Looking ahead to the Rule 5 Draft and some looming 40 Man Roster Decisions

Looking ahead to the Rule 5 Draft and some looming 40 Man Roster Decisions
Rafael Dolis

September is a time for call-ups but it's also our first look at where the Cubs may be going with some 40 man roster decisions this offseason as they head in to the Rule 5 Draft.

The Cubs will soon start making decisions about who to drop and who to add to the 40 man roster.  Because the roster situation is always a bit of a crunch, it's likely that he Cubs will only add the players they need to add this year.  So when we are looking at roster decisions this offseason (and perhaps some as early as today), we have to look at players who are currently...

  • On the 60 Day DL
  • On their last option.
  • Eligible for the Rule 5 Draft

From the 60 Day DL

We have already seen OF Ryan Sweeney activated from the 60 Day DL.  And because the Cubs seemed to be rehabbing pitchers Scott Baker and Rafael Dolis in nearby Kane County, it isn't a stretch to think those two pitchers were under heavy consideration for the short trip to Wrigley.  Dolis is in his last option year, so there was even more reason to get a look this month.  Unfortunately, he appeared to get hurt after 9 pitches and was pulled from the game.  He was throwing well -- in the mid 90s -- and the Cubs are always in search of power arms.

Scott Baker was signed on with the hopes he would be in the Cubs starting rotation by the second half.   He appeared to make good progress leading into the spring but a couple of setbacks have pushed his timetable all the way until this last month.  I did get a chance to see Baker yesterday as well and he appeared to be throwing free and easy -- and with excellent command of an upper 70s breaking ball, which I presume was his slider based on it's velocity in relation to his fastball, though it was difficult to tell at my angle.  He was locating it with precision and getting swings and misses.  The downside is the fastball was mostly 85-86 that day.  If the Cubs think he can add enough velo by next year, they may take a chance and bring him back.  Baker is reportedly willing to come back and was pleased at how he's been treated by the organization.

Of the other pitchers/players on the 60 day DL, only Arodys Vizcaino appears to be close to coming back, but the Cubs will wait until the Arizona Fall League to get him on the mound again.  Kyuji Fujikawa won't be back until sometime next season while Zach Putnam, Matt Guerrier and OF Thomas Neal are on the bubble as to whether they will be re-added to the 40 man once they are ready to come back.

Teams have until 5 days after the last World Series game to activate players from the 60 Day DL and reinstate them on the 40 man roster.

On their last option

This applies to players whom the Cubs may add this September while also making it more difficult for Cubs to carry certain replacement level players long term. As we mentioned, Rafael Dolis was on his last option, so he was a likely candidate to get a call before yesterday's setback.  Alberto Cabrera has already been called up and he will be out of options next season as well.  The Cubs lack for power arms in the system and in their MLB bullpen, so it's likely Cabrera will be given every chance to stick for next season.  Most of the other players who are out of options are veterans.  The one exception is Thomas Neal, but the Cubs will likely let him go this offseason.  The same goes for journeymen RHP Matt Guerrier, IF Cody Ransom, and OF's Cole Gillespie and Darnell McDonald.

Among the more interesting decisions on out of options players will be middle reliever Michael Bowden, IF Donnie Murphy, and OF Bryan Bogusevic.  Murphy seems to have played his way into a utility role role for next season and possibly even the short-side of a 3B or 2B platoon should the Cubs need a stopgap at either position.  Bowden has been the very definition of a replacement level player and his spot will be in jeopardy this season as the Cubs look to continue to improve their bullpen.  It's hard to imagine the Cubs would keep him over Alberto Cabrera at this point should it come down to those two arms.  Bryan Bogusevic, meanwhile, is locked in a battle with Ryan Sweeney for one of the LH outfield spots, though it's possible they keep both.  Presuming the Cubs keep Nate Schierholtz, that would be 3 lefty hitting outfielders.  If the Cubs make no additions, then you have to think Junior Lake has the inside track on one of the RH spots in the OF and, with Dave Sappelt and Matt Szczur as the only other near ready RH outfielders currently on the 40 man roster, the Cubs may bring in a bargain free agent for the 5th spot.  Sappelt appears on the outs and I consider Szczur to be more of a one level at a time type player and I expect to see him at AAA Iowa next year.  Another candidate currently not on the roster is Jae-Hoon Ha, who played the 2nd half of the season at Iowa and would immediately be the Cubs best defensive outfielder at any of the 3 positions.  Ha needs to be added to the roster if the Cubs want to avoid exposing him to the Rule 5 Draft in December.

