Teams have a lot of decisions to make over the next few hours. That’s because midnight tonight is the deadline to set 40-man rosters in preparation for next month's Rule 5 draft.
Any eligible player left off a 40-man will be eligible for selection in the major league Rule 5 draft in December at the Winter Meetings. So the days leading up to tonight's deadline are filled with discussions and deliberations as teams try to determine which players could skate through the Rule 5 draft unselected and which ones would be snapped up.
To help you prepare for tonight’s deadline, we highlight some of the more interesting decisions clubs face. Keep in mind, this is not a complete list of every player whom teams are debating, though it is intended as a sneak peek at the Rule 5 draft.
But first, a few ground rules. Players 18 or younger when they signed their first pro contracts in 2009, or 19 or older when they signed their pro contracts in 2010 are eligible for this year's draft. With few exceptions, that means high school and international players signed in 2009, and college players from 2010 make up the bulk of this year's Rule 5 draft class.
The Rule 5 draft will be held Dec. 12, at the end of the Winter Meetings in Orlando. Selections in the major league phase cost $50,000, and selected players must remain on the major league roster (or disabled list) for the entire 2014 season, with at least 90 days on the active roster. If a player is removed from the roster he must first clear waivers, then is offered back to his original club at half of the drafting price. Teams that want to keep players from the Rule 5 but don’t have room on their major league rosters often work out deals to keep the players and send them to the minors.
Numbers in parentheses indicate players on the 40-man roster prior to the Nov. 20 deadline.
Arizona Diamondbacks (39)
Likely Protections: None.
Possible Protections: RHP Kevin Munson, SS Raul Navarro, LHP Cody Wheeler.
When the Diamondbacks called up Chris Owings and David Holmberg down the stretch, they locked in their two must-protects. Munson, a converted catcher, had a solid season at Double-A Mobile and Triple-A Reno, piling up plenty of strikeouts thanks to his 92-95 mph fastball and potentially above-average slider. Navarro is unlikely to get picked as he has yet to play above Class A, and while he can handle both shortstop and second base, he doesn't have the long-term offensive potential to warrant carrying on a big league roster next season. Wheeler is a lefthander who can run his fastball up to 93-94 mph and he has an average changeup, but after a rough year at high Class A Visalia, he likely won't be on the Rule 5 radar.
Atlanta Braves (37)
Likely Protections: None.
Possible Protections: 2B/OF Phil Gosselin, SS Elmer Reyes.
Atlanta can likely safely go through tonight's deadline without protecting anyone. Gosselin recently passed through outright waivers without being claimed, so it's hard to see anyone picking him in the Rule 5 draft when he could have been had without restrictions just a few weeks before. Reyes is a potentially useful shortstop, but with no time above low Class A, he's just not ready to stick on a big league roster.
Baltimore Orioles (32)
Likely Protections: C Michael Ohlman, RHP Tim Berry.
Possible Protections: RHP Matt Hobgood, RHP Mychael Givens.
The 2009 draft has not been kind to the Orioles. Hobgood, the club's first-round pick that year, saw his stuff sapped by a shoulder injury that required surgery. Givens, a shortstop when he was picked in the second round, has converted to the mound. Neither will likely be drafted if left unprotected, but teams sometimes protect high picks because of the financial investment they have made. Ohlman and Berry will both rank in the Orioles Top 10 Prospects and are safer bets to be added to the 40-man roster.
Boston Red Sox (36)
Likely Protections: OF Bryce Brentz, 3B Garin Cecchini, RHP Anthony Ranaudo.
Possible Protections: 3B/OF Kolbrin Vitek
Cecchini is a rare high school 2010 draftee who has to be protected because he was 19 at the time of his signing. He and Ranaudo are easy protection decisions as both are among Boston’s top prospects. Brentz is likely to be protected as well because it's hard to find power, and the right fielder has plenty of it. With plenty of Double-A and Triple-A time under his belt, he has only a small jump to the big leagues. Vitek, a first-round pick out of Ball State in 2010, may be viewed as a sunk cost at this point. He's moved off of third base because of the club's logjam of upper-level third basemen, and he doesn't hit for enough power to fit as a corner outfielder.
Chicago White Sox (36)
Likely Protections: OF Trayce Thompson.
Possible Protections: OF Brandon Jacobs, SS Tyler Saladino, 1B Andy Wilkins.
