Welcome to the 40-Man
The Giants bring three new players onto the roster while saying goodbye to two others
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Welcome to the Show before the Show! On Friday night, the Giants created three new members of the Players Association, adding Heliot Ramos, Sean Hjelle, and Randy Rodriguez to the 40-man roster in time to protect them from this year’s Rule 5 draft. A hearty There R Giants congratulations and hail thee well to the newcomers!
I’ve said this before, but it shouldn’t be taken for granted what a life-changing event being added to the 40-man really is. In addition to, yes, being represented by a union for the first time and the many advantages that can come from that, being a member of a 40-man brings players access to health insurance as well as the major league medical staff. It brings a boost to players’ minor league salaries. It means an automatic invite to spring training and the chance to work with Gabe Kapler and his coaching staff. It means hanging out with major league veterans and picking up tips on everything from pitch grips to arm care techniques. For a player like Rodriguez, who signed for just $50,000 back in August, 2017, literally the per diem he could bank in three or four weeks of spring training will add up to some of the most significant earnings of his young pro career. And, of course, the big thing — being on the 40-man puts a player much, MUCH closer to being a big league call up when the next roster need occurs. This is a really big day in these young men’s lives — deserving of great ceremony and celebration.
Just like that! Precisely!
I’m not going to take this opportunity to talk about these players’ careers or seasons — there will be plenty of time for that when we come to their slots on the Top 50. But I do want to take a moment today to take a guess at the Giants’ thought process in this decision — how they arrived at whom to place on the roster, who to take off the roster, and who to leave exposed to the Rule 5 draft.
One bit of house cleaning: the Rule 5 draft is likely to be postponed by the imminent owner lockout, but it sounds like the draft will be held once a new CBA has been agreed to (knock on wood) and the lockout ends. So, sometime in 2023 perhaps.
Deciding the Adds
Let me just go ahead and do a little cut and paste from a different venue to start us off:
Yes, thank you informed Twitter personality! This is, I think, a crucial element of the Giants’ calculations in this process. The Giants under Farhan Zaidi have shown two pronounced uses of the 40-man roster: 1) to extend the major league roster to its largest capacity by having a large group of players with options who can be moved up and down, from San Francisco to Sacramento, to keep replenishing the team with fresh arms and bench depth, allowing the team to create desired matchups on a game by game basis; and 2) to increase the overall talent level of the organization, using the final 1-2 spots on the 40-man to make waiver claims and then attempting to flip those players off their 40-man while still retaining their services — claiming, waiving, and then outrighting them to Sacramento if they clear waivers the second time. The entire back half of the Giants 40-man moves and churns and twirls like a Busby Berkeley routine in perpetuity.
Adding a player to the mix whom you aren’t likely to be able to bring up to the majors when a player is needed and also can’t move off the 40-man when space is needed effectively just takes one roster position out of the front office’s hands. Adding a player like Alex Canario (as they did last year) in effect just created a 39-man roster instead of a 40-man and that almost certainly played an outsized role in the decision to use Canario to obtain major league talent in July.
If you factor in that Canario’s spot on the roster was turned into Kris Bryant for the second half of the season, then all five minor league players added to the roster last winter had an impact on the major league team. Gregory Santos had the least, of course, but that was due to his unforeseen suspension for violating the Joint Drug Agreement. This will continue to be, I think, the front office’s preference in deciding which players to add to the roster. They’re going to think long and hard about adding players who will hamstring one roster spot without being able to contribute to major league wins in the coming year.
Thus, for this year’s decisions, including Yunior Marte, who was added to the roster earlier to prevent him becoming a minor league free agent, we have three players who have Triple-A time and are on the doorstop of the major leagues. Ramos was a no-brainer regardless, as a former 1st round pick and long-time top prospect. Probably the same is true of Hjelle, a 2nd round pick who was given $1.5m to sign in 2018. Still, the fact that both have seen some time in Sacramento already makes the decisions much easier. Both have more seasoning to do at that level to be major league ready (don’t count on either of these guys pushing for an opening day assignment), but it’s not hard to imagine either proving to be ready to help if called upon early next summer. Marte, who was probably Sacramento’s most consistently reliable pitcher from start to finish of last year, could easily be a member of the Opening Day roster and is almost certain to see time in San Francisco early and often.
But what about Rodriguez, you might say? Is a Low A reliever really ready to contribute to the club in the coming season? Well, this is where we get to Key Decision Factor #2.
