We've reached the point in the year that generally features the absolute least roster activity from an organizational perspective. The MLB team has recalled basically everyone it intended to. The minors are shut down, no activity needed. No big decisions loom on the horizon in terms of organizational player management until the offseason begins.
This week, we had a grand total of ONE transaction in the system, the recall of Hector Gomez from the Tulsa Drillers on September 16th to bolster the already depleted infield mess that prompted a similarly unexpected promotion of Tommy Field last week. Like Field, this is Gomez' major league debut, though unlike Field, Gomez has been on the 40 Man Roster since 2008/2009's offseason. The injury prone player has had the public enthusiasm sucked out of him thanks to a development slowed dramatically by a variety of both serious and trivial. Those of you with just a basic understanding of MLB option years can count that 2009, 2010 and 2011 marks the end of Gomez' regular optional ease, but this is where those injuries come into play.
As many of you have probably learned by now, players have a go at one extra option year if their time in the minors has been shortened, whether due to injury or a quick rise to the MLB level. In order to qualify for that bonus, you must have less than five "full professional seasons" completed, not in progress, in their career. A "full professional season" is defined as a season with either MLB, full season MiLB or a combination during which the player in question is "active" for 90 or more days. Active players do include the disabled list (hence why they continue to gain MLB service at the MLB level), but days on the DL can account for no more than 30 of the 90 days. To put it more simply, the player must be eligible to play on at least 60 days during the season, with at least 30 more on the disabled list.
Gomez' first season with a full season team was 2007 with the Asheville Tourists, where he played in 124 games, more than enough to qualify for his first pro year. This year, Gomez played in 111 games with Tulsa plus his brief time here with the Rockies, more than enough for two. 2009 saw Gomez make it into 83 games, but with most of the rest of the season a DL stint, that kicks up to 3 because he had at least 60 games eligible to play. But that's it; Gomez saw almost no action in 2008, and barely a month's worth of activity in 2010. So that means that yes, Gomez has one more option year next year (this will be relevant later when I discuss what we have to do with the roster heading into the offseason; Gomez' extra option may save him from clearing space for a new prospect).
One other note: last week, an unusual transaction occurred that I missed: infielder Radames Nazario, who has an on again/off again injury plagued season with the Sky Sox this year, was released. The move is unusual because Nazario, who was signed as the 22nd round pick in 2005, would be eligible to leave as a minor league free agent in two weeks once the season ends. I cannot conjure any real reason why the Rockies would have chosen to give Nazario a head start on free agency unless he had a reason to specifically request a release. Regardless of the inconsequential nature of this move, it still caught my eye. We'll probably never know the whole story.
After the jump, I'll be breaking down a bit of what we can expect in the early offseason as the Rockies leave 2011 and begin the offseason process of trying to improve the team's chances in 2012 or beyond.
Exiting 2011: Playing Out the Roster Crunch
While player declaring free agency from a major league team's 40 Man Roster must wait until after the postseason ends to do so, MiLB free agents can declare just a little under a week after the regular season ends. In next Wednesday's article, I will be breaking down which players in the minors we'll be saying goodbye to the following week.
For today, I thought it best to try and pinpoint the conditions of the team's early offseason path, beginning with the first week of November when players will be leaving for free agency. As mentioned just above, MLB free agents will declare beginning five days after the World Series is completed. Also as is probably known by now, the Rockies do not have a particularly large number of players headed that way.
MLB Free Agency
The players who will declare their free agency during this time (barring an extension announced before the end of the postseason) are Kevin Millwood, J.C. Romero and Mark Ellis. Ellis looks solidified pretty well as a Type B free agent, meaning the Rockies will have the option to offer the second baseman arbitration with the intent of being awarded a compensatory draft pick in the supplemental first round should he sign elsewhere. The Rockies are likely to turn down the offer with the intent of re-signing Ellis for a cheaper price off the market proper, but it's too early for a guarantee.
The Rockies are also set to turn down the club half of Aaron Cook's $10 million mutual contract option, which will add him to the list of players departing the roster in early November. Jason Giambi's fate is a little bit more tricky; he has a $1 million mutual option on the table, quite cheap, and Giambi remains a player whose presence in the dugout is of interest to the club. Both the Rockies and Giambi have interest in another year of #23 off the bench, the question will be, do they want to do it under these terms? Giambi could potentially be interested in looking for a higher salary after his most valuable year for the team, while the Rockies could see incentive to trying to sign the aging Giambi back on a minor league deal as he was this year as an insurance policy.
I am also assuming by this point that Eliezer Alfonzo is released by the team, though his presence on the Suspended List has already removed him from holding a 40 Man Roster Spot.
On or around November 20th, a few weeks before the Rule 5 Draft, the team must solidify its roster at exactly 40 players to protect from the draft proceedings. This means:
1. All players on the Disabled List must be activated.
2. The Rockies must add all players they wish to protect from the draft to the 40 Man Roster.
It is key to point out that all of this happens before the tender deadline. No spots will be opened up from non-tenders yet. The Rockies are going to need to make room via other methods first, such as trades or designation for assignment/releases.