The White Sox already have their top three picks from the 2010 draft on the 40-man roster—Chris Sale, Jake Petrick and Addison Reed—reducing the need for many tough decisions. Thompson didn't hit in Triple-A in 2013, but his power/speed combination likely will land him a 40-man roster spot, especially as there are spaces available. None of the three listed possible protections is likely to earn a spot. Jacobs, acquired from the Red Sox for Matt Thornton in July, still has plenty of tools, but he's yet to unlock his above-average power potential and his hit tool is well below-average. Saladino can draw a walk, but after back-to-back poor seasons in Double-A, the White Sox can feel safe in leaving him unprotected. Wilkins is a tougher decision as he has shown his power potential in games—he's hit at least 17 home runs in each of the past three seasons—and he's already reached Triple-A, but the Rule 5 market for athletically-limited first basemen is a pretty small one.
Chicago Cubs (37)
Likely Protections: SS/2B Arismendy Alcantara.
Possible Protections: RHP Matt Loosen, 2B Gioskar Amaya, SS Marco Hernandez, RHP Zach Cates, RHP Dallas Beeler.
There's no way the Cubs will let Alcantara into the Rule 5 pool. Loosen was lights-out at high Class A Daytona last year but was then knocked out by Double-A hitters. With an average fastball that touches 94 mph and an assortment of fringy secondary pitches, he likely would make it through the Rule 5 draft, but it only takes one team's scouts seeing him good. Amaya and Hernandez are a pair of good-glove middle-infield prospects, but considering the rawness of their hit tools and the fact that they've barely played above low Class A, they seem safe to leave unprotected. Cates has plenty of arm strength with a fastball that will touch 96 mph, but his lack of a quality second pitch makes it unlikely he could stick on a major league roster even if he's being stashed for the year. Beeler made a case to be protected with a solid stint in the Arizona Fall League.
Cincinnati Reds (35)
Likely Protections: C Tucker Barnhart, RHP Chad Rogers.
Possible Protections: OF Junior Arias, OF Ryan LaMarre, OF Juan Duran.
Barnhart is a big league-ready catcher defensively, so if he was left unprotected, he'd be picked very quickly. Like Barnhart, Rogers lacks significant upside, but it's easy to see the 6-foot righthander sticking on a big league roster because of his tick-above-average fastball, potentially average slider and feel for pitching. Arias leaves the Reds with a very interesting decision. He's a rare power/speed combination, as he hit 15 home runs and stole 60 bases at Class A Bakersfield in 2013. But considering his lack of experience above Class A, his hit tool is raw enough that the Reds could consider the risk of leaving him unprotected. Duran has significant raw power, but he hasn't made enough contact to make pitchers worry. LaMarre can play an above-average center field defensively, and he can run, but his problems at the plate make him a low-upside pick if someone considered taking him in the Rule 5 draft.
Cleveland Indians (36)
Likely Protections: RHP Austin Adams.
Possible Protections: OF LeVon Washington.
Adams went unprotected and unpicked in last year's Rule 5 draft. That won't happen again this year. With a top-of-the-scale fastball and 12 strikeouts per nine innings in a solid season at Double-A Akron, he's a sure bet to be added to the 40-man roster. Washington received $1.2 million to sign out of the 2010 draft, but after an injury-plagued career, he's a pretty safe bet to survive the Rule 5 draft unpicked.
Colorado Rockies (31)
Likely Protections: LHP Tyler Matzek, 1B/OF Kyle Parker.
Possible Protections: None.
With plenty of 40-man roster space to spare, it makes the decision to protect Matzek an easier one. The 2009 first-round pick has had an up and down career so far, but he's shown enough promise to make him worth protecting as a nearly $4 million investment. Parker, the club's 2010 first-round pick, also is an easy decision. With Todd Helton retiring, Parker looks to have a chance to earn the club's first base job in 2014 or '15.
Detroit Tigers (32)
Likely Protections: RHP Jose Valdez.
Possible Protections: OF Daniel Fields, SS Eugenio Suarez, RHP Angel Nesbitt.
Thanks to his blow-them-away 95-98 mph fastball, Valdez fits the prototype of the inexperienced power arm that gets picked in Rule 5 drafts. A year ago, a decision to protect Fields would have been much more difficult, and much less likely. But in a return to Double-A Erie, Fields showed better power. He doesn't run as well as he used to, but Fields is advanced enough to envision him possibly sticking with a club if he did get picked. Suarez could handle a backup infielder role defensively, and he has a little more pop than the average middle infielder. Nesbitt can also light up a radar gun, but his stuff is less advanced than Valdez's, so he's a lesser risk to stick.
Houston Astros (36)
Likely Protections: OF Domingo Santana.
