Figuring Out The Pirates 40-Man: Who’s Safe And Who Might Not Be

11-13-22 – By Craig Toth & Gary Morgan – @bucsbasement & @garymo2007 on Twitter

Craig – Do you hear that sound? It’s the keyboards pounding, teeth gnashing, alerts sounding, pages refreshing as Pittsburgh Pirates Fans furious debate the official opening of the team’s off-season. Even though there were some preemptive rumblings concerning the free agent statuses of Ben Gamel and Roberto Perez, along with yet another waiver claim in the form of Colorado Rockies #22 Prospect Ryan Vilade (the 2023 Greg Allen, as I like to call him), fans really got engaged with the signing of Ji-Man Choi; which really overshadowed-for better or for worse-the Pirates scramble to get the roster down to 40, at the wire this past Thursday.

With five players being activated from the IL-in addition to acquiring Choi-the Pirates had to send six men packing, outright to Indianapolis.

Gary – Yeah, I’ve heard it too Craig. So, here are the moves we just saw. Canaan Smith-Njigba, RHP Colin Holderman, Yerry De Los Santos, Blake Cederlind and Max Kranick have been reinstated from the 60-day IL. Then Peter Solomon, Beau Sulser, Jason Delay, Blake Cederlind, Eric Stout and Zack Collins were taken off the 40-man. Collins and Stout selected free agency, the rest cleared waivers and went to AAA.

Here’s the thing, before we start all this, I had counted 17 players on the 40-man I’d have been completely fine moving on from. 2 of the guys the Pirates just cut, weren’t on my list.

They have plenty of fodder, and as you already mentioned, they continue to bring in more.

I’d also like to say, this process often devolves on the conversation front to “not believing” in a player or “hating” a prospect. Really it’s more about the likelihood that they’d be selected by another team, not a reflection of their ability or future star power.

Craig-Couldn’t agree more Gary. Of the decisions made by Ben Cherington and Company there were no real surprises. Sure you could get into the nuance of keeping Tyler Heineman and Ali Sanchez over Jason Delay; yet in all honesty, all this guarantees is a spot on the 40-Man until they sign a Roberto Perez, or space is needed for any number of prospects they have to protect from the upcoming Rule 5 Draft.

The Churn continues. It’s as simple as that.

Well maybe Choi isn’t that simple, but that seems like its own blog post or podcast episode(s).

At this point, we have Choi; and, he is going to be-at the very least-a part of the solution at first base. However, at the moment we have to get to more pressing matters.

Eligible to Be Protected

Gary – We’re going to keep this to “Realistically Could be Protected”. In other words, the list of R5 eligible players is a lot longer than the list of guys who’ll actually be considered.

Catchers: Endy Rodriguez, Carter Bins, Blake Sabol, Abrahan Gutierrez

First Base: Mason Martin, Malcom Nunez, Aaron Shackelford, Brendt Citta, Jacob Gonzalez

Third Base, SS, 2B: Maikol Escotto, Jared Triolo, Dariel Lopez, Juan Jerez

Outfielders: Matt Gorski, Fabricio Macias, Matt Fraizer, Connor Scott, Lolo Sanchez

Starting Pitchers: Mike Burrows, Cody Bolton, Trey McGough, Carlos Jimenez

Relief Pitchers: JC Flowers, Tahnaj Thomas, Hunter Stratton, Colin Selby, Joe Jacques, Omar Cruz

Craig- The only addition I would make is Altoona’s 20/20 Man Andres Alvarez at 2nd Base; although that’s pretty much an outside possibility.

Who Would We Protect?

Gary – For me this isn’t all that hard. Mike Burrows and Endy Rodriguez are locks. Matt Gorski, Dariel Lopez and Cody Bolton are borderline. Everyone else is probably safe. So at most I’m seeing the team protecting 5 players, and needing to remove 5 to make room. Add in free agents and others acquisitions and that removal number will get uncomfortable real quick.

Craig-The first two-Burrows and Endy-are no-brainers; on that we can agree. At that point, we start to deviate ever so slightly. Malcom Nunez is the next man up for me-mostly due to his recent acquisition by Cherington. Next is Bolton because of his ability to start and provide long relief. Gorski could potentially have been above these two, but the unfortunate hamstring injury, and subsequent re-injury, has me questioning it slightly. Finally we have Lopez, a prospect that I love; but one that might just be a little bit too young and inexperienced for a team to roster.

