The Pirates 40-Man Crunch; Prediction, Protection and Speculation

10-7-21 – By Craig Toth and Gary Morgan – @BucsBasement and @garymo2007 on Twitter

Gary – Man, I’ll tell you what, Craig and I started talking about this upcoming issue way back in Spring, and the fact it’s actually remained a problem if not worsened speaks to the development system and the types of talents Ben Cherington brought in at the deadline.

We were shocked to see him acquire more mud for an already murky situation in the form of Michael Chavis, Hoy Park, Diego Castillo, and Jack Suwinski. Now as mud goes, you could certainly find worse looking, in fact if they weren’t worth anything it’d be a much bigger problem right?

This is such a huge subject that Craig and I are tackling it together and we’ll also talk through some things that could change matters as well.

Craig – I can’t disagree at all brother. This is a situation that has been coming to a head ever since the first bricks of the previous regime (Marte, Bell, Musgrove, Taillon and finally Frazier) were pulled from the foundation. And as I brought up in one of our many side bars, it is not like this is going to be the last of its kind with similar waves of prospects becoming Rule 5 eligible in 2023, 2024 and beyond.

In making these difficult decisions, Ben Cherington and Company will need to rely heavily on themselves and most importantly their scouting and analytics departments to make the correct assessments as to the players that are a part of the future, as well as those that they are potentially expendable; in the Rule 5 draft, free agency or trade.

If you remember Gary, and I am pretty sure you do, you wrote an article leading up to the trade deadline about Cherington possibly needing to pump the brakes on bringing in prospects; at least those that would add to upcoming roster decisions. Cherington did the exact opposite in some ways with the guys you mentioned-Chavis, Park, Castillo and Suwinski.

However, you also mentioned that it wasn’t like there were a plethora of untouchables; and on that we agree. Still, it isn’t totally about who we think is untouchable and expendable, as the ultimate determination lies with Cherington. That’s what makes an exercise like this one so difficult, but extremely interesting on the other hand.

Discussions will be had, names will be rotated from the previously determined locks on the 40-Man, Probables and Snubs. Also as we know this dialogue will not end with the passing of the 40-Man, 38 Player Triple-A Reserve List-I will get into this more later-and arbitration tender deadlines. Once the 40-man roster is full, many acquisitions could ultimately affect this; such as when Troy Stokes, Jr. was claimed off waivers, added to the 40-Man and then designated for assignment all in a matter of two weeks at the end of January.

It’s a fluid process. One that begins shortly after the season ends, and doesn’t come to a temporary conclusion on Opening Day.

Gary – Well Craig, let’s dig in, and for the sake of clarity, we’re starting with a very vanilla, this is what they have and who we think they’ll keep and construct the 40 man from. It’s important to look at it this way first because while the Pirates will make moves, and many of you have theories as to what those moves will be, you have to know the starting point or it’s all just names.

The Locks

  1. Ke’Bryan Hayes
  2. Bryan Reynolds
  3. David Bednar
  4. JT Brubaker
  5. Jacob Stallings
  6. Bryse Wilson
  7. Roansy Contreras
  8. Miguel Yajure
  9. Rodolfo Castro
  10. Oneil Cruz
  11. Mitch Keller
  12. Max Kranick
  13. Tucupita Marcano
  14. Duane Underwood Jr.
  15. Kevin Newman
  16. Chasen Shreve
  17. Travis Swaggerty
  18. Wil Crowe
  19. Colin Moran
  20. Chris Stratton
  21. Luis Oviedo
  22. Michael Perez (or FA Catcher)
  23. Dillon Peters
  24. Ben Gamel
  25. Nick Mears
  26. Sam Howard
  27. Steven Brault
  28. Michael Chavis
  29. Shea Spitzbarth
  30. Cody Ponce
  31. Chad Kuhl
  32. Blake Cederlind
  33. Diego Castillo

The Probable

34. Cole Tucker
35. Connor Overton
36. Wilmer Difo
37. Enyel De Los Santos
38. Omar Cruz
39. Anthony Alford
40. Rule Five/Free Agent/Someone From Snubs List

The Snubs

Cal Mitchell
Jared Oliva (Will have to clear waivers to remove from 40-man)
Mason Martin
Canaan Smith-Njigba
Jack Suwinski
Brendt Citta
Cody Bolton
Steven Jennings
Liover Peguero
Tahnaj Thomas
Travis McGregor
Eddy Yean
Yerry De Los Santos
Joe Jacques
Hunter Stratton

OK, So We Owe You an Explanation or Two

Gary – First, I can’t assume trades. This isn’t like most of the last two seasons where the Pirates had this hulking list of guys who should be on the block because of contractual control issues. If you want some, Steven Brault, Chad Kuhl and Colin Moran are the top choices.

