Okay, folks...we are roughly halfway through the season, and so it is time for another one of our periodic “state of the 40 man roster” posts.
As things stand right now, the Rangers have 42 players on the 40 man roster. The 40 man roster is full, and Jonathan Hernandez and Eli White are both on the 60 day injured list, although Hernandez should be back in the near future.
The Rangers have three players on the 40 man roster, if my count is accurate,* who are free agents at the end of the season — Martin Perez, Charlie Culberson and Matt Moore. Perez could, of course, be signed to an extension at some point this year, and even if he isn’t, the Rangers may re-sign him after the season, and even if they don’t, they’ll need to add a starting pitcher to replace him in the rotation (not even getting into adding another starting pitcher or two), so you can arguably say that you should earmark a 40 man spot for Perez or his replacement regardless. However, we aren’t doing that in this exercise.
* Just assume that this is phrase is being inserted in all the sentences involving the number of players who are whatever throughout the rest of the post. Thank you for your courtesy.
That gets us to 39 players.
In addition, the Rangers hold 2023 club options on three players — Kole Calhoun, Garrett Richards, and Jose Leclerc.
Richards has a $9 million club option for 2023, with a $1 million buyout. He was signed to be a multi-inning reliever, and after being used a lot in the first month of the season — he started the season on the injured list, first appeared in a game on April 14, and made seven appearances in the month — Chris Woodward has not used Richards nearly as month of late. Richards has been fine — 3.29 ERA, 3.60 FIP in 27 innings — but he’s not been the sort of dominant fireman that would warrant picking up a $9 million option for 2023.
Calhoun has a $5.5 million club option for 2023 with no buyout. Calhoun was signed to provide a veteran presence, solidify the outfield, and provide a lefty bat, and he’s done that, more or less. He’s been fine. I am skeptical, though, that the Rangers pick up his 2023 option, unless some other moves are made that ship out some other internal corner outfield options, or unless Calhoun is much better in the second half, or unless the Rangers figure they can trade him to a team that will give them something for Calhoun on a one year, $5.5 million deal and thus its worth exercising the option and then move him.
Leclerc has a $6 million club option for 2023, with a $750,000 buyout, and a $6.25 million club option for 2024 with a $500,000 buyout. What the Rangers do with Leclerc largely depends, I suspect, on how he looks over the final half of the season. Leclerc was one of the best relievers in baseball in 2018, had an up-and-down 2019 where he wasn’t nearly as good but was still fine, and has thrown 5 major league innings since due to injuries. If you think you’ll be getting the 2018 version of Leclerc, exercising the option is a slam-dunk. If you think you’re getting the 2019 version of Leclerc, it is a closer call. If it is the guy who can’t stay healthy or if you’re getting someone who can’t throw strikes after Tommy John surgery, the option is going to be declined.
That leaves you at either 36 or 37 players on the 40 man roster, depending on what you do with Leclerc. Obviously, all of the 36 players who are currently on the 40 man roster who we haven’t touched on yet won’t still be on the 40 man roster at season’s end — someone will be dropped for the return of Jonathan Hernandez, for example — but for now that’s where we are.
Okay, let’s shift gears for a moment and look at players who could be added to the 40 man roster at some point. We are going to start with notable players in the Rangers’ system who are not on the 40 man roster currently, and who are eligible to become a minor league free agent at the end of the year if they are not added to the 40 man roster before then:
Four relievers and a toolsy outfielder who finally showed signs of life in 2021, but then got hurt and hasn’t been healthy since. These are all guys who I could possibly see added to the 40 man roster so that they don’t hit the free agent market. I think the odds are against each of them being added, and there’s a good chance none of them are added, but a lot likely depends on what they do over the final three months of the season.
Lucas Jacobsen would seem, out of this group, to be the most likely to have his contract purchased before he hit the free agent market. The big lefty, who just turned 27, has been very good out of the bullpen for Frisco this season, allowing opponents a .170/.267/.302 slash line while striking out 20 of 60 batters faced. He’s also on the injured list right now, though. I think Texas will move him up to Round Rock if and when he’s healthy at some point if they are looking at adding him.
Kelvin Gonzalez was acquired from the Kansas City Royals for international slot bonus money in 2018. He was really good for Hickory in 2019, putting up a 1.99 ERA and striking out a third of the batters he faced, and then he missed all of 2020 and 2021 after Tommy John surgery. Gonzalez is toiling in the ACL right now, and will probably go to Hickory or Frisco soon.
Hever Bueno and Fernery Ozuna are righthanded relievers who throw hard and have control issues. Bueno has struggled in AAA, while Ozuna hasn’t moved out of AA despite a 2.25 ERA this season (after putting up a 5.32 ERA for Frisco last year). Both seem pretty unlikely.
