40-Man Roster Decisions, Eligibility and The Rule 5 Draft Implications

The 2019 Major League Baseball season has culminated with the Washington Nationals winning their first World Series. Qualifying Offers will soon be extended and free agents have started officially filing for freedom. This is an off-season of great significance for the Chicago White Sox and the decision makers have already begun trimming the edges of the roster.


The 40-man roster stood at 35 after the organization out-righted lefty Manny Banuelos in addition to outfielder Ryan Cordell and infielders Matt Skole and Ryan Goins. All four players will become minor league free agents upon being released from the organization. Pitchers Ivan Nova, Ross Detwiler and Hector Santiago along with outfielder Jon Jay and infielder Jose Abreu have filed for free agency as well. Catcher Welington Castillo was traded to Texas and LHP Josh Osich was claimed off waivers by Boston. Pitchers Michael Kopech, Carlos Rodon and Ryan Burr must be added back to the roster from their 60-day injured list stints too. After this impending bookkeeping, the White Sox roster will stand at 32 players.

The Rule 5 Draft takes place on the final day of Major League Baseball’s annual winter meetings. This year, the draft will take place on Thursday, December 12th at the Hilton San Diego Bayfront in San Diego, California. 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 season in an organization can be selected by another club for $100,000 paid to the holding club. For players signed at the age of 18 or younger, they have five years in an organization before becoming eligible. Players who are signed at the age of 19 or older have four years with their respective clubs. There is also a minor league phase where unprotected players not on the “minor league reserve” rosters can be selected as well, under the same service time restrictions. But where MLB selections must be kept on the drafting team’s active roster all year or have to offer them back at $50,000, in the minor league phase there is no such requirement.

In 2018, the White Sox selected right hander Jordan Romano from the Blue Jays with the 3rd overall pick and immediately traded him to Texas. The 40-man roster of record for the Rule 5 Draft must be finalized by November 20th at 7PM central time. In past years, the White Sox have had some difficult decisions to make. That remains true this year but the maneuvering should be manageable.

Current Roster

Here is a look at the current 40-man roster for the Chicago White Sox, which sits at 32 players. The roster includes 19 pitchers, 3 catchers, 4 infielders and 6 outfielders.

We can’t predict future trades or transactions that may occur, so we’re working from the current organizational depth chart. The following minor and major league players require protection, are already on the 40, but aren’t definitely 25-man roster players at this point:

Micker Adolfo (OF)

Luis Alexander Basabe (OF)

Dylan Cease (RHP)

Zack Collins (C)

Jimmy Cordero (RHP)

Dylan Covey (RHP)

Caleb Frare (LHP)

Carson Fulmer (RHP)

Ian Hamilton (RHP)

Michael Kopech (RHP)

Kodi Medeiros (LHP)

Danny Mendick (SS)

Daniel Palka (OF)

Jose Ruiz (RHP)

Thyago Vieira (RHP)

Seby Zavala (C)

The roster currently sits at 32 players and while some roster shuffling should occur, it’s not completely necessary until more transactions are consummated. There are some players on the roster bubble but not as many as in recent seasons. In the outfield, Daniel Palka is hanging onto a roster spot for now but his place in the organization appears tenuous. The 28-year-old posted a 126 wRC+ in Triple-A Charlotte last year but struggled in 93 big league plate appearances. Micker Adolfo and Luis Alexander Basabe are both prospects but neither have advanced past Double-A Birmingham in the Sox’s system. Their roster spots are safe as they’d be eligible for the Rule 5 Draft and likely wouldn’t clear waivers to even make it that far.

Leury Garcia isn’t a lock to be on the 2020 club but he plays multiple positions and his arbitration increase shouldn’t be cost prohibitive. He posted a 1.3 fWAR last season and offers roster versatility in a reserve role. 26-year-old infielder Danny Mendick had a brief stint in the majors after posting a 109 wRC+ with 17 homers in the increased offensive environment in the International League. Mendick’s roster spot is likely safe after being added late in the 2019 season in advance of December’s Rule 5 Draft. He will likely be given the opportunity to compete for a bench role in Chicago but could be a prominent member of the Knights again in 2020 as well.

Yolmer Sanchez leads the league in Gatorade baths and is a Gold Glove Finalist but his offensive ineptitude leaves much to be desired for someone in his financial bracket. The 27-year-old infielder is due a projected $6.2 million in arbitration and that should be an easy decision for the organization. Sanchez hit .252/.318/.321 last season and it’s likely that the only way he returns to Chicago next year is with a reduction in pay. Catcher Seby Zavala is the 3rd backstop on the roster and he really struggled at the dish in Charlotte. His place on the roster shouldn’t be secure either heading into the 2020 baseball season.

In the pitching department, Dylan Covey, Thyago Vieira, Kodi Medeiros and Caleb Frare seem like the guys to watch.  Frare has battled injuries and struggled substantially in 2019. He’s got good stuff though and the organization traded a significant sum of international cash to acquire him. Medeiros was a 1st round pick in 2014 and the 23-year-old Hawaiian has struggled with command as a professional. Kodi was added to the 40-man roster last off-season and finally had some success pitching out of the bullpen in Birmingham last year. Covey has been up and down for the White Sox over the last two seasons but there’s probably not a place for him on the next really good Pale Hose team.

Those Not Yet On Roster

There are also numerous players not currently on the 40-man roster that present some risk of being taken in December’s Draft if not protected. If another team takes a player in the Rule 5, they must keep the player on their active roster for the entirety of the season or return the player to his original club for $50,000 – something to keep in mind when evaluating claim risk. I will split these players into two categories.