I also can’t sit here and say this is what the 40-man will wind up looking like when the season starts. For the purposes of this discussion, we have to think about who they will want to keep on the roster, even if only to trade them. This sort of thing played out dozens of times last season, remember constantly wondering what every corresponding move would be for all the waiver claims they had last season?

Craig – As I already alluded to in the beginning of this piece, not every player can be or will be protected. We as Pirates Fans have our lists of players we want to see back on the 26-Man Roster next year, those that are worthy of a 40-Man spot, guys that we wouldn’t to see leave the organization, but might be worth the risk to see if they can pass through the process and players we would rather never see again. Some have said they can list at least many as 10 to 15 players who they would jettison off the roster; especially if it meant that the Pirates Prospects could be protected. However, it isn’t that simple.

Not every player that needs protected is ready to take the next step to the Major League Roster on a full or even part time basis. Sure the Pirates and Ben Cherington were a little more aggressive with their two protected players from this year, Max Kranick and Rodolfo Castro, but it’s not like you can have a roster filled with players of a similar ilk; that may need more time to develop in Double or Triple-A, while the Major League roster continues to suffer through.

Also, be aware that not every player that we have as a lock, probable or snub is in that category because of our own personal opinions. There may be guys that it seems Cherington and Company are prepared to give a longer leash to.

Plus, you have to take the previously mentioned 38 Player Triple-A Reserve List. At the same time the Pirates are constructed their 40-man roster, they will also be assigning 38 Minor League Players to this list; protecting them from the Minor League Phase of the Rule 5. Sure, it won’t stop another ball club from selecting them the Major League Phase, but it’s a lot easier to take a guy and place him in your farm system with no restrictions than hide him on the 26-Man for an entire season; meaning some of the guys that find their way to the Snub List will end up on this one.

And, finally you have the fact that the Rule 5 Draft won’t necessarily wipe out any team’s farm system due to the number of selections that are actually made in the Major League Portion. Last year there were 18 total picks, with the Yankees losing the most players-a total of three; with the most impactful being Garrett Whitlock who is now with the Boston Red Sox. Of these 18 picks, 15 were pitchers and 3 were position players; Ka’ai Tom included.

Obviously, there is some risk involved, it’s just another reason as to why Ben Cherington has made it a point to accumulate depth at each position. If you lose one guy, hopefully you have a couple more to take his place. Kinda, like Hydra.

So, why protect some players, while you expose others? Performance and potential would be the easiest answer. Ability to contribute at the Major League Level could certainly be tied in as well. And while a couple of players can truly be considered locks-Reynolds and Hayes-others can be made to fit into the same category by a process of elimination, as there are only so many roster spots to go around and positions to be filled.

Which begs the question, how will the Pirates approach getting the roster to 40 players or less?

Gary – Some excellent points there Craig, probably none bigger than the fact it’s not like the system is going to get picked over no matter what they do.

I’ll tell you what we need to do though brother, we need to make some recommendations. I think we’ve covered what we think this would look like if they decided most pieces of this puzzle are in the box, but that’s hard to swallow for a 101 loss team. I still don’t see a ton of acquisition, especially given the GM flatly said they wouldn’t bring much in, but I think they have to do some things and this list is an area that is directly effected from the start.

What Would We Do?

Gary – Well let me start with low hanging fruit. Michael Perez needs replaced, in fact we feel so strongly about this one we both noted it when formulating the list in general. Next for me is I don’t think you can have Wilmer Difo and Cole Tucker on the same roster, and if either of them isn’t an MLB player, time to go. Difo has been good as a bench bat, but to me if Tucker can do that job, go for it, choose youth.

I also think they need pitchers, real veteran pitchers. This piece isn’t the place to address that, at least not with any specificity, but that room will need made. Chad Kuhl, Steven Brault are perfect potential trades and I’ll be honest, they could even be non-tender, although with how much pitchers even with spotty records can return that might be like buying a gumball with a Twenty Dollar Bill and not asking for change. Point is, they may have to have them on the 40, at least long enough to move them.

Relievers are another issue, I’m of the belief they’ll need at least one more good 7-8th inning guy from outside and I’d prefer 2.