As Zaidi has said multiple times over the last year, relievers can move fast. That’s what he said last winter after adding a pitcher who had last appeared in High A (Doval), a pitcher who had last appeared in Low A (Santos) and a pitcher who had never appeared in full season ball at all (Castro): relievers can move fast. And all three did. Rodriguez has only completed one year of Low A, but it was sensational indeed and certainly puts him ahead of where either Castro or Santos were at this time last year.
With his addition to the 40-man, Rodriguez will almost assuredly be pushed to Double-A, if not higher, to start the year. From there, a hot start could move him up the ladder quickly and even a room temperature one could put him in position to fill in for a Coors Field double header in August.
I think we can anticipate that, once again, all four of the minor leaguers added to the big roster will have some kind of an impact on the Giants before 2022 is complete.
Now, I know I said that I wasn’t going to go into these players in detail, but since Rodriguez is the one you’re probably least familiar with, enjoy this awesome highlight reel that You Tuber Sean Bialaszek put together of his year. (Sean cuts together a LOT of highlight reels like this for Giants’ prospects, by the way, and I’d highly suggest you give his You Tube channel a visit sometime!).
The 40-man roster had just one open spot on it prior to these moves, so two players had to be removed from the roster to fit the new trio on. The choices were to return 2020 Rule 5 pick Dedniel Nuñez to the New York Mets and to Designate Jay Jackson for assignment.
The Nuñez move makes sense in the context of the desire for roster flexibility. While I’m sure that the Giants might have liked to get a look at the right-hander in camp after having paid him a major league salary all of 2021, Nuñez is still hamstrung by the rules that pertain to Rule 5 picks — he can’t be sent down without spending at least 90 days on the active roster. Given the Giants’ desire to extend the pitching staff using the flexibility of player options, having the 7th or 8th guy in the bullpen be someone who can’t be optioned is decidedly sub-optimal. Replacing Nuñez with someone who has the same basic profile (power arm, good pitch characteristics, low leverage reliever, 6th inning type), but who also brings the flexibility of available player options makes better use of the roster spot. Why tie up a position with an immovable player when you can have a similar talent without the restrictions. Marte fits the bill — better even, since he comes with a year of terrific Triple-A experience while Nuñez has never appeared above High A (and that was three years ago).
Jackson’s DFA is a little less straightforward, particularly since the team had just picked up a hitherto unknown team option for the reliever. Jackson didn’t make himself irreplaceable in his time with the Giants last year — he wasn’t part of the playoff roster — but he certainly provided the team with some valuable innings in 2021 and he does have an option remaining for 2022. So it’s a bit surprising to see the Giants give him the short straw over recently acquired pitchers like Joe Palumbo and Hunter Harvey. Looking at Jackson’s “under the hood” Statcast numbers, nothing jumps out about his pitch characteristics — his fastball didn’t have elite velocity, spin rate, or effective spin, and virtually none of the vertical movement that progressive teams are looking for these days. His slider had a hefty 48% swing and miss rate, but he did have a tendency to leave it in the middle of the zone just a little too often as well.
Apparently the Giants had seen a useful but fungible reliever whose spot on the roster offered an opportunity to upgrade. The gregarious reliever with the big smile left an impression on us though:
There’s perpetual confusion about the DFA process, so let me just take a moment to clarify: Jackson was not put on waivers on Friday. The DFA process temporarily removes a player from the 40-man and gives the team up to 10 days to move him out of his temporary roster purgatory. If the player’s roster status hasn’t been resolved after 7 days (through a trade, for instance), then the team must place him on waivers. That may end up happening with Jackson, but DFA’ing isn’t synonymous with placing on waivers.
So, how about those players left behind? Prelander Berroa, Seth Corry, David Villar, Diego Rincones, Ricardo Genovés and many others are now potential targets for other teams in the (hopefully) upcoming Rule 5 draft. Why did the Giants choose to leave these valuable prospects unprotected? After all, the Cleveland Guardians turned over an incredible 25% of their roster on Friday with an incredible 11 prospect additions to their 40-man! Were the Giants being cavalier regarding their future?
Well, let’s go back to the twitter feed to start to answer this:
I’m sorry to keep quoting myself, but it’s just so much easier than writing out the same basic thought a second time. The question of who to protect revolves around who seems likely be lost, so a large part of the calculation has to involve recent history of Rule 5 picks. What type of player gets plucked?
