The other part of preparing for the Rule 5 draft is creating roster space for the guys you want to protect. Based on yesterday’s exercise, I think the Pirates probably need spots for four players: Mitch Keller, Cole Tucker, Jason Martin and J.T. Brubaker. The Pirates currently have 37 players on the roster. Interestingly, only 15 of them are position players. Unless Clint Hurdle realizes his dream of a 12-man bullpen, they’d have only two or three spots for position players not on the active roster if that doesn’t change.
Casting a very wide net, here are the players who could conceivably be candidates to come off the roster, either to clear space for Rule 5 purposes or later as the Pirates acquire other players:
Dario Agrazal, RHP: The Pirates aren’t likely to remove Agrazal from the roster. He didn’t have an impressive year, though, and his upside is dubious because he misses very few bats. He missed time with a shoulder strain and had a recurrence in the Arizona Fall League that limited him to one outing there.
Tanner Anderson, RHP: Anderson is probably one of the better candidates to be removed at some point. He probably could help some as a middle reliever, but that’s his ceiling and it’s hard to imagine him being claimed off waivers if the Pirates tried to outright him to AAA. Unlike Alex McRae, he got a September callup and he pitched respectably.
Luis Escobar, RHP: Another prospect I doubt they’ll remove, but it may depend on what the offense was that got him suspended at the end of the season. He struggled pretty badly after moving up to Altoona due to his continuing command issues; he only has two options left, which may not be enough to get him ready for the majors.
Michael Feliz, RHP: It’d be pretty embarrassing to put part of the Gerrit Cole return on waivers. He does have an option left and he’s unlikely to reach seven figures in arbitration.
Jesus Liranzo, RHP: Aaaand another pitcher with good velocity but, so far, not enough else. Liranzo dominated in his brief time at Altoona but struggled due to control problems at Indianapolis. He is doing well in winter ball.
Alex McRae, RHP: This seems by far the most likely move. McRae just hasn’t been that good in the minors and he didn’t get a September callup. I’d be very surprised if he got claimed off waivers.
Dovydas Neverauskas, RHP: It’s hard to see them giving up just yet on a guy who throws as hard as Neverauskas and who’s done well in AAA, but he sure was awful in the majors. With Feliz, Liranzo and Neverauskas, the Pirates have three relievers who haven’t shown that much beyond velocity, although they’re all at slightly different stages of their careers. I suppose the Pirates might decide they can do with fewer.
Jacob Stallings C: Considering that the Pirates have said they’ll consider carrying three catchers, it’s hard to see Stallings going anywhere before next spring. There’s also the possibility of injury or of Francisco Cervelli being traded, although there have been no rumors on that front.
Jose Osuna, IF/OF: I doubt this would happen, considering that the Pirates went to the trouble to get him a lot of time at third and he handled it well. He has yet to show he can handle major league pitching, though, and Jung Ho Kang now blocks his path at third.
So, if I’m right that the Pirates will protect four players, they’d need to open one spot. With Max Moroff gone, I’d guess the most likely candidate by far would be McRae. Of course, other players will probably lose their roster spots as the team finds players it likes more during the off-season.
One thing I doubt they’ll need room for is a Rule 5 pick of their own. They already effectively have one in Nick Burdi, who needs to spend the first two months of the season in the majors. It’s hard to see them making a selection unless they find somebody they think is definitely major league ready. Between Hurdle’s obsessions with managing the bullpen and playing with a short bench, it’s hard to see how they could carry a Rule 5 pick.
As a final note, BA’s piece on the trade was funny. I’m not sure whether it’s in the subscriber area, but the funny part was the title: “Pirates Trade Jordan Luplow, Max Moroff to Indians to Clear 40-Man Roster Space.” Not sure what they’ve got against Erik Gonzalez.
- This was discussed some in comments, but I thought I’d link it here for anybody who missed it. Craig Edwards at FanGraphs has posted an evaluation and ranking, based on present-day WAR and dollar value, of each team’s farm system. I have a lot of reservations about this sort of thing. It ignores context, including the much greater need of less-affluent teams to develop their own core players, as well as the unreliability of prospect rankings. Anyway, the Pirates rank 11th. It won’t surprise anybody that their strength is quantity rather than quality.
- Here’s MLBTR’s list of non-tender candidates. I’m sure this is getting intense scrutiny on Federal Street.