It is that time of year again. With the minor league seasons wrapping up in about three weeks, it is time to start thinking about who the Rangers need to add to their 40 man roster, and whose roster spots could be in jeopardy.
According to the official Rangers website, the Rangers have 38 players on the 40 man roster. However, they do not list Omar Beltre or Armando Galarraga, both of whom have been on the 40 man roster this season. Either this is an oversight, or the Rangers slipped those two guys through waivers without them being claimed. I could see Beltre making it through waivers, but Galarraga slipping through would surprise me. So for the sake of the discussion today, I'm going to assume that those two guys are actually on there, and the 40 man roster is full. Update [2006-8-14 1:50:53 by Adam J. Morris]: -- It has been pointed out to me that Adam Hyzdu is apparently on the 40 man roster. I had missed that. He'll be removed. Adjust all numbers below accordingly.
As I think everyone has heard by now, there are nine Rangers free agents - Carlos Lee, GMJ, Mark DeRosa, JHJ, Rod Barajas, Matt Stairs, Vicente Padilla, Adam Eaton, and Kip Wells. That drops the roster to 31 players, although obviously, the Rangers hope to bring a few of those guys back.
For the first time in a while, there aren't many minor leaguers who would seem to be likely offseason roster casualties. I think Drew Meyer could end up being dropped from the 40 man roster, but that would be about it. Assuming Meyer is put on waivers, that leaves the Rangers with 30 players on the 40 man roster.
Among arbitration-eligible major leaguers, there are four players who seem like potential non-tender candidates: Brad Wilkerson, Ron Mahay, Joaquin Benoit, and Rick Bauer. At this point, I'd guess that Wilkerson and Bauer are tendered, Mahay is non-tendered, and Benoit is either non-tendered or traded. It wouldn't surprise me, though, if the Rangers tender contracts to all four players. But depending on what they do, it seems like the Rangers would then have 28-30 players on the 40 man roster.
That seems to provide a lot of room...but the Rangers are going to probably end up having to give six free agents major league deals. The Rangers are likely to add two outfielders (whether their own free agents or someone else's), two starting pitchers, a utility infielder, and a backup catcher (remember, with Barajas a free agent, Laird will be the only catcher on the 40 man roster). If Mahay and Benoit are both gone, the Rangers may want to add a reliever on a major league deal, although they do have quite a few internal options, particularly with Loe and Francisco presumably being back to 100% by 2007.
So that gets the 40 man roster to around 34-36...and suddenly, there isn't a whole ton of room for minor leaguers to be added to the 40 man roster and be protected in the Rule 5 draft.
In a nutshell, high schoolers from the 2003 draft (or earlier) and college players from the 2004 draft (or earlier) will be Rule 5 eligible. Eric Hurley, as a 2004 high school draftee, is not Rule 5 eligible. Neither are any of the 2005 draftees. So none of those guys need to be added to the 40 man roster.
There are two no-brainers this offseason that jump out right away...the two DVD guys not already on the 40 man roster, John Danks and Thomas Diamond. They have to be added to the 40 man, and if, for whatever reason, they aren't, they'll be snatched up in the Rule 5 draft real quick.
After that, it gets a little tougher...for example, do you add catcher Emerson Frostad to the 40 man roster? He's just recently converted to catcher, but is slapping around the Cal League pitchers to the tune of a .316/.383/.553 line, which is impressive. But he's also 23, and I can't imagine he's a great defensive catcher.
You could draw a comparison between Frostad and Chris Shelton - the first pick in the 2003 Rule 5 draft, coming off an age 23 season where he pounded high-A pitching but struggled in AA - but Shelton had a better track record at the plate, which made him a safer bet. Still, I think you have to protect Frostad at this point, if he is showing any ability at all behind the plate. Otherwise, you are making it too easy for a team to pop him, and stick him on the end of the bench as a 3rd catcher.
Anthony Webster was a ChiSox draft pick in 2001, a tweener outfielder who probably won't hit well enough to stick in a corner spot, but can't defend well enough to play center. He's 23, and had something of a breakout in the second half of last season at Bakersfield, with a solid follow-up year in 2006 at Frisco, although he's struggled since going to AAA. Whether or not he gets added to the 40 man roster will probably depend on how he fares the rest of the way, and in the AFL or some other fall league.
After that, you've got a group of 2004 draft class college players who are all maybes right now: Mike Nickeas, Ben Harrison, Travis Metcalf, Tug Hulett, Johnny Lujan, and Kevin Mahar.
Nickeas was rocketing up the charts by the end of the 2004 season - I think he was, internally, considered the catcher of the future by the organization, rather than Laird - but after being rushed to AA, had a miserable, injury-plagued season in 2005, and followed it up with a disappointing, injury-plagued 2006. He's showing some promise at high-A right now, and he's still just 23, but at this point, he seems like a real longshot to get selected in the Rule 5 draft.
Harrison is a power hitter, another guy who has put up some good numbers at A ball but hasn't hit real well at AA. He's also going to turn 25 in September, but is looked at as someone who could be a late bloomer. As a corner outfielder, he's going to have to hit a lot to stick in the majors.
Metcalf was the Rangers' 2005 minor league player of the year, and has had an awful 2006 campaign. A third baseman, Metcalf turns 24 in just a few days, has posted a 600 OPS for Frisco this year, and has 100 Ks in barely 400 plate appearances. It has been a disastrous year for Metcalf, and I'm mentioning him only because his 2005 got him on so many folks' maps.
Hulett is a tough case...not a lot of defensive value, but a good lefty bat with a good eye, and someone who, while not great defensively, apparently can handle the position without embarrassing himself. He's the type of player I could see a team snagging in the draft and stashing for a season, particularly an N.L. team.
Lujan is a pitcher with a live arm, a guy that has impressed folks when he's been out there, but who hasn't pitched a ton of innings. After struggling early for Bakersfield this year, he's seemingly turned it around of late, and he's just 22. As we know from the Fabio Castro experience, young guys with live arms are attractive to other teams in the Rule 5.
Mahar was signed as an undrafted free agent after 2004, and is an interesting guy...supposedly does a good job covering ground out in centerfield, had a strong 2005 season, and after a slow start in 2006, has put up some pretty solid numbers of late in Frisco. But he's also 25 years old, and the fact that he went undrafted out of college speaks to what teams think of his tools and potential.
A lot on this group is probably going to depend on what they show the rest of the way, and in the AFL. I think Webster and Harrison are safe to expose, because a team isn't likely to keep a guy with that sort of limited defensive value on the roster unless the player has hit more than those two have. Metcalf isn't going to get selected, and Nickeas's injuries and lack of offense probably make it safe to expose him.
So that leaves Frostad, Hulett, Mahar, and Lujan on the bubble. I think the Rangers will probably want to go into the Rule 5 draft with less than a full 40 man roster, to give them room to make a selection if there's a guy out there they want, like Castro this year.
So I'm thinking that the Rangers can add four, maybe five guys to the 40 man this offseason. With Danks and Diamond taking two of those slots, I think that leaves Frostad, Hulett, Mahar, and Lujan jockeying for the final two-three slots.
If I had to choose right now, I'd probably pick Frostad and Hulett to go with Danks and Diamond, and take my chances with the remainder. Mahar is vulnerable because of his ability to play all three defensive positions, and Lujan has a live arm, but I would be surprised if either of those guys were taken, and I think Frostad and Hulett are more vulnerable.
That said, it also wouldn't shock me if Diamond and Danks were the only two minor leaguers added to the 40 man this offseason.