My last big thing, I’m not OK with Anthony Alford again being brought back as an answer. I want Ben Gamel brought back, but let’s be clear, in a perfect world he’s my 4th outfielder, and I find zero chance that’s true with Anthony Alford on the club. I’m sorry, I’m all for catching lighting in a bottle, but after trying twice and being struck both times, I’m moving on.

Craig – Michael Perez is the definition of low hanging fruit, and when it comes to what the Pirates should do with him, Gary and I are of the same mindset. When he was acquired by Cherington following the 2020 season, you could see the reasoning. A semi-young player, from a well-run organization, with years of team control and did I mention cheap. Now entering his first year of arbitration, after a season where he slashed .143/.221/.290 with 7 homers, Perez will still be fairly cheap, but I can’t say there won’t be better options out there.

Now. as Gary points out, there probably isn’t enough room for both a Difo and a Tucker; and I would even throw a Newman into the mix. At most they keep two, or at least I think they should. Especially with Castro, and hopefully Diego Castillo, pushing for more playing time.

As far as pitching is concerned, it has become even more clear to me at this point that they need as much of it as the can get. If, I’m Cherington I get couple veteran, Tyler Anderson types to fill out the roster, while protecting as many young guns as I can. Give me an Omar Cruz, the Del Los Santos Boys, Shea Spitzbarth, Connor Overton, etc. I want them all. And yes, I would take each of these over Brault and Kuhl if it comes down to it. Trade, Non-Tender or whatever it takes.

Moving into the outfield, I am fine with beginning the off-season putting Reynolds in center, obviously, Gamel in left and Alford in Right; or vice versa. However, you can’t break camp with this as your starting three. Swaggerty needs protected, so another team doesn’t Jose Soriano him; and I could see a Canaan Smith-Njigba or a Cal Mitchell protected as well to provide some insurance. But, even then they need a free agent to make an Alford and Gamel 3rd and 4th outfielder type platoon.

The last player, who gives me a lot of pause, is Liover Peguero. Having only reached High-A Greensboro, does he fit the mold of a player that needs to be put on the 40-Man or one that a team could keep on the 26-man for an entire season. In a perfect world-one without restrictions, I protect him without hesitation. Yet, it’s crazy to think that he might have to stay on the 40-man for two more years before he even sniffs the Majors.

Gary – Bro, writing Peguero’s name on that snub list was physically hard for me, but I simply can’t see anyone believing he could last on a roster all season, adding him to the 40 would be simply out of fear because as you said, it’s likely going to be 2 years. Next year, this is a much different conversation.

I thought hard about the outfield, and I’m inclined to make room for Cal Mitchell or Smith-Njigba, couple reasons, first, I actually think Smith-Njigba has the K/BB stats to potentially hang, and with outfield having been such a dead zone for prospects, it just sucks to potentially have 3 sitting right in AAA not protected. Moral of the story, I think I’d protect one, and I’d guess one of the De Los Santos’ pay the price.

It’s also weird to have to protect Oviedo, just the comfort level they showed in him and the fact he’s now expected to go back to being a starter makes me feel like he’s years away, which as I’ll continue in the next statement technically means he should be a no, but you don’t bother dragging a guy through an entire baseball season just to leave him exposed, not to mention he’d have to be DFAd to be removed from a list he already sits on.

Another one that scares me is Tahnaj Thomas, I think he has 2 pitches mature enough to toss him in a bullpen tomorrow., but if you organizationally want him to be a starter he’s years away. We just talked about having to carry a guy like Peguero for 2 years, Tanaj could be 3.

At this point, here’s the poop. They simply won’t lose many, there aren’t a ton of teams out there that can afford to throw away a roster spot. While I think upwards of 10 on our proposed 40-man won’t be here when this team is good, the next wave isn’t quite there yet. This is a different situation if say Mitchell and Smith-Njigba are realistic to come out of camp as 26-man candidates. This is different if they have 5 pitchers ready to push their way onto the roster. Finally, this is different if the GM didn’t just openly state he wasn’t looking to add a tremendous amount from the outside for next season. If he said the opposite, sure, Overton is gone, maybe even Mears, guys like that. As it stands, I can see those types being knocked off one at a time as they bring in pieces.

I also don’t think they’ll be frightened into any moves. In other words, they won’t panic that they’re not protecting Jack Suwinski and move him.

Published by Gary Morgan

Former contributor for Inside the Pirates an SI Team Channel

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