Teams With The Toughest Decisions Ahead Of 40-Man Roster Protection Deadline

Image credit: Mike Brosseau (Photo by David Berding/Getty Images)

Over the weekend, the Tampa Bay Rays traded righthander Louis Head to the Marlins for a player to be named later or cash considerations. They also traded third baseman Mike Brosseau, a World Series hero in 2020, to the Brewers for righthander Evan Reifert.

These are the kind of minor moves that can quickly slip into the background. Head is a reliever who was optioned 12 times during a successful debut season in 2021. Brosseau was demoted to Triple-A Durham for much of 2021 after struggling at the plate.

But they both are moves the Rays made more because of necessity than desire. Before these trades, Tampa Bay had filled its 40-man roster. With a number of players who are going to need to be added to the roster by the Nov. 19 40-man roster protection deadline, the Rays are one of a few teams who are having to get creative to try to figure out a way to ease roster congestion.

RELATED: See our 2022 rankings for all AL, NL East organizations

The Rule 5 draft has long been baseball’s way of ensuring that no team can hoard talent. More importantly, it ensures that teams have to make a decision. Once a player has reached a certain level of experience (four years after signing for players who originally signed at 19 years old or older and five years for those who were 18 or younger when they signed) teams either have to add them to their 40-man roster or risk having them selected by other teams in the Rule 5 draft.

This Friday is both a dreaded day and an opportunity, depending on one’s perspective. For many players, it’s a long-awaited day. Being added to the 40-man roster brings many benefits with it such as a pay raise, an automatic invitation to MLB spring training and an easier path to the major leagues. It can also be a jarring day for players. Being left unprotected is often a clear sign that a player’s team is willing to take the risk of losing him.

For teams, it’s all about perspective. 

For the Rays and several other teams the protection deadline is all about damage limitation. It’s about attempting to hold onto players, shuffle the roster and make calculated decisions on which players can be left unprotected on the hopes they will either go unpicked or offered back eventually if they are picked.

But for teams with thinner farm systems and/or room on the 40-man roster, it can also be an opportunity. The Oakland Athletics have one of the thinner farm systems in baseball. They also only have 28 players currently on their 40-man roster. That means that they can potentially swap for a few of someone else’s tough roster decisions to help alleviate another team’s roster crunch.

Here’s a look at how many players each team had on its 40-man roster as of Nov. 15. That number will likely change for multiple teams this week, and we will update the roster counts before Friday’s protection deadline.

Team 40-man Team 40-man
Miami 40 Colorado 36
Arizona 40 Kansas City 36
Los Angeles (AL) 40 Milwaukee 36
New York (AL) 40 Seattle 36
Detroit 39 Texas 36
Pittsburgh 39 Atlanta 35
San Diego 39 Chicago (NL) 34
San Francisco 39 St. Louis 34
Cincinnati 38 Boston 33
Houston 38 Chicago (AL) 33
Minnesota 38 Toronto 33
Tampa Bay 38 Baltimore 32
Los Angeles (NL) 37 New York (NL) 32
Washington 37 Philadelphia 31
Cleveland 36 Oakland 28


Teams In A Jam


1. Tampa Bay Rays. 

A couple of trades have helped, but Tampa Bay still has more players it needs to protect than spots to add them. Infielder Jonathan Aranda went from being a tough protection decision before the season to being an obvious addition now. Righthander Tommy Romero also seems like an easy call. Between catchers Blake Hunt and Ford Proctor, infielder Miles Mastrobuoni, outfielder Ruben Cardenas and righthanders Calvin Faucher and Tobias Myers, the Rays have a lot of plausible protection options and a crowded roster.

2. Cleveland Guardians.

Cleveland currently sits at 36 players on the 40-man roster, so it has some room for additions. But it has nearly eight or more players who it needs to at least consider adding.

Shortstop/second baseman Tyler Freeman, shortstop Brayan Rocchio, shortstop Jose Tena, outfielder George Valera and catcher Bryan Lavastida all seem like logical additions. 

Outfielder Oscar Gonzalez had a breakout season, hitting 31 home runs between Double-A and Triple-A. The Guardians thought enough about him to re-sign him and keep him from becoming a minor league free agent, but now they have to decide whether to protect him. Corner infielder Jhonkensy Noel hasn’t played above Class A yet, but he hit .340/.390/.615 this year. Center fielder Steven Kwan hit .328/.407/.527 between Double-A and Triple-A. Infielder Richie Palacios, righthander Cody Morris and lefthander Konnor Pilkington also have solid cases for protection.