Miguel Aparicio. Ah, what a tease. Part of the same J-2 class as Leody Taveras, Aparicio is a quality defensive center fielder who has some speed and who has shown flashes of potential with the bat, but who has never been able to hit over the course of a full season. He got off to a slow start for Hickory in 2021, and I’d pretty much written him off, but then he caught fire and ended up earning a promotion to Frisco after slashing .274/.367/.567 for high-A Hickory. Aparicio struggled in 15 games at Frisco, slashing .180/.195/.256 in 41 plate appearances, and then got hurt and hasn’t been since, except in the ACL, since.
Aparicio will likely go to Frisco in the near future, and will probably play very good defense in center field, tease with his offensive potential, and do just enough to make you think that well, maybe, just maybe, he’s going to have it all click. I doubt he’ll be added to the 40 man roster, but if he is, its likely because the upside is such that the Rangers don’t want to see him go elsewhere and finally blossom.
Moving on to the players who are Rule 5 eligible this offseason, as of now, there are six players who appear to profile as either locks, or near locks, to be added, as things stand today:
I don’t think there’s anyone in this group who would be controversial. Maybe you could argue that Dustin Harris, who has been good but not great so far in AA, and who is defensively limited, could be exposed. Maybe Luisangel Acuna, who has (as of now) not played above A ball, could be exposed, one could argue. But I think all six, as things stand now, will be added.
And as a side note, I should have listed Cole Ragans in the “minor league free agents” group, since he will be a free agent if he isn’t added to the 40 man roster by the time the 2022 season officially ends (five days after the World Series, I believe, but it may be the day after the World Series ends). But since he appears a slam-dunk to be added, I am putting him here.
Next are interesting starting pitchers who are probably safe to leave off the 40 man roster:
All these guys are prospects. Except for Kent, all of them also have a history of injury issues. All of them could end up getting protected, particularly if big strides are made in the second half, but at this point I don’t expect any of them will be.
Latz got a start in the majors in 2021 as a COVID replacement guy, but has struggled in AAA both in 2021 and 2022. Bradford got a well-over-slot bonus in the sixth round in 2019 out of Baylor after an arm injury cut his junior year short. He has struggled with hittability in AA this year. Kent was terrific in Hickory in 2021, had a rough go of it in six starts for Frisco at the end of the year, and has had command issues so far in 2022 for Frisco.
Englert was a fourth rounder out of Forney in 2018 who missed all of 2019 due to Tommy John surgery and all of 2020 due to the recovery from TJS and COVID. He had a respectable debut season for Down East in 2021, and is doing fine in Hickory in 2022, but doesn’t appear to be in a position to be at risk of being lost in the Rule 5 Draft.
Garcia was a helium guy in 2019, someone who shot up boards late and was taken in the second round by the Rangers. A small, high spin righthander, Garcia pitched only five innings in 2019, missed all of 2020 and 2021 due to Tommy John surgery and then a lat issue, and had a delayed start to 2022 due to injury. Garcia has made four very good starts for Down East, but he’s a 24 year old carving up low-A hitters, and with the amount of time he’s missed, its unlikely anyone would want to stash him in their bullpen for 2023 as a R5 guy.
Moving on, we get to the interesting relief arms category:
Four of the five minor league free agents to be I identified above are also in the interesting relief arms category, which kind of highlights why the Rangers are likely going to err on the side of not protecting guys in this category, because, well, they have a bunch on their 40 man roster already, they have a bunch of possible candidates in the minors, and there are only so many 40 man roster spots you can devote to interesting relief arms.
Daniel Robert would seem to be the one in this group most likely to be added to the 40 man roster this offseason. Drafted in the 21st round out of Auburn as a first baseman converting to pitching, Texas ended up not signing him due to his needing Tommy John surgery, but signed him the next year as an undrafted free agent. He misses bats, has command issues, and turns 28 in August. He was Rule 5 eligible this past offseason, and apparently there was some concern within the organization that he might be selected. He’s had a rough go of it in Round Rock this year, mainly due to control issues. Still, he was getting attention in spring training this year, and while I don’t think any of these four get protected, Robert’s the one I would say is most likely.
Destin Dotson is a huge (he’s listed at 6’7”, 231 lbs.) lefthander who was a 12th round prep pick out of Baton Rouge in 2018. The stuff is legit, but so are the command issues. After a short stint in Down East, he was promoted to Hickory, where he’s struck out or walked 43 of the 84 batters he has faced. He would seem to be one of the more likely candidates to get selected, if the Rangers expose him, just because he’s the type of pitcher who teams will take a flyer on and take a look at in spring training, with the possibility of carrying him as a third lefty in the pen if his command improves.
