Having room on the 40-man roster is great, but some of the reasons why are concerning - BaltimoreBaseball.com
Dan Connolly

Having room on the 40-man roster is great, but some of the reasons why are concerning

Photo credit: Sergio Estrada/USA Today Sports

When the Orioles acquired outfielder Jaycob Brugman for future considerations last week from the Oakland Athletics and put him on the 40-man roster, the pertinent question wasn’t ‘Who?’

And it wasn’t, “Why?”

No, the most pertinent question was, “Who’s next?”

Because there are going to be several more Brugman types joining the Orioles in the next few weeks, maybe few months. For variety-sake, that can be a good thing, I suppose.

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It’s also a bad thing – or at least it points to a bad thing: The Orioles’ lack of minor league talent, especially at the upper levels of the farm system.

The Orioles were able to land Brugman, a left-handed hitting outfielder who’s had some solid success in his pro career so far, because they only had 33 players on their 40-man roster last week.

If you were wondering, yes, that’s a stunningly low number; the lowest in the American League. In fact, only four of the other 14 AL teams have fewer than 37 players on their 40-man: Texas (37), and Los Angeles, Seattle and Minnesota (all at 36).

Five AL teams, the Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees, Cleveland Indians, Houston Astros and the A’s, all are at 40 right now.

That means when a team such as the Yankees sign a free agent this winter, it will have to take a player off its 40-man roster. And, certainly, the Orioles and executive vice president Dan Duquette will be aggressive, grabbing players that potentially can help but were victims of roster crunches elsewhere.

Sometimes that works.

Last February, the Orioles sent cash considerations to the Yankees for reliever Richard Bleier, who had been designated for assignment, and Bleier posted a 1.99 ERA in 57 games for the Orioles in 2017.

So that’s the good. And expect Duquette to continue to scan the waiver wire, while also paying close to attention to those arbitration-eligible players from other clubs that are not tendered a contract by Friday’s deadline (The Orioles have seven arb-eligible players this year and all are expected to be tendered). That was how Welington Castillo was able to join the Orioles for 2017.

The concern, though, is why did the Orioles have so many openings on their 40-man roster heading into this offseason? Well, they did have 10 players file for free agency, and that happens with veteran teams. It’s possible none of those 10 come back, though some, such as Chris Tillman, Ryan Flaherty and J.J. Hardy could return if they don’t like their open-market choices.

Many teams clear space through free agency, however. What sets the Orioles apart is that they had 25 percent of their roster leave and really not much talent from within to fortify it.

This month, they added three homegrown players to the roster to protect from the Rule 5 draft. Only one, former first-rounder Hunter Harvey, is considered a high-ceiling prospect. The other two, defensive catcher Austin Wynns and right-hander David Hess, probably wouldn’t have been selected by another organization in December’s Rule 5 draft, but both could be in the Orioles’ plans for 2018. So, adding them now makes some sense.

There were several other players the Orioles could have shielded from the Rule 5 by adding them to the 40-man, but the belief is they weren’t ready to stick an entire year in the majors and so other clubs will pass over them.

There is history on the Orioles’ side with that thinking. The club hasn’t had a drafted/developed player selected in the major league phase of the Rule 5 draft since pitchers Pat Egan and Pedro Beato in 2010 (first baseman Ji-man Choi was taken in 2015, but he had signed with the Orioles weeks earlier as a minor-league free agent).

As much as Duquette likes to talk about the club’s minor league system improving, the lack of recent Orioles’ draftees on the 40-man is disconcerting.

Overall, the Orioles have 18 homegrown players out of 34 on the 40-man, and that’s a solid haul. But eight of those were drafted or signed in 2011 or earlier.

There’s only one player on the Orioles’ 40-man roster from the 2012 draft: Kevin Gausman, who was the fourth overall pick (To be fair, fourth-rounder Christian Walker and 19th rounder Josh Hader are currently on the 40-man rosters of other teams).

The 2013 draft has yielded seven players currently on the 40-man: Harvey, Wynns, catcher Chance Sisco, outfielder Trey Mancini and relievers Jimmy Yacabonis, Stefan Crichton and Donnie Hart. Duquette also traded three others from that draft: pitchers Stephen Tarpley and Steven Brault to the Pittsburgh Pirates in the Travis Snider deal in 2015 and catcher Jonah Heim to Tampa Bay for Steve Pearce in 2016.

So that draft has to be considered an absolute success as far as quantity is concerned, and potentially quality, too.

The next year, though, has yielded little so far. The Orioles didn’t have a first- or second-rounder in 2014 due to the signing of free agents Ubaldo Jimenez and Nelson Cruz. And fourth-rounder Pat Connaughton chose the NBA over his baseball career, at least so far.