Possible Protections: SS Jio Mier, RHP Jake Buchanan, LHP Alex Sogard, RHP Asher Wojciechowski.
The Astros added first baseman Jonathan Singleton to the 40-man roster in October. Santana will almost assuredly join him on the 40-man tonight. After Santana, the Astros have a number arms with Triple-A experience. Buchanan lacks a plus pitch, but he has excellent control. Sogard has plus stuff—a 92-94 mph fastball and quality breaking ball—but much less control. Wojciechowski's three average pitches could work as a longman in the big leagues or maybe even a back-end starter. Mier is the least likely to be protected. The 2009 first-round pick could handle shortstop defensively, but he has shown no aptitude at the plate.
Kansas City Royals (39)
Likely Protections: None.
Possible Protections: 3B Cheslor Cuthbert, SS/2B Christian Colon, OF/1B Brian Fletcher, RHP Michael Mariot.
The Royals' tight 40-man roster situation may make them less likely to try to protect Cuthbert or Colon. Both have been Top 10 Prospects in the past, but both have warts. Colon, the No. 4 pick in the 2010 draft, has not proven to be as productive at the plate as expected. He is ready to be a big league utility infielder, however, which means he could be picked if the Royals leave him unprotected. Cuthbert has more upside, but he's coming off a half-season of struggles at Double-A Northwest Arkansas, and some question whether he can stick at third base. Fletcher has some power, but he lacks the profile for the type of player normally picked in the Rule 5 draft. Mariot has average stuff, but he struck out more than a batter an inning at Triple-A Omaha in 2013.
Los Angeles Angels (39)
Likely Protections: OF Randall Grichuk.
Possible Protections: RHP A.J. Schugel, RHP Kevin Johnson.
Grichuk will likely never live down being the player taken with the pick immediately before Mike Trout, but he has earned a spot on the 40-man roster. After a great 2012 season, Schugel would like to forget 2013. He still has a plus fastball and an adequate changeup, and he generates swings and misses. Johnson generates plenty of groundballs with an average sinker.
Los Angeles Dodgers (32)
Likely Protections: RHP Yimi Garcia.
Possible Protections: None.
The Dodgers didn't protect reliever Jose Dominuez last year and managed to win that gamble, but it's unlikely they'll take the same risk with Garcia. Scouts like Garcia's solid stuff while analysts are going to be impressed by a reliever who struck out 12.7 batters per nine innings at Double-A Chattanooga in 2013.
Miami Marlins (33)
Likely Protections: LHP Grant Dayton, C J.T. Realmuto, RHP Angel Sanchez, RHP Jose Urena.
Possible Protections: RHP Josh Hodges.
Dayton is a lefthander with a nice fastball/slider combination that paid off to the tune of a 4-4, 2.37 season at Double-A Jacksonville with a 56/12 SO/BB ratio. Realmuto has more potential than any catcher currently on the Marlins' 40-man roster. Sanchez is the best of a thin haul the Marlins got from the Dodgers for Ricky Nolasco, which helps make the argument for adding him to the 40-man roster. His potentially plus stuff is another point in his favor. Urena has some work still to do if he's going to develop as a starter, but it's not unrealistic to think he could help a big league bullpen right now with his 95 mph-plus fastball. Hodges can't match Urena in pure velocity, but his fastball is a tick above-average as a starter and he hits his spots.
Milwaukee Brewers (36)
Likely Protections: None.
Possible Protections: 1B Jason Rogers, RHP Kevin Shackelford, RHP Brooks Hall, 1B Hunter Morris.
After posting a 0.92 ERA in a half-season at Double-A Huntsville while showcasing a 92-94 mph fastball he commanded and threw with excellent downhill plane, Shackelford likely pitched his way onto the 40-man roster. As a first baseman with power and good plate discipline, Rogers' profile isn't all that different than that of Nate Freiman, who was selected by the Astros in last year's Rule 5 draft and ended up in Oakland on a waiver claim. Hall is a less likely Rule 5 selection thanks to his struggles to miss bats, but he does have solid-average stuff with Double-A experience. Morris missed an opportunity to claim the Brewers’ first base job last year, but he could be added to the 40-man roster this year for another chance.
Minnesota Twins (36)
Likely Protections: SS/2B Jorge Polanco.
Possible Protections: 1B Kennys Vargas, OF Max Kepler, LHP Logan Darnell, RHP A.J. Achter.