Avery Weems and Justin Slaten have both been used as starters, but both seem to profile as relievers. Slaten, the Rangers’ third rounder in 2019 out of the University of New Mexico, was seen as a likely reliever coming out of college. The Rangers have used him as a starter until the middle of this year, when they shifted him to a relief role for Frisco. Weems was a $10,000 senior sign by the Chicago White Sox as a 6th rounder out of the University of Arizona in 2019. The 25 year old lefty came over to Texas in the Lance Lynn trade, and for both Hickory last year and Frisco this year, has missed a lot of bats and been rather home prone.
Next category is infielders drafted in the upper part of the draft:
You know the Chris Seise story. Taken 29th overall in the 2017 draft, talked about as possibly the best position prospect in the system, but unable to stay on the field. Injuries wiped out all, or almost all, of 2018, 2019 and 2021, and COVID wiped out 2020. Seise is slashing .259/.317/.400 for Hickory this year, and has primarily been a DH, though he’s been playing more shortstop of late. WIth just 136 minor league games, and with his middling offensive performance this year, I wouldn’t think he’d be protected. But the Rangers love Seise, and if they think there’s a risk of another team snagging Seise, its...possible? Maybe? I don’t think it will happen, but stranger things have happened.
Wendzel was picked #37 overall in the 2019 draft by the Rangers with the pick they acquired from the Milwaukee Brewers in the Alex Claudio trade. Seen as a potential Justin Turner type who could play all over the infield while hitting for doubles power, Wendzel has struggled to stay healthy as a pro, and is slashing just .193/.281/.329 in 2022 for Round Rock. I wouldn’t think he’d be protected, but he’s the type of player who could get picked because of his defensive versatility and the possibility of his bat taking a step foward.
Ornelas was the Rangers’ third round pick in 2018, a prep shortstop out of Glendale, Arizona. Ornelas has primarily played shortstop in the minors, but has also played second base and third base, and the Rangers have given him reps in center field, as well. He didn’t hit in 2019 or 2021, but has been surprisingly productive for Frisco this year, slashing .333/.376/.458. He doesn’t have much power, and he is striking out a lot, but the defensive versatility and improved offensive performance this year could result in him being added to the roster, or being picked in the Rule 5 Draft if he isn’t.
The miscellaneous category:
Crim is a 25 year old who can hit some, but who is a 1B/DH. He’s currently slashing .266/.332/.461. Its possible he’s protected, but unlikely.
Garcia is a weird situation. He’s still just 22, and a switch-hitting catcher who is considered to be very good defensively, but who has only really hit in one season, 2019 in Spokane. Garcia was added to the 40 man roster after the 2000 season, his first year of R5 eligibility, but then was non-tendered this past offseason and re-signed to a minor league deal. He’s technically in a position to be a minor league free agent, I believe, if he’s not added to the 40 man roster. The Rangers seem to like Garcia, and I think want to keep him in the organization, so it may be a matter of whether they think they can do that without adding him to the 40.
Bubba Thompson...he’s probably the biggest question mark, to me, right now, in regards to potential 40 man roster additions for the offseason. A former high school quarterback who was the Rangers’ first round pick in 2017, he had a miserable 2019 season, and then lost 2020 due to COVID. He was a forgotten man coming into 2021, but he had a solid .275/.325/.483 slash line for Frisco, along with 25 stolen bases. He was R5 eligible last year, wasn’t protected, and then there was no R5 draft so it didn’t matter. This year, Bubba is slashing .305/.350/.470 for Round Rock, is 38 for 40 in stolen bases, and is continuing to play terrific defense in center field. He also has 75 Ks against just 15 walks in 286 plate appearances.
Thompson is just 24, and there is upside there, though there’s also a very real possibility that the swing and miss issues he has get exposed at the major league level, such that he simply won’t make enough contact to be able to be a viable major league hitter. A team drafting him in the R5 could look to carry him as a 5th outfielder, a defensive replacement and pinch runner who gets the occasional start against the lefty. The Rangers are going to have a tough call to make on him this offseason.
So the Rangers 40 man roster would get down to 36 or 37, depending on what the team does with the Leclerc option, once the free agents to be are removed. There are at least six players who will likely be added in advance of the Rule 5 draft. And the Rangers probably will want to earmark roughly six spots for offseason additions to the major league roster, either via trade or free agency. All told, the Rangers likely will need to drop eight to ten players who are currently on the 40 man roster, and who are not free agents at season’s end, in order to make that work.
Of course, as it is, the Rangers are going to have to drop someone from the 40 man roster to make room for Jonthan Hernandez, who should be activated from the 60 day injured list this month. So the pruning won’t be waiting until season’s end.
The most likely roster casualties:
The Rangers will non-tender Matt Bush this offseason and then sign him to a minor league contract. He will come to spring training, impress, earn a spot on the Opening Day roster, then land on the injured list at some point. This cycle will repeat itself for the next twenty years.
