Rule Five Protection Deadline is the 19th, What Can We Expect From The Pirates

11-15-21 – By Gary Morgan & Craig W. Toth – @garymo2007 & @BucsBasement on Twitter

Gary – I think it was probably back in May when Craig and I first started turning our gaze toward this date, well, at least out of the corner of our eyes. We’ve warned, worried and after the trade deadline worried some more, and now it’s finally time to try to figure out what will be done since they’ve already cleared out some of the players to get to 40 in the first place.

Today, Craig and I will again team up to discuss this subject and hopefully at least show clearly the options at hand.

It’s always best to start where you are, so here is the 40-man as it stands right now.

Gary – Now, Craig and I have both already seen it as odd some of these names remained when the Pirates trimmed the first few pounds of fat not all that long ago so some names coming off aren’t going to shock us or anyone else for that matter.

The team has a plethora of players who “need” protection from the Rule 5 draft and that’s the first date on the calendar to deal with, couple it with the December 1st non-tender deadline because some of those decisions can and will inform this decision.

I’m not going to list every prospect that’s up for discussion, instead I’m going to list who I believe the team simply has to protect or truly risk losing and I’ll list them in my order of importance/risk of losing.

Liover Peguero
Canaan Smith-Njigba
Travis Swaggerty
Cody Bolton
Omar Cruz
Yerry De Los Santos
Cal Mitchell
Tahnaj Thomas
Jack Suwinski
Mason Martin
Eddy Yean

I should start by saying, I don’t see them protecting this entire 10-man list, not because I can’t find 10 guys I’m willing to cut, but because I can’t see enough of these guys really having a chance to make the show in 2022, a couple even 2023 isn’t a given, and that’s a tremendously long time to hold a prospect on the 40-man even from a flexibility standpoint.

Keep in mind, this team will add, and every addition will require someone on the 40 to no longer be there, so you can protect everyone from the Rule 5, but might just wind up having to remove someone to bring in someone like Trevor Cahill, and when you do, well, let’s just say you have bigger problems than Rule 5, cause now a team simply has to claim them with no restrictions to make it difficult to keep them.

Let’s look at that chart again, this time let’s highlight guys who are likely on the bubble.

Craig, I talked for a good long while here, and all I’ve managed to do is lay out the scene. Time for some thoughts from you here brother.

Craig – As Gary said this is something that has been bouncing around in the back of our minds, as well as between us, since the Minor League Season started. There were certain players we had targeted as ones to watch. Seeing if they would take a step forward, fall back or simply just not show enough to put themselves in the discussion for needing 40-Man Protection; all the while knowing that others would emerge from relative obscurity to toss their names into the conversation.

Then Ben Cherington went and added more names to that list with trades at the deadline, creating an ever growing index of prospects that would possibly need to be guarded from being selected in the Rule 5 Draft; ultimately containing one who already has, in the form of Diego Castillo. Which brings us to the 40-Man as it is presently constructed.

Now, when I look at the current 40-Man, and how it has already changed since the start of the off-season, it’s undeniable that even now some of the names still remaining could easily be jettisoned into the sun without much of a second thought. Included in this list for some are two of the Pirates recent additions-Eric Hanhold and Greg Allen-who were castoffs themselves; although Cherington has already stated that he can see Allen in the outfield competition mix.

However, for me there are a few players that are potentially more obvious candidates; including Phillip Evans, Jared Oliva, Tanner Anderson and one-or both-of the Micheal Perez/Taylor Davis catching tandem. Throw in Cody Ponce, along with an apparent favorite to toss aside in Nick Mears if you like, and that still only creates an immediate opening of six to seven spots on the roster.

Yet, not all of these can be filled with players that are two to three years away from the Big League Club, as Gary mentioned; which is why Pirates Fans may need to be prepared to lose a Tahnaj Thomas or an Eddy Yean to the Rule 5 Draft. Replace a Ponce, Anderson, and/or a Mears if that’s your preference, but be prepared for another player of a similar ilk to take their place rather than a player that hasn’t made an appearance above Low/High A.

Also, think about how tough it would be to select the contracts entire projected 2022 Indianapolis Indians starting outfield, and then doing the same with a Jack Suwinski. Do I like Suwinski, Canaan Smith-Njigba, Cal Mitchell and Travis Swaggerty, or at the very least do I want to see what they have in these players? Absolutely. Do I think they can protect them all? Probably not.

Gary – Totally agree with all that Craig. We should also probably remind people its a risk, not the same as saying we’re not protecting them and expect them to be taken, just a risk that they could be. If you think of it like that, it really helps work your way through this. It’s also not the same as saying Sam Howard is as good as Tahnaj Thomas could be. Instead it’s more like Sam Howard can help in 2022, Tahnaj won’t help until like 2024, IF he does at all. That’s what makes some of these rolls of the dice a bit better than shooting for snake eyes at the casino.

So I’ll take a first crack at this Craig and I like you’re numbers so I’m inclined to agree, we need 6 or 7 spots for this process.

Gary’s Removals
Phillip Evans, Taylor Davis, Tanner Anderson, Jared Oliva, Chad Kuhl, and Cody Ponce. If I need a 7th, Steven Brault.

Again, this isn’t a guarantee you lose all these players, but it is a guarantee each are placed on waivers with the exception of Kuhl and Brault who would be non-tendered and become free agents.