It's hard to see Kepler sticking and contributing to a big league roster in any way after just a half-season at low Class A Cedar Rapids, especially since he's not going to add defensive or baserunning value. But the Twins have the roster spots, so they can likely avoid the risk of exposing a legitimate prospect. Polanco's spot on the 40-man roster seems much safer. Even though he hasn't played above Class A, his defense, speed and athleticism is the kind of profile that allows a younger player to contribute to the 25-man roster even if his bat isn't ready. Think Everth Cabrera, whom the Padres Rule 5’d in 2008. Vargas is a switch-hitter with some power and feel for hitting, but he's far enough away that it's likely worth the risk of leaving him exposed. Achter and Darnell are a pair of upper-levels pitchers with feel for setting up hitters, but neither has a plus pitch to likely entice a team to draft them.
New York Yankees (34)
Likely Protections: OF Slade Heathcott, C Gary Sanchez, RHP Tommy Kahnle, RHP Bryan Mitchell, RHP Shane Greene.
Possible Protections: RHP Jose Campos, LHP Freddy Lewis, RHP Chase Whitley, RHP Daniel Burawa.
No team has more candidates for fewer slots than the Yankees. Sanchez is a no-doubt protection and Kahnle, Mitchell and Greene are the kind of high-velocity arms who would be grabbed in the Rule 5. Heathcott had a disappointing 2013 season, but his defense and speed would give him value, while a team bides its time for a potential future payoff at the plate. The decision is a little tougher with Campos. He was a key part of the Michael Pineda trade with the Mariners that has had virtually no payoff for the Yankees, but his stuff took a step back as he returned from a 2012 elbow injury. Lewis impressed scouts with 11 scoreless innings of work in the Arizona Fall League. Whitley isn't spectacular, but he has plenty of Triple-A success and the ability to pound the bottom of the strike zone. Burawa missed all of 2012 with a torn oblique, but he showed the same mid-90s fastball in his return in 2013, though his control needs work.
New York Mets (36)
Likely Protections: RHP Jake deGrom, LHP Steve Matz.
Possible Protections: OF Cory Vaughn, OF Darrell Cecilliani, RHP Jeff Walters.
DeGrom will probably be ready to help the Mets in some role in 2014. Matz is a tougher decision, as the oft-injured 2009 second-rounder hasn't made it out of low Class A, but he showed plus stuff and some feel for pitching. Outfielders Vaughn and Cecilliani don’t have the profile of a typical Rule 5 pick, so the Mets could likely gamble and leave them unprotected, though the latter bats lefty, can run and defend center field. Walters was drafted five different times before signing his first pro contract, and he set the Double-A Eastern League record for saves in 2013. Could he add a Rule 5 draft selection to his already lengthy bio?
Oakland Athletics (38)
Likely Protections: RHP Raul Alcantara.
Possible Protections: 1B Anthony Aliotti, 1B/3B Miles Head.
Alcantara is an example of how Latin signees' clocks get sped up by the current Rule 5 exemption rules. He has yet to pitch in Double-A, but the A's likely will protect him because he has two plus pitches (fastball and breaking ball) on his best days. Neither Aliotti nor Head are significant risks to be picked in the Rule 5 draft, but they are a pair of sometimes productive corner bats. Both Alcantara and Head (plus Josh Reddick) are products of the Andrew Bailey trade with the Red Sox in December 2011.
Philadelphia Phillies (34)
Likely Protections: OF Aaron Altherr, OF Kelly Dugan, C Tommy Joseph.
Possible Protections: RHP Brody Colvin, RHP Mike Nesseth, RHP Nefi Ogando.
Joseph, despite his concussion problems, is a safe bet to be added. Is Altherr ready for the big leagues? No. But he has plenty of tools that could entice a club looking to build for the future, and he can play OK defense, run a little bit and provide some power off the bench in the meantime. Dugan, a 2009 second-round pick, had an excellent first half at high Class A Clearwater and an adequate second half in Double-A Reading. That's likely enough to earn him a 40-man roster spot. A couple of years ago, it would have been unthinkable that Colvin wouldn't be added to the 40-man, but that was before he walked 18 more batters than he struck out this year. Nesseth is a solid, unspectacular groundball machine. Ogando isn't ready for the big leagues, but with a fastball that will touch 97 mph, he's the kind of pitcher who you have to worry about if you leave him unprotected. The Phillies picked him up from the Red Sox in a trade for John McDonald in August.
Pittsburgh Pirates (36)
Likely Protections: SS Alen Hanson, OF Gregory Polanco.
Possible Protections: None.
The Pirates don't have to stay up late to build their protection list. International signees Hanson and Polanco are easy decisions, and the college-heavy 2009 draft and high school-heavy 2010 draft mean there aren't a lot of tough calls among the draftees.