Risk of Being Claimed

The most obvious names on this list are Dane Dunning, Zack Burdi and Jimmy Lambert. The three righties were all members of the 2016 draft class and all of them have been injured as well. This troika of 24-year-olds have suffered setbacks on the path to the majors but all three should return to action at some point in 2020. Dunning is a 6’4″ 200 pound righty who was selected in the first round out of Florida. He posted a 2.40 FIP in Birmingham over 62 innings while averaging over 10 K/9. The right hander is rehabbing from Tommy John Surgery and should be on target to throw at an affiliate for the second half of next season. Dunning might have reached the majors by now if he stayed healthy and James Fegan of The Athletic recently wrote about his road to recovery.

Zack Burdi was a first round pick of the White Sox out of Louisville in 2016. He was seen as a fast moving bullpen arm that could be used in high leverage situations. The 6’3″ 205 pounder possesses a premium fastball but has missed much of the last two seasons. Burdi averaged nearly 11 K/9 on the rehab trail last season as his stuff was starting to return to form. He was shutdown last year with a torn ligament in his right patella. He should be full go for spring training and he’ll likely be given the opportunity to win a big league job out of camp. Jimmy Lambert was a 5th round selection out of Fresno State in the same draft. He posted a 2.88 ERA with Double-A Birmingham in 2018 while showing increased spin and velocity. Lambert was clearly hurt in 2019 as was evidenced by a velocity dip and deteriorating results. He is also rehabbing from Tommy John Surgery.

Because of the 90-day rule for injured players, these three hurlers would be very likely to get selected in the Rule 5 Draft. Zack Burdi’s brother Nick was drafted last year under similar circumstances and roster protection for these three is a no brainer in this case. Lefty Bernardo Flores and outfielder Blake Rutherford are also candidates who will likely need protection as well. Flores was a 7th round pick out of USC in 2016 and the 24-year-old southpaw had a solid albeit shortened season. Bernardo posted a 2.93 xFIP with the Barons in 78 innings. He also pitched in the Arizona Fall League after missing time due to injury. The 6’2″ 190 pounder has been a steady performer since entering the system and should be in the rotation at Triple-A Charlotte in 2020. Flores projects as a back-end starter.

Rutherford is the rare high school pick that is eligible for the Rule 5 one year early due to his advanced age on draft day. Blake was a highly regarded prep outfielder out of California and he hasn’t lived up to his lofty status to date. Drafted by the Yankees in the first round back in 2016, he was traded to the White Sox at the deadline in 2017. The 22-year-old struggled in Birmingham with a slash of .265/.319/.365 and 7 homers. Rutherford also took part in the AFL recently as well. He’s strictly a corner power and hasn’t hit for enough power but the White Sox won’t be willing to let him get away for free at this juncture.

Right handed pitcher Alec Hansen and catcher Yermin Mercedes are two other possibilities for roster protection but they are much less likely than the previous five names. Hansen was a 2nd round pick out of Oklahoma back in 2016 and he looked like a steal for awhile. The 6’7″ 235 pound fireballer was knocking on the door of top 100 prospect status in 2017 before the wheels came off. The 25-year-old has always struggled with command and repeating his mechanics and this season was no different. Hansen pitched well in High-A to start the year but was disastrous in 39.2 innings with the Barons. He averaged over 10 K/9 but walked almost as many. The White Sox have moved Alec to a full time relief role to try and salvage whatever is left in there. He likely doesn’t get taken in the Rule 5 Draft and should compete for a bullpen spot in the Sox’s system.

Mercedes was a fan favorite and a must watch attraction on MILB.TV this year for the Charlotte Knights. While he doesn’t have a defensive home, he can really hit from the right side of the plate. Yermin hit .310/.386/.647 with a .418 wOBA and 150 wRC+. He also smacked 17 homers in the International League after posting a 157 wRc+ in Birmingham. Mercedes walks a ton and possesses huge raw power but can’t catch regularly and has a unique body type. He was selected in the minor league phase of the 2017 Rule 5 Draft and could be selected in the major league phase this December if protection isn’t offered to him by the White Sox.

Low Risk of Claim

Likely Outcomes

For the third consecutive year, the White Sox have more than a handful of notable prospects in need of roster protection. Last year, the organization protected some higher upside players even though they were further away from the majors. They still have some decisions to make as far as deciding who they’re willing to risk and who they can’t live without. It’s not a secret that the organization has procured gobs of talent but one of the few pitfalls of that process is not being able to keep all of said talent. This process will be interesting to say the least.

Zack Burdi, Dane Dunning and Jimmy Lambert are locks to be protected. The White Sox can’t lose those players at this time and they have plenty of roster space to accommodate the additions. Blake Rutherford and Bernardo Flores will likely be protected as well but it’s not as emphatic of a decision as the others. Alec Hansen and Yermin Mercedes are less likely to be added to the 40-man roster but you never know with as much open space as the organization has currently. With 32 players on the roster, Rick Hahn and company have 8 spots to play with this month barring more changes.

The White Sox haven’t selected a player in the Rule 5 Draft since taking Dylan Covey in 2016. The club will pick 11th in the draft and could find a bullpen arm with some upside to compete in spring training. They could also just trade the pick to the Texas Rangers again as well. In order to make a selection, they’ll need to leave a spot open on the roster prior to November 20th.

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  • Good to see Carson Fulmer and Dylan Covey are protected, will it ever end. They have to be related to Don Cooper.

  • In reply to Jack Buckley:

    Carson Fulmer is out of options so he'll either be on the big league team next year or in a different organization.

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    Jose Abreu could be the first player added back to the roster. He will probably receive a QO by the Monday deadline if a new contract isn't worked out first. I suspect that Abreu will also accept the QO within the subsequent 10 day deadline under those same circumstances.

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