The offseason has just begun for the Rays. They have plenty of moves to make before they’ll be ready to contend in 2013 and look to return to the postseason. But one question that will have to be answered in the short term is what their 40-man roster will look like. Today is the deadline for the Rays to add and subtract players from their roster before the Rule 5 Draft on the last day of the Winter Meetings this December.
The 40-man roster for big league teams is important for two reasons. The first is that you can only call-up players from your 40-man roster to the big leagues and if a player is not on it, you have to make room for them on the 40-man. The second is that players on the 40-man roster remain under team control- they are not eligible for the Rule 5 Draft and cannot become minor league free agents. The Rays need to figure out which of their prospects belong on their 40-man roster between their abilities to contribute to the team and their chances of being selected in the Rule 5 Draft.
This roster has clear needs- specifically the lack of a first baseman and a clear third starter in the outfield with Ben Zobrist slated to play shortstop- but let’s break it down as it is right now. Even taking possible trades out of the picture, we can pinpoint a few players whose roster spots are up in the air. The most obvious one is Ben Francisco, who is arbitration-eligible after making over 1.5 million dollars in 2012, and he’s a clear non-tender candidate unless the Rays acquire not a single outfielder over the next month, and even if they do, Brandon Guyer looks like he could be just as good as Francisco while making the league minimum. Other than Francisco, you can look in that “Questionable Pitchers” row- they’re not just questionable in terms of minors or majors but also their roster spots. Colome is a nice prospect, De Los Santos was just added to the roster, Gomes was a solid reliever back in 2011, and Ramos seems like a lock to make the big league roster at this point, but De La Rosa and Lueke are fringy relievers, although both feature good arms, and they could certainly go if the Rays run out of 40-man space. Torres is a prospect with electric stuff, but he was also wildly inconsistent in 2012 and the Rays may run out of patience. To a lesser extent, Reid Brignac‘s 40-man roster spot is in jeopardy, but the Rays don’t have a spare infielder to replace him at this point. Counting Brignac, there are 31 locks for the 40-man roster.
Who will the Rays consider adding to the 40-man roster? We can’t think about which players the Rays will acquire this offseason, but the Rays have several players who will have to be considered for the 40-man to protect them from the Rule 5 Draft. The basic rules for eligibility for the Rule 5 Draft are 3 years in the system as a draft pick out of college, 4 years in the system as a draft pick out of high school, and approximately 5 years in the system as an international signee (although things get more touchy because exact signing dates are often unclear). Who are the eligible players for the Rays to consider protecting?
The two locks to be added to the 40-man roster are Tim Beckham, who the Rays selected first overall in 2008, and Hak-Ju Lee, one of the Rays’ top shortstop prospect. Beckham disappointed in 2012, managing just a .256/.325/.361 line At Triple-A and missing time after a drug of abuse suspension, but he still has interesting hitting and power potential and should see big league time in 2013. Lee, meanwhile, is an excellent defensive shortstop and posted a .261/.336/.360 line at Double-A Montgomery with 37 stolen bases. His offensive game is still developing, but his defense is outstanding and if he can get on track at the plate he could be a very good major league player. Beyond Beckham and Lee, things get less clear.
Lefty Kyle Lobstein was selected the round after Beckham in 2008 and had a solid season at Double-A Montgomery in 2012, going 8-7 with a 4.06 ERA, an 8.1 K/9, a 4.3 BB/9, and a 0.9 HR/9 in 27 starts and 144 innings pitched. Lobstein, 6’3″, 200, throws a fastball in the 90-91 MPH range to go along with a solid curveball that shows flashes and a changeup. He was once a promising prospect, but his stock has fallen considerably since he was drafted. It doesn’t look like the Rays will seriously consider adding him to the 40-man, and he may not be a player considered for the Rule 5 Draft either.
Outfielder Ty Morrison was the Rays’ 4th round pick in 2008 and was another player with a solid but overall unimpressive season primarily at Montgomery, posting a .269/.341/.373 line with 25 doubles, 10 triples, 3 homers, 49 RBI, 31 of 41 stolen bases, and 117 strikeouts against 44 walks in 134 games and 609 plate appearances. Morrison stands out most for his speed but shows potential at the plate with nice bat speed but has never shown power and needs work on his patience as well. Morrison moves well in centerfield but does not have a great arm. Morrison seems unlikely to be more than a 4th outfielder at that point, but the Rays don’t have a spare outfielder on their roster at this point and Morrison could get a look both by the Rays to be added to their 40-man, and in the Rule 5 Draft if they don’t.