The Rule 5 Eligibles

Deciding whom to protect from the Rule 5 Draft depends primarily on two things:

  1. Raw ability/talent and whether you can afford to keep them on the roster for the sake of poaching a top prospect.
  2. MLB readiness with an ability to at least play a minor role.

A combination of the two is most desirable, of course.

Arizona Phil at The Cub Reporter has the full list and while the Cubs are adding some talent of late, only one name stands out as a must add this offseason and that is SS-2B Arismendy Alcantara, who is a possible top 100 prospect in baseball right now.

Other good prospects such as 2B Gioskar Amaya, SS Marco Hernandez, and C Willson Contreras are nowhere near ready to contribute to an MLB club, so we can expect them to be both unprotected and unclaimed for the Rule 5 Draft.  Amaya is a one position player without a standout asset such as speed or power to bring value off the bench.  He's also a good but not great defender, so there is not much utility there and he is especially difficult to carry despite being the top prospect in that trio.

The interesting decisions will be on guys who are likely outside that top 25 prospect range, yet are near MLB ready.  That includes pitchers like LHPs Zach Rosscup, Hunter Cervenka, and Eric Jokisch.  It isn't hard to imagine that with LHPs a scarce commodity, that any one of those pitchers could be plucked with the intention of using them as situational relievers or LOOGYs.  It would limit their exposure while providing a cost efficient solution for contending teams that aren't in need of a veteran in that role.   Rosscup in particular is at risk as a pitcher who reached AAA and has demonstrated an uncanny ability to miss bats.  Cervenka and Jokisch have solid stuff for lefties and they have an outside shot of being selected as well.  Complicating the matter is the presence of lefties Chris Rusin and Brooks Raley on the current roster.  Both pitchers could fill a similar role and have more experience, especially Rusin.  The Cubs will need to decide which lefties fit best short and long term.

Less vulnerable are some interesting RHPs who are eligible, including Matt Loosen, Zach Cates, Juan Paniagua, and Dallas Beeler.  Paniagua is probably safe after a disastrous season that saw him struggle at the lowest levels of the system.  He has a good arm, but it's doubtful a team will take a chance on him.  Paniagua's unusual contract situation may mean he won't be eligible at all anyway, so the point may end up being moot.

It's no coincidence that the Cubs will be sending Matt Loosen and Dallas Beeler to the fall league to get an extended look after injury plagued seasons.  Both have the stuff to be about a 4th starter in the majors and like Nick Struck, the Cubs will take the extra time to evaluate whether they'll be at risk of being taken.  The Cubs decided against protecting Struck and it proved to be a wise decision.  However, a strong fall performance in terms of stuff/command may put Loosen and Beeler into consideration for 40 man roster spots.

Zach Cates is a sleeper because he's been gradually adding velocity all year and it's peaking at 96 mph now that he's been pitching out of the bullpen.  Cates has trouble commanding his breaking pitch at times, which gets him into trouble.  But it does show potential.  He also has a solid change, making him potentially effective vs. LH hitters as well as righties and indeed, his splits this season prove that to be the case.  He's a good athlete with good size, so there's a lot to like here from a scouting standpoint if some team thinks they want to take a flyer on a pitcher who had modest success at the A ball level.

As far as position players, the only real borderline decision here is Jae-Hoon Ha.  He can probably contribute as a 5th outfielder right now, but he won't give you much offense.  His value right now lies strictly in his ability to provide good defense at all 3 spots.  Two things work against Ha as far as gaining a roster spot.  One is that most teams have a similar player at the upper levels or can find one off the waiver wire; and two, the Cubs have several extra outfielder candidates at the AA level in Matt Szczur, Brett Jackson, John Andreoli, and Rubi Silva.  Ha is ultimately replaceable in the very near future.  Dave Sappelt is also a possibility for a role, though we will find out a lot about his future if the Cubs pass up the opportunity to bring him up again.