Gary’s Additions
Liover Peguero, Canaan Smith-Njigba, Travis Swaggerty
Tahnaj Thomas, Omar Cruz, Yerry De Los Santos, Cal Mitchell

Now, I’m accounting for additions. When they sign a veteran pitcher or two, I need to still have some junk in the trunk if you will, so I have to leave some space in the form of players I can live without. Anthony Alford, Eric Hanhold, and the like can be dropped but if I went nuclear right now, I might find myself having to expose someone like Mason Martin to waivers.

Craig, first of all, am I nuts here? And I can’t wait to see how you’d handle it. I should also say here, I wouldn’t be entirely shocked if the Pirates only protected 3-4, just knowing the numbers of players who’ve actually been taken let alone kept they might feel safer than the general fan who’ve become quite invested in these prospects since the rebuild started in earnest.

Craig-First off, I think we are both a little nuts, but not because of your-or my-train of thought in this process. Holding onto a Hanhold, Alford, Allen, etc. does give you some wiggle room with the acquisitions that will surely come, even if they aren’t as exciting as people want them to be. Last off-season the Pirates acquired Troy Stokes, Jr., were able to pass him through waivers and eventually outright him to Indianapolis with no real trouble. The same thing could happen with the three guys I talked about, as well as few others.

As I mentioned before there is clearly some low hanging fruit when it comes to removing players from the 40-Man, but I feel there could also be a surprise or two.

Craig’s Removals

Of the low hanging fruit Phillip Evans, Jared Oliva, Tanner Anderson and Taylor Davis are all but guaranteed in my mind to not start the year on the 40-Man, so I see no reason not to just cut the cord now.

I see Cody Ponce as slightly further up the branches, with one of Chad Kuhl and Steven Brault being non-tendered to make room. If a 7th is needed I might go off script and expose Duane Underwood, Jr. because of the injury and over usage during the 2021 season.

Craigs Additions

Liover Peguero, Canaan Smith-Njigba, Travis Swaggerty, Omar Cruz and Cal Mitchell are pretty much no brainers for me. Mason Martin is the next man up mostly because of immediate possessional need behind Colin Moran. Last but not least, if there was a 7th Spot, I would protect one of Yerry De Los Santos or Hunter Stratton as I believe both could be held on the active roster of many Major League Teams in the bullpen for the required amount of time. They also have a very good chance of providing the Pirates with bullpen depth at some point next year.

As Gary said, it is completely plausible that the Pirates and Ben Cherington are only planning on protecting a maximum of 3 to 4 players, which would leave some fans’ favorites-including some of my own-out in the wind to a degree; albeit, many could be added to the 38-Man Minor League/Triple A Reserve List to protect them from the Minor League Phase of the Rule 5.

Furthermore, just because they aren’t added to the 40-Man, it doesn’t mean the automatically gone. Only 18 players were selected in last year’s Rule 5 Draft, with a few not even sticking on their new team’s roster through Spring Training.

So much emphasis has been put on Pirates Prospects over the past two years since Cherington took over that many see the loss of even one as catastrophic. It would no doubt be disappointing in the moment, but it’s far from the end of the world.

Gary- So here is my shocker from you, no Tahnaj. You could sway me out of my protection if you pressed me a bit but I’m curious as to your thinking there. And the only other player I was super iffy on was Bolton. I just don’t know if he’s a guy anyone would take a stab on not unlike Soriano.

Aside from that, I think this is pretty close to reality between the two of us. A few differences here and there but overall, it seems we both agree they won’t trim all the fat right now, instead they’ll keep some pork around in case they can’t find better options.

And I’ll pose one more question to you. I personally think Oviedo is more than a year away, especially if they’re trying to make him a starter. I wonder if he might wind up being waived which of course would open questions about why they held him all year especially when the pen was imploding, but a big part of me thinks he might clear.

Now I’ll shut up and let you close this thing brother.

Craig-If you asked me at the beginning of the year if Tahnaj would be protected at this deadline, I can say yes without hesitation. Now, after seeing his performance this year, I’m a lot less sure of the need. I know the kid can whip it up to and over 100 mph. I am also aware that he walked batters at a 5.19 per 9 inning clip and gave up 1.93 homers in the same timeframe, while his strikeouts per 9 continued to fall; ultimately landing at 9.20. I believe he might be selected, which could cause an uproar. I’m just not sure he could stick for the whole season.

Bolton is one that I go back and forth on because even though we have seen him toss the ball around, I can’t say for sure that he comes back at 100% to start the season. Sure, he could eventually be moved to the IL again, but for now that’s two pretty big question marks-with him and Cederlind-holding down 40-Man spots. I get that his is a little different because it is a knee and not the arm, but pitching is a full body activity, and overcompensating in one area because of an injury being rehabbed could spell trouble in other areas.

As far as Oviedo is concerned, it all comes down to the fact that I don’t think Cherington and the Pirates invested this much time and energy into a player to risk losing him. He could be a year away, but could also arrive sooner as a long relief man, an extended opener or as part of a piggyback. I believe we both agree or at least understand the state of starting pitching is evolving, which changes the need to build up a starter for seven to eight innings. They could get him to three or four innings-successfully I might add-and have him finish the year with the Big League Club.

As the deadline quickly approaches I am only certain about one thing; there are going to be some frustrated Pirates Fans in the immediate future. Not everyone that particular sects within the fanbase favor are going to be protected. In recent history this really hasn’t been an issue because the number of tough decisions were extremely limited due to the lack of potential talent in the system. Also, look for things to get even more difficult in the upcoming years, if and when other top prospects continue to develop, while others emerge.

Published by Gary Morgan

Former contributor for Inside the Pirates an SI Team Channel

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