San Diego Padres (40)
Likely Protections: RHP Keyvius Sampson.
Possible Protections: RHP Matt Lollis, OF Rico Noel, LHP Juan Oramas.
Considering the already full 40-man roster, the Padres are going to have work to just clear a spot for Sampson. Lollis would be an easy add in an organization with more roster spots, as scouts would consider the opportunity to pick up a 6-foot-9 righthander with a 95-96 mph fastball, even if the results haven't always matched the stuff. Oramas, who missed most of 2012 after having Tommy John surgery, returned with excellent work at Double-A San Antonio. His solid three-pitch mix and craftiness would make him an attractive Rule 5 candidate if he's available. Noel provides inexpensive speed and defense, but he's not likely to hit enough now or long-term to be a significant addition.
San Francisco Giants (37)
Likely Protections: OF Gary Brown.
Possible Protections: 3B Adam Duvall.
Brown has been a little disappointing as he has reached higher levels, but speed and defense make players like him attractive, especially when you consider that he'd be playing for the major league minimum salary while providing 80-grade speed. Duvall isn’t great at third base, but he has legitimate power potential and he draws a few walks.
Seattle Mariners (34)
Likely Protections: None.
Possible Protections: OF Leon Landry, RHP Steven Shackleford.
The Mariners can likely go through tonight without protecting anyone, but this pair have some intriguing aspects to their games. Landry is a burner, but he was way over his head in Double-A in 2013. Shackleford has an ugly delivery, but he has plus stuff.
St. Louis Cardinals (36)
Likely Protections: OF Oscar Taveras.
Possible Protections: OF Mike O'Neill, RHP Seth Blair, SS Greg Garcia, RHP Boone Whiting.
Taveras would have already joined the 40-man roster if not for an ankle injury that ruined his 2013 season. O'Neill gives the Cardinals a fascinating dilemma. You can find a lot of scouts who are skeptical that his walk-first, walk-often approach will work in the big leagues, but his statistical success (a career .435 on-base percentage) could entice someone to pick him. Blair is one hard-throwing pitcher who hasn't seemed to click with the Cardinals' excellent pitching development program. Could some team be interested to see if a change of scenery would help? Garcia is unlikely to be protected, but if you squint you could see a future big league utilityman, and he's already had some success at Triple-A Memphis. Whiting has solid control and command to go with three average pitches and plenty of upper level experience that could make him an inexpensive spot starter/reliever.
Tampa Bay Rays (33)
Likely Protections: RHP Jesse Hahn, LHP C.J. Riefenhauser.
Possible Protections: OF Todd Glaesmann, RHP Jake Thompson.
The Rays didn't sign their top two picks in 2009, and they went high school heavy in 2010, so they don't have a lot of locks to be added to the 40-man roster. Hahn bounced back after missing two years for Tommy John surgery to pitch well in 2013, but he has not reached Double-A. Glaesmann flashed production to go with his tools in 2012, but he struggled enough in Double-A in 2013 to give the Rays a reason to wonder if they need to protect him. Thompson has plenty of Double-A time, but it's fair to ask if he has enough ceiling to be worth a selection. Riefenhauser has average stuff at best, but it's hard to ignore his significant success in Double-A and Triple-A in 2013.
Texas Rangers (35)
Likely Protections: SS Luis Sardinas, RHP Lisalverto Bonilla.
Possible Protections: LHP Luis Parra.
Bonilla gave up eight home runs in just 43 innings at Triple-A Round Rock in 2013, which explains how he had a 7.95 ERA despite striking out more than a batter an inning. A demotion to Double-A resulted in 50 strikeouts in 30 innings and a hard-to-find 0.30 ERA. Oh, he has a 95 mph fastball as well. Sardinas is a sure-fire addition as a tooled-up, switch-hitting shortstop. Parra has the stuff to intrigue scouts, but he's raw enough that he's a reasonably safe risk to leave unprotected for at least one year.
Toronto Blue Jays (37)
Likely Protections: None.
Possible Protections: RHP Deck McGuire.
Could the Blue Jays leave their 2010 first-round pick unprotected after just three and half seasons? Not only could they, but there's a chance no one would take him because his fastball is generally below-average, and he doesn't have the secondary stuff to compensate.
Washington Nationals (38)
Likely Protections: OF Michael Taylor, LHP Sammy Solis.
Possible Protections: None.
Taylor and Solis are easy decisions. A college-heavy 2009 draft helps leave the Nationals with fewer tough calls than most teams.