Ibanez was signed as a bat-first second baseman out of Cuba, but didn’t really hit until 2019, when he put up an 871 OPS for Round Rock. Ibanez spent some time in the majors last year in early May, didn’t hit, went to Round Rock, tore it up there, and earned a promotion back to Texas in mid-June, after which he was a regular in the lineup. Ibanez started the 2022 season as the team’s regular third baseman, didn’t hit, was optioned to Round Rock, and hasn’t hit in AAA, either. Given that Ibanez is 29 years old, has limited defensive utility, and has a skill set that overlaps with a number of younger players who have surpassed him, he seems like to end up on the waiver wire.
Solak is also a bat-first second baseman. He hasn’t hit in the majors since 2019. He put up an 867 OPS for Round Rock in 2021 in 22 games, and has a 757 OPS in Round Rock this year since being sent down. My guess is that the Rangers end up moving him for a very fringe prospect or something similar this month — he has options remaining, which provides some flexibility for an acquiring team, and I suspect someone would want to take a shot at fixing him.
Reks still being on the 40 man currently is something of an upset. The Rangers acquired him and Billy McKinney, another lefthanded hitting outfielder, from the Dodgers last November. McKinney was non-tendered a week later. Reks has stuck around, and spent much of 2022 shuffling between the majors and the minors. There are only so many fringe lefty corner outfield bats you can carry on the 40 man roster, however, and with Steele Walker now also on the 40 man roster, Reks would seem to be a likely casualty. Of course, I said he would be off the 40 man roster by Opening Day 2022, so what do I know.
Duggar, we know about, because the Rangers just traded for him. He had last year, plays good defense, and has an option remaining, so he could possibly end up sticking around if he hits like he did in 2021. If he doesn’t, well, the Rangers have Eli White and Leody Taveras on the 40 man roster currently, and Bubba Thompson on the bubble, and similar to the situation with Reks, there is a limit to how many bench-type guys with the same skill set you want to carry.
Kolby Allard is a perfectly fine swingman, a guy who can pitch in the rotation in AAA, be shuffled between AAA and the majors when you need a spare arm, sit in the bullpen for two weeks without being used and then brought into a game to get you 12 outs in a blowout. He doesn’t turn 25 until August, remarkably enough, and he will have an option remaining after this season. Allard offers some value that can warrant a 40 man roster spot. I just don’t know that, given the decisions the Rangers will have to make, he will warrant a spot on this 40 man roster.
Viloria is an interesting case. He’s just 25 years old, has an option remaining, and since he was signed as a free agent to a minor league deal, he hasn’t used that last option yet this season (though obviously it would be used if the Rangers optioned him at some point). The Rangers thought enough of him to bring him up and have him be the backup catcher when they decided Sam Huff would be better served playing regularly in AAA, but they don’t think enough of him to actually play him much. t wouldn’t be shocking if the Rangers held on to Viloria through the offseason, as having a third catcher on the 40 man roster with an option who you can stash at AAA for depth is a nice luxury to have. That said, I don’t think the Rangers are in a position to luxuriate in that luxury.
That gives us seven “on the bubble” players, and if you recall, we said the Rangers will likely need to open up eight to ten 40 man roster spots, so even if everyone on this list is removed, the Rangers will likely still need to make another move or two (or more).
The most likely place for the Rangers to look to trim players, beyond those I’ve identified above, is in the bullpen. Josh Sborz is out of options after 2022, and so the Rangers would seem likely to move on from him rather than carry him on the off chance he makes the team in 2023 out of spring training, though I said the same thing last year about Dennis Santana. A.J. Alexy and Yerry Rodriguez are having underwhelming years for AAA Round Rock, and could be candidates to be dealt for a lotto ticket to clear out a roster spot, or as an extra piece in a bigger deal, like Ronny Henriquez this past offseason. Taylor Hearn and Brett Martin both are arbitration-eligible for a second time this offseason, and the Rangers could feel that the state of their bullpen is such that they are better off moving Hearn or Martin for what they can get for them rather than bring them back around in 2023 to try to fit them into the pen.
One thing that this exercise helps illustrate, I think, is why the Rangers are likely to be buyers, both this month and this coming offseason. At the same time the team is trying to pry open its window of contention, it also is in a position where it probably needs to look to be moving players, both because you can’t keep all of your prospects and have playing time for all of them, and because you have 40 man roster constraints that will limit how many you can protect.
Which is why, even if the Rangers aren’t necessarily serious contenders when the trade deadline rolls around at the end of the month, I think there’s a good chance you can see the Rangers as buyers — not for an expensive rental, but for someone under team control for a number of years. Think the Cole Hamels trade, not the Cliff Lee trade.
You can’t keep everyone. And in the case of the Rangers, I think there’s a good chance that’s going to lead to some significant moves in the coming months.