Last year 18 players were selected in the draft and 15 of those were relief pitchers. Of the three that weren’t, Akil Baddoo was the most famous, but also, by far, the greatest anomaly. Toolsy young players (a la Canario) are the very rarest type of Rule 5 pick, not to mention successful Rule 5 picks, though they do soak up a lot of the energy that surrounds the draft every year. Position player picks tend to be guys with upper minors experience, major league ready fringe types, like Ka’ai Tom, whom Cleveland lost last year (though he didn’t stick with the A’s and ultimately ended up on a minor league contract with the Giants for 2022). They also are usually, though not exclusively, guys who can play up the middle or multiple positions, thus being able to slot on a short major league bench. Again, last year saw three hitters taken, Tom (who can play all three OF positions), SS Kyle Holder (returned to the Yankees) and Baddoo, who played all three OF positions for the Tigers, with most of his time coming in CF. The Padres shook up the world a few years back taking not one but two catchers, which is a really tricky position to try to pluck in the Rule 5 draft (do you really want your backup Catcher to be not really major league ready?).
That preference for pitching extends back, as well. Seventeen of the 24 picks from 2018-19 drafts were also relievers. Coincidentally, two of the position players taken in 2018 ended up in the Giants camp (Drew Ferguson and Conner Joe). Usually, but not always, pitchers who stick have some upper minors performance in their resumé and can contribute to a big league pen. And that makes sense — covering the 1,500 or so innings of a major league season is a major endeavor and, on some days, it’s a mad scramble. Trying to get by with one roster spot tied behind your back creates an untenable ripple effect on the work load for the rest of the staff. There are just too many negative repercussions that can result from trying to float a player who isn’t really ready. That’s not to say it doesn’t happen. Toronto made plentiful use of the IL and even the Bereavement List in getting 19-year-old fireballer Elvis Luciano to exactly the 90 day limit three years ago, and then dropped him back to Double-A last year. It can be done. But it’s a difficult endeavor which most teams, even the non-competitive ones, tend to give up on at some point. Successful Rule 5 picks tend to go out and show they belong — like Baddoo or Garrett Whitlock, who ended up being possibly the best reliever in the Red Sox’ pen this year.
So, with the players the Giants chose not to place on the 40-man, we can start to get a picture of where they felt like the risk-reward was in their favor. While both Villar and Rincones have had success in Double-A, both are corner players, and in Rincones’ case he’s a fringy corner player. Genoves is a not-ready-for-prime time catcher, who would be a tough fit on a major league bench. Of that trio, Villar and Rincones might catch some team’s eye (and scouts were definitely heavy on the Richmond squad at the end of the year, eyeing up potential minor league free agents and Rule 5 picks), but even they don’t really fit the profile of what teams have historically pursued in the draft.
Corry is obviously a talent — a lefty with a plus curveball who generates metric tons of swing and miss. But his command problems would likely make him very hard to float all the way through the upcoming major league season. In the Arizona Fall League, Corry had two different games (about a week apart) in which he walked four batters in an inning. My guess is even a non-competitive team would likely be offering him back to the Giants by the second one of those if the same had happened in the regular season. It’s not out of the question that some team might grab him, have him rely heavily on his curve in one inning stints, and try to nurse him through a season on the major league roster, but it does maybe lean towards the less likely side of the spectrum.
Berroa is perhaps the most interesting candidate, as he really does fit the profile — in a way. The Giants want to continue developing him as a starting pitcher, of course, and in that role he’s likely still two years away from even getting to the point where Hjelle is today. See the above section on the Giants’ limited desire to use 40-man spots on guys who won’t contribute soon. However, if a team looked at him as a reliever for the upcoming year, then his high 90s fastball and sharp slider might, indeed, look like the basic building blocks for a major league relief arm. As with Corry, if you can get him through a year in a pen, there’s always the possibility of returning him to a starter’s role later on (as the Red Sox have discussed doing next year with Whitlock).
But I think for the Giants’ front office, it really is all about the reward of having 40-man slots they can use for the 2022 team, not the 2024 one. There will, no doubt, be some tense moments during the actual draft — they certainly don’t want to lose any of these players. But the risk is limited and the reward is foundational to the way the club wants to operate. It’s a gamble, but it’s not exactly like they’re placing the mortgage deed on Red 32. The most likely outcome is that they don’t lose anybody, at least not permanently.