I'd also like to get a look at Chang-Yon Lim if possible this September and make a decision on whether to keep him for next year.  He would require a 40 man roster spot so perhaps the Cubs may take a pass and try to bring him back next year on a similar split deal as they did this past season.

The criteria above also means there isn't much sense in bringing up a pitcher like Kyle Hendricks right now since the Cubs don't need to add him and make the 40 man roster decisions more difficult than they already are.  The same goes for superstar Javier Baez.  As much as we all would like to see him play, it just doesn't make sense in terms of a roster management situation to bring him up to get a few September ABs right now.

Who Goes and Who Stays?

The decisions will revolve around shedding some short term players, including free agents to be, in favor of long term solutions whom the Cubs feel need to be protected from the Rule 5 Draft.  It will also depend on organizational depth, as is the case with Ha and the LH relievers.

There is still plenty of time to make these decisions but the following player may lose their 40 man roster status this offseason.

Will be Removed from 40 man roster after the season ends

  • Scott Baker (free agent, though they may try and bring him back on a minor league deal in the offseason)
  • Kevin Gregg (free agent)
  • Matt Guerrier (free agent)
  • Dioner Navarro (free agent whom I think the Cubs would really like to bring back, so I think this is a wash in the end).

Those are at least 3 spots that can be opened instantly that can go to the following players:

  • Arismendy Alcantra
  • Arodys Vizcaino
  • Zach Rosscup

Others Likely to be removed after the season...

  • J.C. Boscan (below replacement level 3rd catcher)
  • Cody Ransom (lost role to Donnie Murphy)

Players on the Bubble

  • Dave Sappelt (replacement level player)
  • Darnell McDonald (replacement level player out of options)
  • Cole Gillespie (replacement level player and out of options)
  • Michael Bowden (replacement level player and out of options)

That's as many as 6 other players that can be removed.  By rule, players like Rafael Dolis and Kyuji Fujikawa must be added back to the 40 man roster within 5 days after the last game of the World Series, so two spots may go to them.  If they find a way to keep them, the Cubs can put them back on the 60 Day DL in the spring and open up two more roster spots.  The Cubs may also want to protect borderline players such as Jae-Hoon Ha, Matt Loosen, Eric Jokisch, Hunter Cervenka, Dallas Beeler, and Zach Cates.  Or they may just want to leave a few of those spots open for free agents and waiver wire pick-ups if they don't feel they will lose those players anyway.  It's very doubtful to me the Cubs would protect all those players (and maybe even none of them get protected) and would instead try to keep their roster flexible.

In the end, I think the Cubs are in very good shape.  I haven't even had to delve into struggling and/or injured but talented players such as Brett Jackson, Josh Vitters, Brooks Raley, Hector Rondon, and Trey McNutt.  They are by no means locks to stay with the organization, but it seems to me they may well get another chance to prove themselves unless the Cubs want to move them to add even more players through trades, free agent signings and other moves.  The Cubs may also want to move them simply if they like one of the Rule 5 eligibles better (i.e. Jokisch or Cervenka over Raley)

It also tells me that, if they choose, they should easily be able to bring back players who showed well in limited time such as Donnie Murphy, Ryan Sweeney, and Bryan Bogusevic.

It will be interesting to see how it all shakes down, but I think the Cubs have managed their roster pretty well and should be in a position to add talent this offseason, both from inside and outside the organization.  That's not to say the Cubs won't find themselves in a position to lose good players, but that is going to start to become a fact of life as the Cubs continue to add top talent and depth to their organization.

Consider this just a primer since not all these decisions need to be made now.  The Cubs will likely get September to evaluate Raley.  They'll need time to evaluate the long term health prospects of Dolis and Fujikawa, and they'll get the fall league to evaluate Loosen and Beeler.

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  • I think they need to add Alcantara and Rosscup. I'll take the chance that Ha, Cervenka and the younger guys either go unpicked in the draft, or would be returned by the end of ST. Ha probably could stick as a backup in some team's OF if they are lookign for defensive help, but he doesn't have much upside with the bat so if we did lose him it wouldn't be the end of the world.

  • In reply to mjvz:

    That's pretty much how I see it. The other guys are interesting, but unless something happens like Loosen or Beeler come out throwing 95 this fall, they're probably be safe. It's a luxury to protect those borderline guys at his point.