Right-hander Scott Shuman was selected in the 39th round by the Rays back in 2009 and was horrific at Montgomery in 2012, striking out a ridiculous 14.0 batters per 9 innings in 2012 but posting an 8.83 ERA as he also walked 12.2 per 9 in 29 appearances. Shuman throws a fastball that reached the upper-90′s and even a sharp slider, but his control is absolutely horrendous. Some team might give him a chance in the Rule 5 Draft, but it looks everything like they’ll stay away after he walked everybody in 2012. No chance the Rays add him to the 40-man roster this offseason.
Another right-hander, Kirby Yates, was a non-drafted free signee by the Rays in 2009 and had a good season also with the Biscuits this past season, posting a 2.65 ERA, a 12.4 K/9, a 5.2 BB/9, and a 0.5 HR/9 in 50 appearances. Yates, just 5’10″, 170, has a fastball in the 92-94 MPH range to go along with a good slider, and the Rays have sent him to the Arizona Fall League the last two seasons hoping to refine his control. Yates has his issues, but the Rays clearly like him after sending him to the AFL twice in a row and he has a reasonable chance of getting added to the 40-man roster- if he isn’t, some team may pick him up in the Rule 5 Draft hoping he can be a solid middle reliever in the big leagues.
Cole Figueroa, who was the Padres’ 6th round pick in 2008 before the Rays acquired him in the Jason Bartlett deal, is coming off a nice season primarily at Triple-A Durham, posting a .292/.362/.413 line with 23 doubles, 5 triples, 5 homers, 54 RBI, and 43 walks against 31 strikeouts in 113 games and 452 plate appearances while playing good defense at second and third base. Figueroa fits a good utility profile and maybe even has a chance to carve out a Jeff Keppinger-esque career thanks to excellent plate discipline to go along with good bat speed and versatility. He’s a poor runner without much power, but he definitely has a chance to hit more than say the trio of Elliot Johnson, Reid Brignac, and Sean Rodriguez- although he can’t handle shortstop instead in a pinch, which will likely prevent him from profiling as a starting infielder. He seems like a sure bet for the Rays’ 40-man roster this offseason.
Joseph Cruz and Nick Barnese, both right-handers selected in 2007. were both interesting prospects at one point but a combination of injuries and simply poor performance and derailed both of their careers.
Adding Beckham, Yates, and Figueroa to the 40-man roster brings the total to a maximum of 38 if they keep Francisco and the questionable pitchers on the roster. That leaves some wiggle room for players to be added based on merit alone. A couple of players for the Rays to consider are Leslie Anderson and Kevin Kiermaier. Anderson, 30, is in the final year of a 4-year deal he signed with the Rays after defecting from Cuba and had a good year at Triple-A in 2012, posting a .309/.355/.450 line with 21 doubles, 14 homers, 56 RBI, and 56 strikeouts against 26 walks in 116 games and 482 plate appearances. Anderson is a good pure hitter, but he’s a first base/left field type without the power to profile there, and a lack of patience puts his ability to hit at all in the big leagues into question. Nevertheless, the Rays have no first basemen on their roster at this point and they have to consider finally giving Anderson a chance.
Kiermaier, 22, had a lost 2012 because of injuries but had a dynamite performance in the Arizona Fall League, posting a .348/.444/.493 line with 6 doubles, 2 triples, 7 RBI, 7 of 7 stolen bases, and 12 strikeouts against 12 walks in 23 games. Kiermaier is an speedy outfielder with good defense and solid bat speed although not much power. He fits a perfect 4th outfielder archetype and will see big league time in 2012 pending more injury issues. The only question for Kiermaier is that the Rays would rather not use an option year on him this year if they don’t have to and it makes more sense to add him to the 40-man roster when they want to call him up.
Here’s your Rays 40-man roster for right now: the players listed above plus Beckham, Yates, Figueroa, Anderson, and I guess Morrison for the last spot with no reason to add Kiermaier yet. Obviously this 40-man roster is not going to cut it for the Rays next season and acquisitions will be made to improve the team. By the time the season starts, it will not be anywhere near this hard to find 40 players to go onto the roster- there will be some tough roster decisions for the Rays as the offseason progresses and the Rays will have to find the right balance between protecting their Rule 5 Draft-eligible players and finding potential contributors for next season.