Next week on November 20, all major league teams have to set up their 40-man rosters and freeze them before the Rule 5 draft on December 10.
On that date, players who are not on the 40-man, but who have been in the team’s system four or five years (depending on the age when first signed) are eligible to be taken by competing teams in a draft for a mere $100,000. The catch is the drafting team must keep the player on the major league 26-man (or whatever it is this year) active roster (not on the injured list) for at least 90 days. The drafting team can offer the players back to the original organization for $50,000 if it does not wish to keep it on the 40-man. The Orioles did this after drafting Brandon Bailey from the Astros last year, offering him back before the season began.
So, the key is that by late next week, teams will have made moves to protect those players they are most concerned with losing in the Rule 5. To do that they can make more room on the 40-man through releases or trades. Then they can promote newbies to the 40-man roster, but they may not fill all 40 spots if they anticipate leaving room for free agent signees or players obtained through trades of players not on the 40-man. It is a delicate ballet and a key one for Astros GM James Click, who joined after this point last off-season.
The thing no one knows is how will the 2020 pandemic season affect the team’s decisions on prospects. There was really no minor league season in 2020, and though teams did run season-long camps to keep folks ready, it was not a normal way of developing players or kicking off their minor league careers.
Astros Current 40 man roster.
After having certain players fall off the roster due to performance (Chris Devenski, Joe Biagini, Chase DeJong) or free agency (George Springer, Michael Brantley, Josh Reddick, Brad Peacock), the Astros currently have 36 players on the 40 man:
Justin Verlander, Zack Greinke, Jose Urquidy, Lance McCullers Jr., Framber Valdez, Cristian Javier, Josh James, Enoli Paredes, Bryan Abreu, Rogelio Aremteros, Humberto Castellanos, Ryan Pressly, Brandon Bailey, Brandon Bielak, Blake Taylor, Brooks Raley, Luis Garcia, Nivaldo Rodriguez, Andre Scrubb, Austin Pruitt, Cy Sneed, Cionel Perez
Note: Joe Smith, who chose to sit out the 2020 season due to COVID and has a $4 million contract for 2021, but has not committed to 2021 does not appear on any 40 man roster yet.
Out of all these players, who is in the most danger of being taken off the 40 man roster?
- Justin Verlander. He is taking up a spot, and there is no chance he will pitch during the 2021 season. He will get paid, and no one will pick him up.
- Jack Mayfield. He’s 30 years old and shown next to nothing in two cameos in the majors. No one is picking him up in the Rule 5
- Cy Sneed. He’s 28 years old with a 5.50+ ERA in two seasons, plus he gives up more than 11 hits per 9 innings. He is just a body at this point.
- Austin Pruitt. Yes, I know he is a local kid, and he is someone they liked a lot when they got him from the TB Rays. But he didn’t pitch for them and may not pitch any time soon, and he is 31 years old.
- Rogelio Armenteros. This would be a bit risky. He is coming off surgery and has not pitched since that surgery last March. This comes down to how the Astros value Armenteros (26 y.o.) vs. some of the younger pitchers who might get taken.
What we don’t know is the following….did the Astros see anything in any of those youngsters such as Castellanos or Bielak or Bailey to cause them to devalue them? Is there anyone up there who they think way overperformed their normal and who might have value in a trade before they turn back into a pumpkin – perhaps an Andre Scrubb?
The assumption here is that the Astros are likely to head towards about 38 players on the 40-man, so how many they take off here ties to how many youngsters they want to protect.
Here is a complete list of all Astros who are eligible to be taken in the Rule 5
Last season the Astros added four players at the “freeze”. This season could easily be five or six. So who are the most likely?
- P Forrest Whitley. Even though he has been a disappointment with his off-field situation and injuries, the Astros will show the same patience with him they showed with Kyle Tucker and hope they get paid back soon.
- IF Freudis Nova. He’s only 20 y.o. and has not played above A ball, but he is the #2 prospect and since I am advocating exposing Super Jack Mayfield – I think they cover Nova.
- P Tyler Ivey. When last we saw this 3rd round pick he was 4-0 with a 1.57 ERA and 11.9 K / 9 IP at AA Corpus. He would seem to be a lock.
- P Jojanse Torres – He has been nails for the Astros since his signing. Between 2017 and 2019 he was 13-2 with a 1.86 ERA and 10.3 K/9 IP. He has to be covered.
- P Peter Solomon. He had also been excellent between 2017 and 2019 with a 9-1 record, 2.30 ERA and 10.5 K/9 IP. But he is also coming off Tommy John surgery in 2019. Do they take a chance and leave him exposed?
- P Jairo Solis – Like Solomon, he has not been “seen” since his TJ surgery after the 2018 season. His numbers were not quite as good as Solomon’s 5-7, 3.05 ERA, K / 9 IP, but he’s a baby at not quite 21 years old. He has to be a consideration.
- Others. There are three others on the top 30 prospects list eligible – OF Ronnie Dawson (#29) who was exposed last year and not taken (for a good reason), IF Luis Santana, who struggled at AA in 2019 (but was only 19 y.o.) and P Jose Alberto Rivera, who has been solid but unspectacular in his time with the Astros. Rivera was a particular favorite of a good friend of the blog GoStros, who thinks they just need to harness his fastball control to have a real gem.
The funny thing is that most years the players the Astros lose in the Rule 5 are surprises. It will be an interesting time to see how they open up the roster, who they protect and who they expose. It is very likely they will lose some real talent this season.