colby Lewis.  If the Rangers decide they want Mike Napoli starting the majority of their games in 2012 at catcher, Torrealba and his $3.25 million 2012 salary may be viewed as a luxury, and he could be moved so the Rangers can use someone like Matt Treanor as the backup instead.  And while both Feldman and Lewis could start playoff games this year (should the Rangers make it to October), Feldman figures to be a long man/spot starter in 2012, and Lewis, while the subject of a team-friendly option, has been disappointing this year.  The Rangers would probably move Feldman to any team that would pick up a good chunk of his 2012 contract, though that team will be hard to find, barring a strong finish to the season.  As for Lewis, I expect him to return, but if the Rangers re-sign C.J. Wilson or trade for a veteran, Lewis could be shopped as a way to open up a rotation spot for Neftali Feliz while getting a decent prospect or two in return.

Even if we assume that two of the veteran bubble guys are dropped, that would still require some more moves to free up space for free agent signings and other moves.  There's always the possibility that someone of value departs via a trade -- a Derek Holland or Matt Harrison included as part of a Matt Garza or James Shields trade, for example -- but barring that, you're looking at guys removed for the sake of freeing up roster space.

Among prospect/younger position players, Taylor Teagarden, Engel Beltre, and Julio Borbon are most in danger of losing their 40 man spots.  Teagarden is out of options after this season, and seems like a likely candidate to be put on waivers, particularly if the Rangers were to add a catcher to the 40 man this offseason, or decided to bring Treanor and Torrealba both back.  

Neither Beltre nor Borbon would clear waivers, so both guys would probably be traded rather than waived, but both seem likely to have better futures elsewhere than in Texas.  Beltre has struggled again in the Texas League, and with Leonys Martin slated to be the centerfielder of the future, he doesn't seem to be a fit in Texas.  I expect the Rangers to move him this offseason, either as part of a deal for a non-40 man prospect to clear a roster spot, or as part of a package in a bigger deal.

Borbon would probably have been out of the organization already, had he not sprained his ankle stealing second base earlier this summer.  Borbon was expected to be the centerfielder of the future at the start of the 2010 season, but mental gaffes and less than expected offense have seen his star fallen, and he's now viewed, at best, as a placeholder until Leonys is ready.  

Borbon seemed to be a prime candidate to be included in a deal for a reliever at the deadline until his injury put him on the shelf, and of the three position players on the bubble, he seems the most likely to be moved.  This is partially because his injury means teams are going to be leery of dealing for him, and the Rangers are likely going to want to wait until he can show he's healthy by playing in 2012, and partially because the Rangers don't have an obvious solution for their 2012 Opening Day centerfielder, and thus Borbon may be kept around to give them someone to keep the position warm to start the season so that Leonys isn't thrust in there before he's ready.

As for the pitchers, the guys I see on the bubble are Fabio Castillo, Omar Beltre, Mark Hamburger, Cody Eppley, Eric Hurley, and Mason Tobin.  Hamburger and Eppley are similar guys, fringey relief prospects who were added to the active roster to give the team some fresh arms in times of need, but who haven't shown enough in the majors to be safe, and whose stuff is kind of marginal anyway.  They are both guys who could the team could try to sneak through waivers at some point this offseason, after the Rule 5 draft is over.

Fabio Castillo, on the other hand, is sort of the Engel Beltre of the pitching prospects, a guy who was signed with a lot of fanfare and seems to have a bunch of potential, but who has (save for in 2010 at Bakersfield) consistently failed to get results.  My gut feeling is that he's less likely to sneak through waivers than Eppley or Hamburger are, because of his age (he's just 22) and his stuff, but I could be wrong.

Beltre and Hurley are both weird situations.  Everyone knows the Eric Hurley situation -- former first rounder in 2004 who had a lot of buzz, looked okay in the majors in 2008, then missed the end of that season and all of 2009 and 2010 with injuries.  Came back this year, was generating buzz in spring training, then missed more time after getting hit in the head with a line drive.  Scott Lucas says he has two options left, but he'll be 26 in 11 days, and there are higher upside guys who are passing him up.

Beltre is in much the same boat...like Alexi Ogando, he couldn't come to the United States for years, finally being allowed back in the country for the 2010 season.  He was solid for Oklahoma City in 2010 and even got a couple of spot starts for Texas, putting him on the map as a depth option in 2011, but Beltre has missed virtually the entire 2011 season because of a back problem.  Beltre turned 30 in August, so like Hurley, his age works against him, but the Rangers liked his arm enough to stick with him through his legal problems, so I don't know that they'd just give him away at this point.

Finally, there's Mason Tobin.  A Rule 5 draft pick from Anaheim this past offseason, a guy the Rangers liked enough to dump Matt Treanor to make room for on the 25 man roster, Tobin enticed with his potential only to go under the knife once again because of Tommy John surgery.  If the Rangers do hold onto him this offseason, he'll likely spend most of 2012 on the disabled list, and will still have to be activated and spend more time on the active roster to comply with the Rule 5 rules before they can send him down.*  With Rule 5 players required to spend 90 days on the active roster to comply with the Rule 5 rules (so that a team can't just stash a player on the d.l. all year), that would mean Tobin would need to spend about 70 days active before he could be optioned.  My guess is that the decision on whether to stick it out with Tobin, or waive him and offer him back to the Angels, will depend on how they feel like his arm will be able to hold up going forward.

*  I'm kind of wondering, as I'm sitting here, why the Rangers wouldn't simply activate Tobin from the 60 day d.l. and put him on the active roster now that rosters have expanded, so that it can be applied towards the 90 day requirement.  They'd have to make a roster move to make room for him on the 40 man, but it doesn't seem like that would be insurmountable.  Maybe they figure it would be nullified by MLB, or otherwise frowned upon as gaming the system.

Its a tough situation for the Rangers to be in, and there's a good chance that they'll end up losing a guy this offseason in a roster squeeze who will go on to have some success with another team, like Guillermo Moscoso and Armando Galarraga have done.  And it could be that the Rangers lose a player in the Rule 5 draft because there simply wasn't a way to protect everyone.

But then, that's part of the price you pay when you have a strong system.  I'll definitively take this problem over a situation where we're grabbing guys like Jon Leicester from other teams because we've got more 40 man spots than we can use on the players we have in place.

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