3. New York Yankees

Year in and year out, the Yankees are a team that seemingly always has tough roster protection decisions. Last year, the team lost Garrett Whitlock and Trevor Stephan. This year, the Yankees have a full 40-man roster right now, having already added catcher Donnie Sands and lefthander Joely Rodriguez to the 40-man recently. They are expected to be busy this offseason in free agency, which will mean they have to open up spots for those additions. But for now, they also have to protect shortstop Oswaldo Cabrera and outfielder Everson Pereira. New York doesn’t have as many protection decisions as some other teams, but it will have to create room to find any spots.

4. Minnesota Twins

A year ago, the Twins lost Akil Baddoo to the Tigers in the Rule 5 draft, ensuring they had one of the more painful Rule 5 drafts in 2020. This year, the Twins sit at 38 players on the 40-man with a pretty healthy list of must-protects as well as an impressive list of players worth a look.

Shortstop Royce Lewis may have missed all of 2021 because of a knee injury, but he’s an easy addition, as is second baseman/third baseman Jose Miranda. Miranda was unprotected a year ago, but after being one of the best hitters in Double-A and then Triple-A, he’s a safe bet this time. Righthander Josh Winder is also a likely slam dunk. Decisions on righthanders Cole Sands and Chris Vallimont will be tougher. Righthander Blayne Enlow is still an interesting talent, but his recovery from Tommy John surgery clouds his status.

5. Los Angeles Dodgers

The Dodgers’ consistent ability to develop hitters and power arms means that they are consistently a team that has to worry about losing players in the Rule 5 draft. Last year, Brett de Geus and Jordan Sheffield were both picked and stuck with new teams. Even more painfully for the Dodgers, the club also saw six players selected in the MiLB Rule 5 draft including Tyler Gilbert, who then went out and outperformed de Geus and Sheffield.

Once again, the Dodgers have a number of interesting hitters to consider protecting and Los Angeles had 37 players already on the 40-man roster. Infielders Eddys Leonard and Jorbit Vivas do not have upper-level minor league experience, but they were among the better hitters in Class A and have defensive value. Justin Yurchak has less defensive value, but he led the minors in batting average. Outfielder James Outman has also been productive at Double-A. Righthander Guillermo Zuniga is a reliever with a solid pitch mix and success at the Double-A level.

6. Pittsburgh Pirates

Thanks to all the deals they have done in recent years and some astute drafting, Pittsburgh faces a roster crunch. The Pirates have 39 players on the 40-man roster, and while they don’t have many guaranteed additions, they have a large number of players who could entice a team if left unprotected. Shortstop Liover Peguero is an easy decision. But the calls on outfielder Travis Swaggerty (missed most of 2021 and has 12 games above Class A), first baseman Mason Martin (big power, but hit tool questions), righthander Tahnaj Thomas (big upside, but a very limited resume) and outfielder Cal Mitchell (productive hitter but with modest impact) will all be interesting.

Room To Spare


1. Oakland Athletics

With few tough protection decisions and only 28 players currently on its 40-man roster, Oakland has all kinds of room to make moves. Everything Oakland has done so far seems to signify that it’s getting ready to tear this big league team down to the studs and rebuild. If so, Oakland has the roster room to add multiple players in moves who need to be protected on the 40-man, which could allow it to land a little more talent in deals than it could at other times of the year.

2. Philadelphia Phillies

The Phillies currently have 31 players on their 40-man roster, and no one among their potential protections are sure bets. There’s room here to both add free agents and potentially get creative. They do need to be careful with that creativity, however. A couple of years ago they added Cristopher Sanchez from the Rays in a 40-man roster move. The teenager the Rays acquired in return, Curtis Mead, is now one of the Rays best hitting prospects.

3. New York Mets

The Mets sit at 32 players on their 40-man roster currently. They do have a trio of likely additions in Ronny Mauricio, Mark Vientos and Jose Butto, but there aren’t many other candidates. With several likely non-tender candidates as well, there’s room to be creative as far as acquisitions go, as well as adding free agents later in the offseason.


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