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    I have a sneaking suspicion Dolis headed for Tommy John Surgery #2. If that's the case, it's very difficult to defend using a roster spot on him.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    Iknow John has mentioned the lack of deception in Dolis's delivery before, but I think it goes beyond that why he struggles to miss bats. I really think Dolis's FB moves too much. And by that I mean taht I think it begins breaking too early. We've all heard about late movement on a pitch that gives the hitter no time to adjust, and I think Dolis has the opposite problem. I think his FB starts dropping so early that hitters get a good read and can easily track it. He really isn't a loss to me if he is hurt or we lose him through waiers.

  • Sappelt, McDonald, Gillespie, Bowden, McNutt, Dolis, Raley are all pretty easily replaced if we need to drop them to make room for a FA add. And even a guy like Bogusevic would be easy to drop if needed because the only way we would need to is if we brought in a better veteran FA as an upgrade.

    I really don't see much of a roster crunch this offseason. Now after 2014, we may run into a problem. It may even occur during next season as I think Baez, Bryant, Hendricks, and probably 1 or 2 other prospects will need to be added so they can get called up to the big club.

  • In reply to mjvz:

    I think the line becomes blurred when it comes to commodities that are scarce out on the market. When we talk about Dolis' power sinker that he can throw as hard as 97 -- that's rare and you want to give him every chance to succeed. McNutt also has a power arm with great stuff and athleticism. Maybe a tweak here or there and you've got yourself a stud. Raley, as an athletic lefty, is also not an easy find on the market if you are trying to save money. You don't need to drop these guys unless you absolutely have to. There's no real reason to give up on them because they haven't yet performed up to expectations. It only becomes an issue if they are standing in the way of an upgrade.

    Bogusevic is a guy you might keep because you are not guaranteed to find the right fit this offseason the way they did with Schierholtz. If they think they can land another player of that ilk, Bogusevic becomes more expendable. I agree Sweeney has the inside track if the Cubs want to keep just one, but right now I'm not sure they don't keep both.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    What I guess I was trying to say with that is if we do find a better player available then these are guys that are easy to drop in favor of an upgrade. I'm not saying drop them right away and hope we get somebody better. The relievers all have a little more upside than the position players, but even if they reach their peak, I don't think they would be much above replacement level. I know some people still hold out hope for McNutt and Dolis, but I think their stuff has always been overrated. I actually think Raley is more valuable than either of them despite the fact that his stuff is generally considered worse.

  • In reply to mjvz:

    With McNutt and Dolis, you dream on upside and I suppose the only reason you hang on to them that long is to make sure you exhausted all possibilities first. Raley is more likely than either to stick in the majors but hard to see him being much more than James Russell at his peak -- which wouldn't be a bad thing by any means.

  • I would protect a very young prospect over a middle age veteran.
    Selecting the 40-man roster in 2014 is going to very hard

  • In reply to emartinezjr:

    I agree. I would as well, especially when you are talking about guys that are replacement level like Gillespie, Bowden, etc. The Cubs can lose them and always pick up something similar cheaply on the open market.

    It's only going to get tougher as the Cubs talent starts reaching the upper levels of the minors.

  • John,

    Nice informative article.

    Looking at the roster ....what positions would you like to see the Cubs address in Free Agency ?

    Backup Catcher, 2 Vet. Pitchers and an Outfielder maybe ??

  • In reply to SouthsideB:

    Thanks. I think the Cubs will look to add talent first and foremost. If there is a young free agent out there with upside, they'll spend. As far as I'm concerned, Tanaka is a guy they'd make an exception for as far as spending money.

    The other spots may be more along the lines of role players until the Cubs can decide where they stand with their prospect talent as far as who can help in 2015. Backup catcher is a need, though a minor one. Pitchers are always possibilities and an outfielder is a possibility -- especially a RH hitting one to compliment what may end up being a heavily LH bunch if they keep Bogusevic along with Sweeney and Schierholtz.

  • Really, really good stuff John!!! Thank you.

    If Dolis does need TJ, does somebody stash him on a 40-man, knowing that he's gone for all of next year? Doesn't that make him less of a risk to leave him off... esp if roster spots are at (or become) a premium?

    If Sappelt isn't going to be brought up, I'm a bit confused about why and and Ransom are still on the 40. Donnie Baseball's ability to play all 3 positions seems to bode well for his spot... and I was a bit surprised to see he's still a relatively young man.