Hess, a fifth-rounder, and lefty Tanner Scott, selected in the sixth round, are the only members of the 2014 class on the current 40-man. The rest of the more notable names from that draft — Steve Wilkerson, John Means, Lucas Long – are considered fringe big leaguers and are available for Rule 5 selection.

Compounding the problem is the Orioles’ almost complete dismissal of the international amateur market, which has been an ownership philosophy in place for several years.

The Orioles have one foreign player that they signed and developed on their current 40-man roster, second baseman Jonathan Schoop. The other five, foreign-born players on the current roster were taken from other organizations.

That failure internationally, as I’ve written before, is the primary reason why the Orioles’ system has lagged in recent years. But some of the club’s recent drafts haven’t helped.

If you want to go with a cup half-full, the Orioles have six open spots on their current 40-man roster, and can take chances on some unproven players or acquire more free agents this winter without letting any quality players go. And I’m sure Duquette will fill all of those spots by spring training or much sooner. It’s what he does.

The half-empty thought, however, is that all of those open spots point to other, deeper concerns within the organization.

13 Comments

13 Comments

  1. Boog Robinson Robinson

    November 28, 2017 at 7:51 am

    I submit for your consideration … Maybe Danny Duqs is leaving room on the roster for the haul he could get for Manny?

    • Dan Connolly

      November 28, 2017 at 12:55 pm

      Highly highly doubt it. You figure a chunk of what he would get would be high-ceiling, lower-level prospects that don’t need to be on the 40-man. This is mutually exclusive I believe

  2. Djowen

    November 28, 2017 at 8:14 am

    Unfortunately this organization is one that does not take chances and feeds off the leftovers of other teams. Teams that do that do not win a WS. I don’t know how much of this is DD and how much Angelos but my guess is that DD, if allowed would be a bit more of a risk taker and international fan.

    • Dan Connolly

      November 28, 2017 at 12:56 pm

      I definitely believe he would do more internationally if given the opportunity. I’m not sure he is adverse to risk tho. He is calculated, but has taken risks. Some have been awful. Some have worked.

  3. TxBirdFan

    November 28, 2017 at 8:42 am

    Dan – I️ was having a good morning until I️ read this excellent piece. I’m amazed that the O’s have so many MORE open roster spots than any other team – and by a large margin. DD could be leaving the organization in shreds when his contract is up.

    • Dan Connolly

      November 28, 2017 at 12:56 pm

      I’m sure that’s not the intent. His team produces, it would be hard to let him go, I’d imagine.

  4. Orial

    November 28, 2017 at 9:18 am

    Yes Dan this reflects on the minor league system not producing enough to where they have to scrape other organizations for adequate help. The big question from me is –why is organization always struggling in development to the point where outside media are always bashing and giving the minor league a low rating? It’s year after year.

    • Dan Connolly

      November 28, 2017 at 12:58 pm

      Honestly, a lot has to do with the international markets. Their drafts aren’t far below the norm. Not great but 18 of 34 is solid. Certainly better than some. But you have to have talent coming in from everywhere.

  5. ZantiGM

    November 28, 2017 at 11:48 am

    Hi Dan..our system has some very solid prospects but they don’t have to be added yet to be protected-Akin, Sedlock, Dietz, Meisinger, Stewart, Mountcastle, McKenna, Mullins, Levy, Hanifee and Humpal

    • Dan Connolly

      November 28, 2017 at 1:02 pm

      Honestly, there are maybe 2 on that list that grade highly in other organizations’ estimation — at least with those I’ve spoken to. Not saying they can’t climb in status as they mature, but those guys aren’t viewed as top-level talents, for the most part, at this moment.

      • ZantiGM

        November 28, 2017 at 1:07 pm

        Mountcastle, Akin and Hanifee would interest other teams and if Sedlock can get healthy he will pitch in majors..i agree they are not top 50-MLB prospects but Mountcastle should be in top 100

    • Dan Connolly

      November 28, 2017 at 3:25 pm

      I think Mountcastle is definitely Top 100. But I’m not sure anyone else on your list hits that distinction. So while teams would certainly take some of the guys you mentioned — probably all — what they would give up for them is the real question. Especially when they can get higher-rung prospects from other organizations.

      • ZantiGM

        November 28, 2017 at 4:04 pm

        I think Akin would be a chip in a trade-not the main chip but if we were able to swing a 3 for 1 deal for a starting pitcher a team like Padres, Reds, Pirates or Marlins might have interest in Akin.Luis Perdomo from Padres would be interesting to add to our rotation..Nova from Pirates?….Straily from Marlins?Luis Castillo from Reds?

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