I would tend to agree with you on idea of 5, just maybe not how they get there. And of course, Cherington could jump in with a surprising Selby, Thomas or Flowers to shake things up; which is something I could easily get on board with.

Gary – Here’s my thinking on Nunez Craig. Barely touched AAA, I can’t for the life of me imagine the Pirates thinking he could stick on their roster all season, let alone another club believing he could. His power just emerged, and was at least aided by ballpark. To me, this is almost the same conversation we had about Martin last year. Nunez can play 3rd a little, 1st a little and DH. Is that really a guy who profiles as someone who wouldn’t be safe?

I could really get on board with Selby. Thomas has just had too many control issues if you ask me, but I could see a team taking a swing on the reliever, if only because relievers are the #1 target in the rule 5 draft. You’re probably right on Lopez, I guess I was thinking he’s super young, if you can bury him for a season, you get a free prospect.

This is good, let’s argue this out a bit more because I know you can do better than Cherington just picked him up to sway me on Nunez.

Craig-Can’t totally disagree with your points on Nunez. The only things that give me pause are the aforementioned direct tie to the current regime, as well as the continued surge in many of numbers after the transition to Altoona; including his slash line (255/.360/.463 to .286/.381/.486) and wRC+ (110 to 134). Also he maintained a fairly healthy 14% to 20.9% walk to strike out ratio across two organizations and levels. Usually I wouldn’t advocate for an almost 22 year-old, 1B/DH to be protected, but with general weakness at the position throughout the Minors, I could deviate from the norm on this one.

With Thomas, control has consistently been an issue, so I wouldn’t be surprised if he wasn’t protected; but, I also wouldn’t be surprised if he was selected. Topping out at 100 mph is something teams usually can’t ignore.

Enter Colin Selby and his newfound velocity, with the control as well; which could be the deciding factor when weighing him against Thomas.

Gary – So Craig, here’s the rub, I think we’re at 3 or 4. We both have Burrows as a lock, we both agree Endy is a lock. Then it sounds like we have a mix of Bolton, Nunez, Thomas, Selby and Gorski for the other 1 or 2.

Let’s leave our final predictions for the end, and let’s also keep in mind, Craig and I are old, we aren’t the type to just say F it let’s protect them all. We know free agency and more deals are likely on the near horizon. Protect too many and wind up giving away something you don’t want to lose for nothing.

Onto the cuts unless you have anything else to add here partner.

The Expendables

Gary – It’s always best to start as wide ranging as you can when taking on this job. Way more than you need, because at some point, you need to have vision into who the lowest men on the roster are anyway. As we already talked about free agency and additional moves, clearly we’re not going to fight over finding 3 or 4 here.

I’ll do the dirty work here brother, you help me out by adding or subtracting if I got too nuts.

Jeremy Beasly, Junior Fernandez, Max Kranick (Likely out half the season on IL), Duane Underwood, Jr., Miguel Yajure, Bryce Wilson, Tyler Heineman, Ali Sanchez, Diego Castillo, Hoy Park, Tucupita Marcano, and Ryan Vilade.

OK, so I don’t think all these guys are getting cut, but I think they all could. That’s 12 guys, and as we discussed we need 2 spots minimum, 2 more max.

I should stop here and let you fix my thinking Craig. But while you’re at it, go ahead and take a stab at prioritizing them.

Craig-On a team with back-to-back 100 loss seasons, cutting the fat should be the easy part; or, I feel like it could be for us as armchair GM’s. Each of these names and players hold a certain amount of future value-trade, potential, etc.- in my mind, with several simply not being worth as much.

Nevertheless, before I get started with the prioritization/ranking process-going from least to most-I would like to throw Robert Stephenson and his $1.9 Million estimated arbitration salary into the mix.

  1. Jeremy Beasly
  2. Tyler Heineman
  3. Hoy Park
  4. Robert Stephenson
  5. Junior Fernandez
  6. Ali Sanchez
  7. Duane Underwood, Jr.
  8. Ryan Vilade
  9. Max Kranick
  10. Miguel Yajure
  11. Bryce Wilson
  12. Tucupita Marcano
  13. Diego Castillo

Of the 13 names listed above, I personally would like to see a little bit more of 9 through 13, but it wouldn’t kill me if I didn’t.

Gary– Bro, agree on all that. Stephenson is a bit high on that list for me, I’m fairly certain he and Underwood will get tendered even if I wouldn’t, but it hardly matters.