That said, Baseball America’s J.J. Cooper likes to make a point about the Rule 5 protection deadline, and it goes to the heart of today’s discussion:
New York Yankees @YankeesToday, the Yankees have made the following roster moves: •Added INF Oswaldo Cabrera, RHP Ron Marinaccio, OF Everson Pereira, RHP Stephen Ridings and LHP JP Sears to the Major League roster. •Designated OF Clint Frazier, INF Rougned Odor and INF Tyler Wade for assignment.
As much as I can make the case that the Giants aren’t likely to lose any of these exposed players, they’ve still indicated that they feel the risk is worthwhile and that’s a public signal that is worth taking note of (and maybe filing away for later).
For those of you who do want to feed your fears and wonder where the exposed Giants might fit another club’s needs, I’d suggest thinking about the organizations that got the best and most extensive looks at some of these players. The Orioles, for instance, have plenty of roster space, a lot of open positions on the big league club, and their scouts and staff got plenty of looks at Villar this year. There’s nobody the Bowie Bay Sox play more in their league than Richmond. Philadelphia is another team with open space on their 40-man and their Double A Reading team also had several looks at Richmond. Colorado, on the other hand, has pretty intimate knowledge of both of the Giants’ A Ball clubs (including playing against both of them in their league championships), and, for what it’s worth, I remember a Rockies’ scout telling me this year that he thought Berroa was the best pitching prospect on the San Jose staff.
Be that as it may, I still think the most likely outcome is that the Giants don’t lose any of their exposed prospects. And, I think I speak for all of us here at There R Giants (including you, Dear Reader), in saying that’s the most desirable outcome as well. Desirable for us and frequently for the players as well — plenty of young players have had their development skewed off course by the Rule 5 draft, forced into a situation they weren’t ready for and then shuttled off into waiver wire purgatory. Many a promising career has never quite recovered from being selected in the Rule 5 draft. So, let’s hope all of our guys stay safe and sound inside the org as the Rule 5 Angel passes over our threshold in the night.
We’ll just have to hope, 29 other teams haven’t been watching things, you know, like this:
Oh, one more thing! If you enjoyed this year’s Rule 5 protection decisions, you’re gonna love next year’s! Believe it or not, we are just 12 months away from the day when Marco Luciano, Luis Matos, Jairo Pomares, and Hunter Bishop could all be eligible for the Rule 5 draft. Things come at you mighty quickly when a minor league season disappears, don’t they? It’s an incredibly stupid irony that COVID actually served to fix (at least temporarily) an inequity that has lasted for years. Moving the international signing date to January (after the Rule 5 draft takes place), instead of the traditional July date, gives the members of the 2020 and 2021 international signing classes an extra year of development before being Rule 5 eligible. But the great 2018 class will all hit their eligibility after having just two years of full season ball under their belt. Bishop, of course, is still hoping to get just one full season of experience before he’s eligible, thanks to a troubling string of medical issues.
Still, that quartet will all demand positions on the 40-man next November, which is yet another reason why the Giants needed to play things a little on the conservative side in this year’s round of decisions. We’ve definitely reached the point on our journey that Zaidi spoke of three years ago — the 40 man decisions have started to hurt. But the talent being collected — that should make things feel better.
Winter League Update
The Arizona Fall League comes to a close, but other winter leagues are heating up. It will be interesting to see if Marco Luciano joins his LIDOM team for some portion of the winter. And speaking of Marco, he’s been on something of a tear lately, ending the fall on a high note. Luciano ended the year with 7 hits in his final 17 at bats, including one particularly memorable one!
Seth Corry also brought the fall to a satisfying conclusion, with no walks and eight Ks in his final two starts (5.0 IP). As we saw, that wasn’t enough to help him secure a spot on the 40-man, but it should send him into the off season feeling good about his progress.
Lastly, as you may have noticed above, Diego Rincones is crushing it once again in Venezuela!
All stats for the AFL are final, so I’ll be dropping those guys off my list next time we check in on winter ball.
Remember, I won’t have many of these open posts this winter, so please share this with a Giants’ fan you think might like it. And, if you’d like more There R Giants content delivered straight to your inbox, why not subscribe for regular posts three days a week in the off season and five days a week during the minor league schedule, catching you up on all the action going on in the Giants’ system?