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Contract opt-outs and Ranger roster decisions

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With several players on minor league deals having the right to opt-out on July 18, the Rangers have some decisions looming

MLB: JUL 05 Rangers Summer Camp Photo by Matthew Pearce/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Texas Rangers officially start the 2020 season on July 24, 2020, against the Colorado Rockies. While the 30 man roster that teams will begin the year with doesn’t have to be finalized yet, the Rangers do have a deadline coming up that is going to force them to start making some preliminary decisions about their roster.

On Saturday, July 18, nine players on minor league deals with the Rangers have the right to opt out of their contracts and become free agents if they are not added to the 40 man roster. Those players are, per Evan Grant:

Cody Allen

Luis Garcia

Ian Gibaut

Derek Law

Edinson Volquez

Greg Bird

Rob Refsnyder

Blake Swihart

Tim Federowicz

That’s five righthanded relief pitchers, a first baseball, a utility guy, a 4C/backup catcher, and a backup catcher.

The Rangers’ 40 man roster is currently at 39, as Brock Burke is on the 60 day injured list. Yohander Mendez has been reinstated from the restricted list, so he counts against the 40 man roster again.

Brett Martin will start the season on the COVID-19 list, which means he will not count against the 40 man roster, and that would open up a 40 man roster spot. However, if the Rangers are adding more than two players to the 40 man roster, they will have to make a move to clear a spot.

The 30 man roster provides for additional active roster spots, which is obviously helpful for bubble guys, but the roster will drop to 28 players after two weeks, and then 26 players, and players who are out of options would have to be waived if they are removed from the active roster. So if the Rangers add one of those nine players to the 40 man roster, they aren’t going to be able to drop them from the active roster later on without waiving them if they are out of options (and I believe only Ian Gibaut, of the players on that list, has an option remaining).

The five relief pitchers face an uphill battle in that the one area where the Rangers appear to be in good shape is in righthanded relief arms. Texas has Jesse Chavez, Luke Farrell, Nick Goody, Jonathan Hernandez, Ariel Jurado, Jose Leclerc, and Rafael Montero on the 40 man currently, and while Montero is expected to not be ready to start the season, he should be able to go very soon after Opening Day. Demarcus Evans is also an option on the 40 man roster, Alex Speas is in the mix for a bullpen role at some point, and Wei-Chieh Huang, Juan Nicasio and Jimmy Herget are depth guys in the pool who don’t have opt-outs.

Law and Garcia seem to have little chance of being added to the 40 man roster by Saturday — they are depth guys who appear to have a minimal chance of making the team, and could opt out to seek a better opportunity elsewhere. Allen is a question mark — he’s a reclamation project, and while he probably isn’t one of the top relievers in camp, he could be added to the active roster to keep him around and give the Rangers more time to evalute him.

Volquez and Gibaut were in the majors for Texas last year, and were brought back on minor league deals this year. Volquez was signed with an eye on him being a long man and veteran presence in the bullpen, and he seems likely to stick. Gibaut is a big and throws hard, and has had solid camp. He’s someone who seems very likely to opt out if he’s not added to the 40 man roster, and seems like someone the Rangers would add just to keep from losing him.

Bird came to camp to battle for the first base job with Ronald Guzman. Neither he nor Guzman have been good, and it appears that both have lost out on the first base job, with Todd Frazier appearing likely to be playing first base to start the year while Isiah Kiner-Falefa plays third base. Bird could be kept around as depth and to give the team a longer look at him, or just as a backup option because they don’t see the utility in having Ronald Guzman on the roster all season as a defensive replacement at first base. I could see him sticking initially, then being cut loose if he doesn’t show something when the team needs a roster spot, or needs to drop to 28.

Refsnyder can play the infield and the outfield, and provides serviceable depth and versatility. Before Eli White got hurt and Willie Calhoun strained his hip, I’d have said there was no chance he is added to the 40 man roster. Even now, it seems unlikely, but Texas could feel his bench versatility is worth using a 40 man spot on him and keeping him around at least for the first two weeks of the season.

Then there’s the catchers. Swihart is a former top prospect, a bat-first catcher who didn’t hit and wasn’t good defensively. He’s morphed into more of a utility guy at this point — since starting almost half of all of Boston’s games behind the plate in 2015, he has started just 28 games at catcher since, appearing in 18 others as a backup — though the Rangers brought him to camp to get a look at him as a catcher. He is out of options and seems like a longshot, though as with Refsnyder, the team could choose to keep him around while the rosters are expanded as a just in case we need him guy.

Finally, Federowicz is a journeyman backup who gets signed to minor league deals each spring and ends up being a guy who is in AAA as depth. Unless Robinson Chirinos’s ankle is worse than we thought, I can’t see the Rangers adding him to the 40 man, particularly with Nick Ciuffo and Sam Huff in the 60 man pool.

Were I to guess, I’d say Volquez, Gibaut and either Bird or Refsnyder stick, with the Rangers cutting Yohander Mendez loose to open up the extra 40 man spot, with Allen, Law and Swihart opting out.

But we will know for sure on Saturday.