Clearing the DL
Assuming that no free agents (including any of our departing ones) are signed before this deadline, the Rockies should have either 35 or 34 filled 40 man spots, depending on what is done with Giambi (specifically, those are the roster spots vacated by Ellis, Millwood, Romero and Cook, plus the one already currently vacated by Alfonzo).
The first order of business is to look at the disabled list. The team currently has a whopping seven players on the 60 Day DL, which projects already as more spots than the team is likely to haven. First let's look at who will definitely be activated: Charlie Blackmon, Juan Nicasio and Jorge De La Rosa are unlikely to be let go by the team at this point. Let's consider them activated, with the roster now at 38/37. Matt Daley and Jonathan Herrera are not impact players, but are also not out of favor with the team and are legitimate competitors for roster spots on the 2012 squad. Let's activate them too, with the roster now at 40/39. That leaves Jose Morales and Ryan Spilborghs.
Morales has seen a lot of things go right for his chances at retaining a roster spot this offseason, specifically the departures of Matt Pagnozzi and Alfonzo from the roster. Morales is now the lone remaining true "backup" catcher on the roster, but it's still going to take a miracle for him to make it over this one last jump. There will be plenty of other candidates in Morales' league that can be signed in the offseason on MiLB deals with invites to Spring Training for the chance that some combination of Chris Iannetta, Wilin Rosario and Jordan Pacheco are not our catchers in 2012. Though Morales is helped somewhat by still being in the pre-arbitration phase in his career, I think he is likely to be designated for assignment by the team at this point in late November. Let's count him there now.
The real enigma is Spilborghs. A non-tender candidate, he is still a beloved figure on the team and also may retain some value on the field to either the Rockies or another team as a trade option. Because of this, I think it's likely that Spilborghs is one of the very first names Dan O'Dowd tries to drop on the phones this Winter, because if I think if he is still here by this deadline, a spot is made for him. While it might seem silly to clear a roster spot for him only to be let go later on, the team has to think this process through step by step, and I think choosing to move on from Spilborghs before the offseason has even begun in full capacity could be seen as bad form from several directions. For the sake of this scenario, let's activate Spilborghs. The roster is now full if Giambi is currently in free agency, and one over if he isn't, and we haven't even started protecting players yet.
Protecting the Prospects
Going into September, there were three primary candidates for players guaranteed to have the red carpet laid out for them onto the 40 Man Roster sometime before the draft: Christian Friedrich, Edwar Cabrera and Tommy Field. Thanks to our depleted middle infield, Field is already taken care of; his swap with Pagnozzi can be seen as an offseason move made about two months earlier than expected. There are a lot of other interesting candidates for protection that can't be ruled out, but let's take this one step at a time and find a way to protect Cabrera and Friedrich first.
One idea could be to trade one or both of these players (particularly with Friedrich this idea may sound appealing to some), but that's far too hypothetical to try and play out right now, as it'd likely change the complexion of the roster in multiple other ways too. For now, we need to try and identify the two or three least valuable players on the roster that will not be squeezed out automatically, assuming nobody has been traded by this point.
The most obvious name on the roster for an easy cut is Jim Miller. Despite a longer organizational history, he hasn't used a strong 2011 audition to springboard his chances for a shot in Spring Training 2012 like other older fringe relief candidate Josh Roenicke. Further, he has less MLB experience than nearly everyone beyond Cory Riordan and Casey Weathers. That's one.
The final roster spot(s) for further protected players will likely boil down to projectability in value next year. Players like Cory Riordan and Cole Garner are in trouble; fringe prospects with constantly decreasing value. Kevin Kouzmanoff, new to the organization, has a shot at staying with third base as big of a question mark as it is, but he's got almost as much working against him as Ian Stewart does at this point (I expect Stewart to last to the tender deadline at least, unless he's traded).
Honestly, there are a lot of ways they could go here. The Rockies have enough bubble players that they could choose to cut upwards of 5-7 of them and protect a whole wave of players, but I think it's more likely we see Friedrich, Cabrera, and MAYBE two more players (Parker Frazier?) added and that's that. While there are a lot of players the Rockies would easily justify protecting if they had more roster room from free agency, they don't have a history of making massive roster purges (though it should be pointed out that this situation is kind of unprecedented in the modern history of the team; maybe they'll decide they need to break from the routine).
To find out who else is eligible for the Rule 5 Draft, check out Rockies Roster's Team Pages. There's around 40 organizational players that are headed into this offseason with the draft a possibility.
I'll be updating you all every step of the way through the offseason, helping to understand the team's through process as we move out of 2011's layout in a couple months. Next week, we'll be running down the MiLB Free Agency process. I'm sure I'll be revisiting Rule 5 stuff plenty of times as we move through the next couple months as well.