  • In reply to MoneyBoy:

    Great article as usual John.

    I also find it curious that Sappelt is still on the 40 man. Considering he has been passed over several times I think I would just DFA him and add Ha now to get a little bit of a look.

    As far as everyone else on your list I would add Rosscup and Alcantara and that's it. Unless one of the other arms dominates the AFL then I could see adding them as well. Otherwise keep as many roster spots open as possible for the flexability.

    Lastly, John any word on the remaining call-ups?

  • In reply to Zippy2212:

    Thanks Zippy. I think Sappelt still on because there has been no need to take him off the roster yet. I don't think Ha is the kind of prospect you make room for and I think they know what he's going to be -- a defensive replacement type player who doesn't add much else in terms of bat, power, or speed. In all honesty, I see him more as an emergency call-up than a guy you make sure you get a long look at -- similar to Watkins right now as the utility IF'er.

    Call ups will likely be Boscan, Raley, Baker, maybe Grimm and maybe Lim.

  • In reply to MoneyBoy:

    Thanks Moneyboy and yes. It makes much less of a risk to lose at that point but all I know right now of Dolis is that he threw 9 pitches and was removed. I don't know how serious it is. He looked like he was in some pain -- but until they examine him, I'm not going to assume TJ surgery.

  • really good read and breakdown. This process will just get harder and harder as the system gets stronger and inevitably one day the organization will lose someone who goes on to a good career somewhere else, but I would rather have that problem than filling out the 40 man with warm bodies.

    off topic but not sure if anyone else saw this;

    Kiley McDaniel has some notes about the Daytona team and is a good quick read (subscription needed). Best thing I saw was he mentions Vogelbach will probably be on his top 100 list this year. That is the first I have seen anyone suggest that and I am happy to hear it.

  • In reply to DoubleM:


    Some will really like Vogelbach. He's going to be a bit of a polarizing player until he proves it at the MLB level. He can hit. I don't have much question about that, but I'm still not sure what kind of hitter he's going to be. He shows at times that he can hit for power and at at other times he can hit for average. If he can do them both at the upper levels, then his defense isn't going to matter all that much. All he needs to do is make the routine plays at 1B.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    Meanwhile, he's turned into an OBP machine in Daytona!

  • In reply to João Lucas:

    He has indeed. But power is still his meal ticket.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Nice article John. I haven't seen Vogelbach play but someone who has seen him a couple of times says his defense has really improved. Wonder if V was out to prove he just wasn't a power hitter and the result has been a willingness to take walks when needed and to become a more well-rounded hitter.

  • Just posted on Twitter:

    WorldSeriesDreaming @WSDreaming_Cubs

    Here they come RT @ESPNChiCubs: Cubs call up P Justin Grimm, C JC Boscan, P Brooks Raley, LHP Zach Russcup from Iowa..Dave Sappelt DFA

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    In reply to BobMiller146:

    Sappelt DFA was to add Rosscup. Nice calls on both by John.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    They kept D.McDonald over Sappelt ?

    Wonder what Sappelt did to piss off the Front Office (maybe siding with I. Stewart on twitter)

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    In reply to SouthsideB:

    I think that contributed to it.

  • In reply to SouthsideB:

    That pretty much says it all. They just didn't want him anymore. I think the writing was on the wall once they added Gillespie and McDonald to the roster -- and probably well before then.

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    In reply to SouthsideB:

    Speaking of Twitter: Garza hasn't made single tweet since the bunt fiasco.

    Remarkable coincidence.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    My only disappointment is that Lim didn't get the call. I wanted to see Rosscup, Grimm, Baker, and Lim. However, they may want to shut down Baker and see if they can bring him back on a minor league deal. Maybe the same with Lim. I think Lim could have helped this year (not that the Cubs are looking to get a major September boost).

  • In reply to BobMiller146:

    We have left handed relievers besides Russell!!!!

    Something tells me Russell still warms up every game, even if he doesn't actually appear.

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    In reply to mjvz:

    Usage restrictions need to be put on Rosscup so Dale doesn't destroy him.

  • In reply to BobMiller146:

    Thanks. Just posted a quick article. Was working on a separate one that I may need to hold off on for now.

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