Just one week from today, every team will need to have their 40-man rosters finalized in advance of the Rule 5 Draft. The Tampa Bay Rays, like everyone else, will have some difficult decisions to make, but they actually have one other matter to address first.
The complicating variable here is Jeremy Hellickson. Will the Rays find a way to trade him before November 20th and open up an extra 40-man roster spot? Will they trade him but receive another 40-man roster player or two in return? The uncertainty about Hellickson forces us to create a few different scenario with regards to who the Rays will protect and who they will designate for assignment prior to the November 20th deadline.
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The Rays’ 40-man roster currently stands at 39, and there are several players that the Rays could DFA in order to make more room. Steve Geltz did not show much in September and doesn’t stand out among the Rays’ relief options. Cole Figueroa is a solid player, but he is squarely behind Nick Franklin on the depth chart and has limited upside. There is also Brandon Gomes, who looked good in September but hasn’t found sustained success in the big leagues and is now out of options. Finally, the Rays could decide to eat the $2.75 million remaining on Jose Molina‘s contract and get rid of him for another spot.
Who do the Rays need to protect? Let’s go through the candidates.
The pitcher who should stand out the most from this list is Andriese. He is coming off a solid year at Triple-A Durham and may be the safest bet to be a big league starter from the prospect-laden 2014 Bulls rotation.
On the opposite edge of the spectrum are Ames and Markel. Both have excellent stuff, but they both have been incredibly inconsistent since moving past Low-A.
Thompson, Bellatti, and Kelly are more interesting. Thompson was a relatively good candidate for a spot, but is currently suffering from rotator cuff inflammation, something that only decreases his relief profile further. Bellatti had great peripherals at Double-A Montgomery last season, but lacks the arsenal to distinguish himself. Finally, Kelly doesn’t have the stuff to be more than a fifth starter or middle reliever, and the Rays can’t prioritize him too much.
That brings us to the Rays’ two difficult decisions: lefties Adam Liberatore and Grayson Garvin. Liberatore was downright incredible at Triple-A Durham last season, while Garvin showed potential but also saw his injury problems continue. Liberatore is a decent bet to be a solid lefty specialist in the big leagues, while Garvin comes with the upside to start but exponentially more risk. Here’s the thing, though: even if Garvin’s injuries prevent him from starting, he still has the stuff to be as good of a reliever as Liberatore and quite possibly better. It would be nice if the Rays could protect both of them, but Garvin has the edge of it comes down to one or the other.
O’Conner is a no-brainer to add after his breakout season at Double-A. His defensive potential is incredible and the probability is increasing that he will hit enough to start.
Hernandez and Araiza, meanwhile, were just at Low-A last season. While they have talent, it makes no sense to protect them because they are far from ready for the majors on either side of the ball.
Ryan Brett could be the favorite to replace Ben Zobrist at second base if he leaves after the 2015 season. He will certainly be added.
Seitzer is a little interesting because he has good plate discipline, decent versatility, and some power potential, but he simply doesn’t have the all-around ability to be protected from the Rule 5 Draft.
Mikie Mahtook broke out at Triple-A Durham this year and could have a place in the Rays’ future outfield. He isn’t quite as good as his 2014 numbers, but he certainly deserves to stick around.
We have to remind ourselves that despite Sale’s parallels to Josh Hamilton in regards to drugs and overall character issues, he never had Hamilton’s talent at any point.
Motter is the only difficult player here to assess. In 2014 at Double-A Montgomery, he combined his usual speed, versatility, and grittiness with increased power, and that could be enough for him to carve out a big league role. However, he looks far closer to a utility player than a starter and trails several other right-handed bats on the Rays’ infield depth chart. Motter is interesting, but he looks to be a cut below Garvin and maybe even Liberatore.
Overall, the clear players to protect are Andriese, O’Conner, Brett, and Mahtook, with Garvin, Liberatore, and Motter being other players they will try to add if they can. In terms of roster subtractions, it seems likely that Geltz, Gomes, and Figueroa will be out the door, but the Rays may not want to part with Molina until they have a clear replacement lined up. Let’s operate under the assumption that the Rays will not designate him for assignment unless they have to. With that in mind, let’s go through the three possible scenarios.
1) The Rays either hold onto Hellickson or trade him for one 40-man roster player
In this case, the Rays would have four spots open after their DFAs, making it likely that Andriese, O’Conner, Brett, and Mahtook would be added to the 40-man roster.
2) The Rays trade Hellickson for a player that does not need to be placed on the 40-man roster
Now the Rays have five spots, meaning that Garvin would also be added to the roster.
3) The Rays trade Hellickson for two 40-man roster players
Unless the Rays have firmly decided that Jose Molina will have no place on their team next season, this is the only way that Molina will get designated for assignment. The Rays will not keep a top prospect off their 40-man roster just to keep Molina around. In this case, Andriese, O’Conner, Brett, and Mahtook would be added while Geltz, Gomes, Figueroa, and Molina would be designated for assignment.
It is clear that the Rays’ Jeremy Hellickson decision will have reverberations throughout their 40-man roster. They have a clear incentive to get a deal done before they have to protect players from the Rule 5 Draft, and will we have to see if one can come together.