That leaves conclusions brother.

Craig- Yeah, I get the tender/non-tender, which is the reason why Stephenson is so low or high for me. A pitcher who has one year below 1.30 WHIP, who popped at below that-.83 WHIP-in 13.1 innings for the Pirates is not one I want to keep; but could easily see our Front Office going another direction.

Conclusions seem so final; still I think I am ready.

Gary’s Prediction:

Protect: Mike Burrows, Endy Rodriguez, Matt Gorski, Cody Bolton

Cut: Hoy Park, Ryan Vilade, Jeremy Beasly, Ali Sanchez

Variable: Malcom Nunez – I could see them adding him, but I’m pretty firm here, I wouldn’t.

Craig, the only guy we really glazed over is Blake Sabol, and Alex Stumpf reported some execs expressed he’d get taken. I don’t see it, but I suppose we could see them toss him a spot too and I’d just pick another from the list of expendables we came up with.

Craig’s Prediction:

Protect: Mike Burrows, Endy Rodriguez, Malcom Nunez, Cody Bolton and Colin Selby

Cut: Jeremy Beasly, Tyler Heineman. Robert Stephenson (Non-Tender), Hoy Park and Junior Fernandez

Sabol is a special case, maybe falling into the man without a position scenario. It could make him intriguing, but it could also allow him to slip through. Much like Cal Mitchell last year my heart says yes, but my head says I’m not so sure.

The Wrap Up

Gary – First, man Craig, this was fun. We’ve done one of these every year since we started this site and every year it gets a little more difficult. One thing I want to point out here, the talent level is better than it’s been toward the top of the system. That’s obviously a good thing, but after this season, people should be aware, this is going to be a bloodbath. There is a very real possibility of losing players and wasting others depending on how Cherington handles things after 2023.

It’s also possible most of our readers won’t care because the MLB club could/should actually matter at the same time.

A final point for me, if Luis Ortiz didn’t get that surprise promotion and debut last year, I truly wonder if we’d advocate for him to be protected. His promotion to AAA and ultimate call up to the Bigs saved us from having a conversation about a 24 year old in AA with great stuff and control issues, who needs to develop a better off speed pitch. I say this for a couple reasons, one, we don’t always know who is going to pan out, and two, when the Pirates are going to suddenly believe in a guy who has those traditional hang ups, they tend to do it before we get to talking about Rule 5.

That’s what I got Craig, this was great brother.

Craig-This definitely was a good time as always my man; and, that’s a great point about Ortiz. It’s absolutely possible that we would have let a pitcher with a 4.56 ERA and a 1.142 WHIP fall through cracks; or, at the very least have him as one of the borderline guys that we would debate back and forth.

It’s funny how quickly a guy can go from a relative unknown to a player many want on the Opening Day Roster; but, I guess it goes the other direction as well. Last year Diego Castillo was a must protect as soon as the off-season began, and now he’s potentially expendable.

Each year as more of Cherington’s players-along with some Huntington holdovers-reach the upper levels, and graduate to the status of Rule 5 Eligible, these decisions are naturally going to involve a greater number of prospects. It’s the natural progression of stocking the system; and, one of the goals of this process.

The ability to deal from a position of strength.

Published by Craig W. Toth

Former Contributing Author at, Co-Host of the Bucs in the Basement Podcast and life-long/diehard Pittsburgh Pirates Fan!

5 thoughts on “Figuring Out The Pirates 40-Man: Who’s Safe And Who Might Not Be

  1. cut the following —Jeremy Beasly Tyler Heineman Hoy Park Robert Stephenson Junior Fernandez Duane Underwood, Jr. Ryan Vilade Bryce Wilson (if necessary) Add: Mike Burrows, Endy Rodriguez, Malcolm Nunez, Matt Gorski, Cody Bolton Tahnaj Thomas, Connor Scott ( Gorski& Bolton are MY wild cards)

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Need to consider the end of extreme shifting, it will help the left handers, who have been disproportionately hurt by this practice. They will get an auto boost in offensive stats. Also the fast guys are gonna steal a lot of bases at a high percentage, given the larger bags, pitch clock, and limited throwing to first from the mound. 2023 is not 2022.

    From Baseball Reference, batting splits
    2015 LHB BA .256 SLG .408
    2015 RHB BA .253 SLG .402

    2022 LHB BA .236 SLG .386
    2022 RHB BA .247 SLG .401

    Joey Votto is right


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