The Nov. 20 reserves deadline is rapidly approaching. On that date, Major League Baseball clubs must move players they wish to protect from the Dec. 11 Rule 5 Draft onto their 40-man roster. For the Colorado Rockies, this presents an interesting set of scenarios for how they'll create the roster space necessary to make these moves.
Last year, Colorado selected the contracts of seven players, including 2014 rookies Tyler Matzek and Kyle Parker, protecting them from potentially being lost to another team (for more on the Rule 5 Draft, which requires the drafting club to keep the selected player on its 25-man roster for the entire ensuing season, click here). To make room for those players, Colorado began the offseason with 38 players on its 40-man, then parted ways with Jeff Manship (outrighted) and Edwar Cabrera (claimed by Texas), as well as free agents Todd Helton, Roy Oswalt, Jeff Francis and Rafael Betancourt.
Things will be a little different this time around. The Rockies have been much more active in terms of waiver wire pickups, claiming relievers Chris Rusin and Jorge Rondon, and have a lot more injured players that count toward their 40-man number. As such, even with the departure of eight players via free agency, DFA or trade, Colorado's roster is currently full.
The increased activity tells me that either Colorado doesn't plan to protect many of their Rule 5-eligible players, or that we're about to witness an incredibly busy week.
First, take a look at the list of Rule 5 eligibles, courtesy of the amazing Rockies Roster:
Possibly Rule 5-eligible (unsure of status)
Unassigned players and/or status with organization unknown
That's a long list of mostly organizational filler. This is one situation in which the bulk of the talent being relatively new to the organization is advantageous. Still, the Rockies do have some critical decisions to make on a few of these players.
Anderson and Casteel are both close to being major league contributors. Casteel's presence and large amount of playing time in the Arizona Fall League is a good indicator of what the Rockies plan to do with him. Meanwhile, Anderson may compete for a spot in the Rockies' rotation out of spring training, Colorado general manager Jeff Bridich recently told Patrick Saunders of the Denver Post.
Like Casteel, Featherston, Gonzalez and Roberts were sent to the AFL, and all three have performed pretty well there. Colorado could elect to find a trade partner for either or both relievers, take a gamble that no other team would keep them on a 25-man roster all year, or protect one or both. The Rockies' bullpen, as it's currently constructed, is a significant weakness. Even though neither of these guys have dominated minor league competition, both could be useful additions to the big league relief corps at some point.
Featherston is yet another piece in what looks like a crowd of decent, but not necessarily good, middle infield options close to the majors. He's been the best of the Rockies' position players in the AFL, but existing positional depth will likely result in the 25-year-old Texan being left unprotected.
Winkler would be close to a no-brainer to protect, but he might not even pitch next season after undergoing Tommy John Surgery in June. If he's healthy enough to return next season, though, a team could take him in the Rule 5 Draft and keep him on the DL until he returns. At that point, the same Rule 5 selection guidelines would apply, but that club would use up two years of service time and about $1 million for two years of what would likely be a less than full-strength version of what we saw before the injury.
Garneau and Swanner are basically polar opposites who play the same position. Garneau, 27, has very good plate discipline skills and is, by most accounts, a solid defender behind the plate. For me, it's an easy decision to leave Garneau unprotected, but the Rockies might feel differently about their catching depth situation, so he has to be considered. Swanner, who is five years younger, has perhaps the worst plate discipline skills of anyone in the organization and is not regarded as a good defensive catcher. However, his bat contains significant pop, and he's actually fared pretty well offensively given his age relative to the leagues in which he's played during the last two seasons. That makes him worth a mention here.
Other interesting cases
Jiminian, Briceno and Rodriguez are all a long way from making a big league impact, but might a team be willing to allow one or more of these players to take their lumps in the majors for a season and see where it leads? It's unlikely, and none of the three are top 20 prospects, so even if that were the case, the Rockies probably wouldn't find themselves in too much pain. However, with a couple of additional years of development, who knows what could happen.
So, who might the Rockies part with between now and Thursday to create room for players they want to protect from the Rule 5 Draft? This list of current 40-man roster occupants should be dissected heavily in the coming days by Colorado's brass:
Half of the players on Colorado's roster are candidates -- some more than others, of course -- to be cut, traded or non-tendered at some point this offseason. Most are safe for this round of decision-making, though. Looking at the list of players who could be protected, somewhere between three and six of the 20 players will be affected. Let's break it down by position:
Wilin Rosario played himself into being a darkhorse non-tender candidate, which also makes him a darkhorse candidate to be designated for assignment or traded sooner than the Dec. 2 non-tender deadline. If the Rockies do choose to take that route, which is pretty unlikely, Casteel -- and maybe even Garneau -- would almost certainly be placed on the 40-man roster in his stead.
The departure of Michael Cuddyer creates the need for a suitable backup to Justin Morneau, but that backup wouldn't necessarily have to double as a platoon partner. What the Rockies do here depends on their definition of a suitable backup; if that means DJ LeMahieu, Culberson and/or Rosario, then retaining Paulsen wouldn't be paramount. Otherwise, Colorado will realize its lack of real depth at this position and likely hang on to the Clemson alum.
Other infield depth
Ynoa and Culberson appear to be the two likeliest candidates to be removed from the 40-man in this category, though Rutledge shouldn't be completely discounted considering he might be the worst defender of the three. Adames will probably get more of an opportunity to prove his worth in Triple-A.
The Rockies love Barnes, and he's not the worst option in terms of major league outfield depth, though his actual offensive production leaves a lot to be desired. Unless a trade happens, I don't see the Rockies changing anything here. They'll see if Herrera can bounce back from injuries, and probably want more time to see how he performs in the outfield before making any sort of roster decision with him.
Chatwood will likely miss all of next season, so the Rockies have a decision to make about his future. That likely won't come now, but possibly could be made at the non-tender deadline. Chacin falls in the same boat, though it appears he'll be ready well before Chatwood. On that note, I don't personally believe either are non-tender candidates, but I can only go off of what I've heard and read elsewhere.
Bergman, meanwhile, showed the Rockies enough to where they'll want to see if he can give them more. He doesn't walk batters often, and though he lacks true big league stuff, a suppressed offensive era might be his friend. Consider him safe for now. That leaves no starting pitchers likely to be removed from the 40-man between now and the reserves deadline.
The Rockies don't really know what they have in Rondon or Rusin, but the former is two years younger and hasn't proven a bust at the big league level, unlike Rusin. Though the Rockies just picked him up, Rusin is a legitimate candidate to be cut in this round of moves. Flande, Friedrich and Nicasio all showed improvement upon their reassignments to the bullpen, but none of the three are safe from being cut, either. Nicasio has the best chance of staying around because of his stuff and modicum of success as a starter, even though Friedrich has a first-round pedigree and was dominant out of the bullpen in his short stint there.
Kraig Sitton, one of the seven players added at this time last year, was underwhelming in Double-A despite being old for the league. That probably will work against the 26-year-old left-hander due to the presence of better bullpen options such as Brooks Brown, Chris Martin and even Chad Bettis -- owner of the best stuff of any reliever on the list -- ahead of him.
The Rockies will almost certainly add Anderson and Casteel, but one or two other players could make the cut as well. I'll go with three, with Garneau being the third addition. To create room for the trio, the Rockies will cut Charlie Culberson, Kraig Sitton and Chris Rusin.
Or, maybe we'll see a big trade between now and then. It's doubtful, but stranger things have happened. Like someone writing a 1,700-word post on the reserves deadline.