Yesterday was the deadline day for teams to protect their vulnerable minor league jewels ahead of next month's Rule 5 draft. The only way to do this is by placing them on the 40-man roster.
The players eligible for this draft the Rockies chose to protect were Trevor Story, Antonio Senzatela, Raimel Tapia, and Carlos Estevez. All good decisions.
However, entering yesterday's deadline, the Rockies already had a full 40-man roster. This means that four other players had to come off it. As covered yesterday by Eric Garcia McKinley, the losers in this game were John Axford, Rex Brothers, Tommy Kahnle, and Wilin Rosario. Here's the official tweet from the Rockies:
The four players protected come as no surprise. Three of them appeared in Baseball America's top ten list in terms of the Rockies farm, and Carlos Estevez is a rising stock who probably gets snatched if he's left hanging out there. The four players who were Designated For Assignment however? Those were anyone's guess.
The Rockies have enough garbage on this roster to open a local dump, so the possible combinations here were limitless, but now that we have the four answers, a couple of common threads become evident.
1) The Rockies cut ties with three arbitration eligible players
According to MLB Trade rumors salary arbitration projections, Axford ($6.5 million), Rosario ($3.2 million), and Brothers ($1.5 million) were set to make a combined $11.2 million in 2016. That's far too much for three players who don't have value on the trade market (Axford because of his salary) and are not going to help the Rockies long term.
Five of the other six Rockies eligible for arbitration this winter either have trade value or seem likely to help the club long term. They are Nolan Arenado, DJ LeMahieu, Charlie Blackmon, Jordan Lyles, and Adam Ottavino. The sixth player who doesn't fit into this group is Brandon Barnes, but more on him in a moment.
2) The Rockies are ditching bullpen arms with really high walk rates
It should come as no surprise that Rockies pitching issued more walks than any other team in baseball. It was an epidemic that plagued both starters and relievers alike. The amount of free passes this team handed out is inexcusable. While a Rockies staff is always going to give up more runs than they otherwise would pitching at Coors Field, there's no excuse to give up more walks.
When the Rockies made the playoffs in 07 and 09, they actually ranked in the top ten in terms of MLB teams not allowing walks. In fact, from 06 through 09, they went four consecutive seasons without allowing a free pass more often than the average team. So it can be done, just not by the collection of arms they had in 2015.
If we take a look at the bullpen specifically, four players had a BB/9 over five with at least ten innings pitched. They were Tommy Kahnle (7.56), Rex Brothers (6.97), Gonzalez Germen (5.79), and John Axford (5.17). Germen was outrighted off the 40-man in October, and the other three names here were all just Designated for Assignment. It's unlikely all of them will be out of the organization come spring, but taking them off the 40-man is a first step to a less wild pen.
There's still plenty of other guys who posted high walk rates on the roster, but now the only true wild horse on the 40-man is Tyler Matzek, and he's a unique situation because he's already had some success as a starter at the major league level, will only be 25 next summer, and still comes cheap. He's worth keeping around in what's likely to be another lost summer.
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So those are a couple of good reasons why these four players were selected to get kicked off the 40-man roster Friday, but this is the Rockies, and there's more than four worthy candidates here. Specifically, I want to focus on why the following four guys made the latest round of cuts: Rafael Ynoa, Daniel Descalso, Kyle Parker, and Brandon Barnes. (Not only did Barnes make the latest round cuts, but the Rockies handed him a one year extension on Friday, all but ensuring he'll be in a Rockies uniform for at least one more summer. Not a bad gig for a guy who just posted -0.6 fWAR and -1.1 rWAR.)
When discussions in the comments here at Purple Row came up about who the Rockies should cut on Friday's deadline, all of these names were possible choices. But these four all have a secret advantage the four who were cut didn't have: They play in the outfield and the middle infield.
Why is this important?
Well, now that we know the front office prioritized their presence on the roster through two rounds of cuts (the other in October when the club had to outright Brooks Brown, Gonzalez Germen, Simon Castro and Michael McKenry to make room for the players coming off the 60-Day DL and onto the 40 man roster), it may tell us something about the future of guys like DJ LeMahieu, Carlos Gonzalez and Charlie Blackmon. We've spent the last several weeks here at Purple Row pointing out that these players have value on the trade market right now and should be flipped for future talent.
It's impossible to know right now exactly how the rest of the winter is going to play out (even the front offices don't know for sure, as they often surprise each other), but if the Rockies are planning to shop those three players, doesn't it make sense to keep guys like Rafael Ynoa, Daniel Descalso, Kyle Parker and Brandon Barnes around?
If DJ LeMahieu is traded and Jose Reyes is suspended, you still need to fill the middle infield slots in April, and since it would be smart for the club to keep Trevor Story in the minors for at least a few weeks to delay his service clock in a lost season, the Rockies still need three guys who can play some combination of shortstop and second base together.
Well, the Rockies still have those three guys on the roster in Cristhian Adames, Daniel Descalso, and Rafael Ynoa. Would that be a terrible infield to start the season? Absolutely, but somebody's still has to be there, and given all the circumstances, that's probably what you'd go with if you were planning to deal LeMahieu in the coming months.
The same thing goes for the outfield. If Carlos Gonzalez and/or Charlie Blackmon are moved, somebody still has to play out there. Brandon Barnes and Kyle Parker surviving Friday's cuts tells us that it very well might be them. It's a very plausible explanation to account for why they're still around.
There's not enough information here to draw any firm conclusions about what the Rockies might do next, but there's definitely smoke here, and the smoke suggests that LeMahieu, Gonzalez, and Blackmon are on the trading block. The next few weeks could be very, very interesting.