***UPDATE Nov 4th 1:00pm CT: As if on cue, the White Sox purchased the contract of Zach Phillips, so he is now on the 40-man roster. Also they declined Alexei Ramirez' $10M option and bought him out for $1M instead, making him a free agent (though there is a good chance he is brought back on a different deal).
With the Kansas City Royals clinching the World Series on Sunday (the first AL Central team to do so since the White Sox in 2005), the Major League offseason can truly, officially begin. Many decisions need to be made, and among them is what players will be "protected" on the 40-man roster prior to the Rule 5 Draft.
First, a brief primer. This year the Rule 5 Draft occurs on December 10. In the Major League phase of the draft, any player who is not on a club's 40-man roster and is also approaching their 4th or 5th Rule 5 draft since signing a pro contract can be selected by another club for $50,000 paid to the holding team. For players signed at age 18 or younger it is 5th, for 19 or older at signing it is 4th. There is also a minor league phase of the draft, where players not protected on the "minor league reserve" rosters (basically the active-equivalent rosters of all affiliates) can be selected as well, under the same service time restrictions.
The 40-man roster of record for the draft must be finalized by November 20 this year. This means making some tough calls on who will be left exposed to the Rule 5. So let's take a look at the 40-man roster and the players on the bubble.
Here is a link to the current 40-man roster, which is at 34 as it stands today. That includes recent waiver claim Jacob Turner. Jeff Samardzija, Gordon Beckham, Matt Albers and Geovany Soto all elected free agency, though Albers and maybe Soto could come back.
We obviously can't predict for trades or new signings that may occur, so we're working from the current organizational resources. Among them are the following minor leaguers, and Major League players who require protection but aren't definitely 25-man players at this point:
- Chris Beck
- Rob Brantly
- Scott Carroll
- Matt Davidson
- Leury Garcia
- Erik Johnson
- Micah Johnson
- Frankie Montas
- Tyler Saladino
- J.B. Shuck
- Kevan Smith
- Trayce Thompson
- Daniel Webb
As far as players who may be removed from the roster, Scott Carroll is on the bubble. It is likely the Sox won't protect both Rob Brantly and Kevan Smith - with Smith arguably the more likely to be left unprotected - but that depends on any potential offseason acquisitions and possibly re-signing Soto. There is also a (small) chance the team doesn't hold onto J.B. Shuck, with Trayce Thompson ready for that slot. Leury Garcia's grip on a slot is tenuous as well, and seems superfluous with Saladino, Sanchez and Johnson all there. So the six currently open slots could become 7 or 8 (or even more) in the near future.
Now, who is not on the current 40-man roster that requires protection, and has some risk of being taken in the Rule 5 draft? Because that is the key factor - what is the risk another team claims the player, knowing they need to keep that player on their 25-man active roster all year (or return the player for $25,000). I'll split these up into two categories...
HIGH RISK OF CLAIM
Relievers tend to be selected more so than other positions, in part because they can be more easily "hidden" in a 7- or 8-man bullpen. The White Sox have two arms they likely want to keep around who could very well be selected.
Peter Tago was selected by the Sox in last year's Minor League phase of the draft, as the Colorado organization didn't even bother to protect him on the minor league reserve lists due to his years of failing to live up to potential. But under the tutelage of pitching coaches Jose Bautista (Kannapolis) and J.R. Perdew (Winston-Salem), Tago re-tooled his delivery, scrapped his curveball and revamped his slider, to excellent results. His mid-90s fastball and new slider combo could make him enticing to a major league club looking for a high potential bullpen arm.
Lefty reliever Zach Phillips has Major League experience (15.2 MLB IP) and was death on lefties in Charlotte (.556 OPS allowed) this year, so the 29-year old could be intriguing to a club looking for a LOOGY. The reason he has the **** after his name is that, as far as I can tell, Phillips has not yet re-signed with the club. As such he is technically a free agent and ineligible for the draft. If the club has signed him or does so prior to the draft, he'd need to be added to be protected. They may elect to wait until after for that exact reason.
LOWER RISK OF CLAIM
- Blake Smith
- Jeffrey Wendelken
- Myles Jaye
- Terance Marin
- Miguel Chalas
- Robin Leyer
- Kyle Hansen
- Michael Ynoa
Well look at that - all pitchers. Aside from the ones already on the 40-man roster, the White Sox just don't have any Rule 5-eligible position players with any real risk of being selected.
Now why would a 27-year-old reliever (Blake Smith) acquired mid-season for basically nothing be a risk to be claimed? For one thing, he didn't start pitching until he was 25. For another, he posted very nice results including a 12.6 K/9 rate in AAA Charlotte this year, in a band box home park. Finally, Knights pitching coach Rich Dotson raved about him when we visited this year, and it sounds like the stuff is the real deal.
JB (or Jeffrey) Wendelken has been treated as a high potential relief arm by the Sox as well (see his Arizona Fall League inclusion), though he doesn't have flashy stuff. That said, in addition to a low 90's fastball he can locate on a dime, his change-up is considered a plus pitch and his curve has shown potential.
Myles Jaye is without a doubt the best prospect of the bunch, which alone makes him a risk to leave exposed. He's not as high risk as some others though, because A) he hasn't pitched above AA, and B) he stumbled a bit late in the season and has been inconsistent. But there's enough risk here to seriously consider adding him to the 40-man roster.
Terance Marin came up from Mexico during the season with increased velocity, an improved cutter and was basically a new pitcher, which showed in going nearly 4 full starts before he gave up a run in his AAA debut. His numbers were up and down after, but he's got enough stuff and success to be perhaps be enticing to a team looking for bullpen help.
The rest of the arms here fall into the true long-shot category. Chalas has a big fastball and some higher level success, Leyer has an even bigger fastball (and nothing else) and was effective in AA, Hansen has a nice FB-SL combo from a giant frame and also did well in AA. Then there's Michael Ynoa, the one-time highly considered prospect - he didn't pitch much this year (38 IP) due to injuries, and hasn't been above A+ yet. These all fall into the category of extremely unlikely to be claimed, and it wouldn't be the end of the world if they were.
The good news is, very few of the prospects eligible for the Rule 5 this year are even in the Top 30 in the system - maybe a couple at most, and only Jaye could make a case for Top 20. So there won't be a big crunch this year (though next year looks like a very different story). This gives the team lots of flexibility, which it will undoubtedly take advantage of.
Albers and/or Carroll may be brought back. Kevan Smith isn't a likely claim risk so he might be DFA'd. That means there would be around 6 to 8 open slots - but with roster gaps at backup catcher and the bullpen.
Tago and Phillips (if re-signed) likely will be protected, certainly the former. Jaye probably will be as well. Blake Smith and Wendelken have a strong chance too, and if there is room, the club really should protect them. Even if most of those are protected, that still leaves the team some wiggle room on the roster.
The team is probably looking to add in the Rule 5 this year if they can, with a number of teams unable to protect some key prospects and the Sox picking 10th and in need of some help at multiple positions. So expect the club to keep a few slots open on the 40-man roster on November 20th.
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