Projecting Every MLB Team's Most Difficult Cut or Demotion
Over the next few weeks, teams will face some difficult decisions as they begin to trim down their rosters to the maximum 25 players by Opening Day.
While many of these are of the so-called "good problems to have" variety, teams could risk losing a player who is out of options to waivers. A veteran in camp as a non-roster invitee could potentially opt out of a minor league contract if not on the big league roster.
The psyche of a young player also must be considered. Will that player be overwhelmed in the majors if handed a roster spot prematurely? And will that player's confidence be shattered if he were to struggle? Would that player lose confidence if sent to the minors?
All of this must be taken into account as teams choose the 25 players who will take the field on the first game of the regular season. Here is what I think will be each team's most difficult cut or demotion.
The starting rotation for the Arizona Diamondbacks is all but set in stone with Pat Corbin and Trevor Cahill already named as the team's Game 1 and Game 2 starters, and Wade Miley, Brandon McCarthy and Bronson Arroyo likely to follow.
But this Archie Bradley kid, ranked as the ninth best prospect in the game by Jason Parks of Baseball Prospectus, has a chance to stand out above every pitcher this spring. In fact, he's off to a pretty good start with three shutout innings in his spring debut, including six strikeouts with only one hit and two walks allowed.
Barring an injury to one of the aforementioned starters, the 21-year-old Bradley (pictured) will be reassigned to minor league camp before the start of the season, and he'll make his Triple-A debut in April. The loser of the starting shortstop battle between Didi Gregorius and Chris Owings, a strong runner-up in this category, will probably join him.
That doesn't mean the D'backs won't think long and hard before breaking camp without the guy who has the potential to dominate at the big league level.
After Dan Uggla's terrible finish to the 2013 regular season, resulting in his exclusion from the postseason roster, the Braves didn't appear too concerned this offseason. The closest thing to adding a backup plan was the signing of journeyman Tyler Greene to a minor league deal.
Even if they have confidence that Uggla can turn things around—he's off to a 1-for-10 start this March with two walks and four strikeouts—the presence of Tommy La Stella (pictured), who had an .896 OPS in 81 Double-A games last season, also likely played into the decision to not pursue an external "Plan B."
Off to a 7-for-18 start this spring with four walks and two strikeouts, the 25-year-old is pushing Uggla and giving the Braves further comfort in knowing that they're in good hands should Uggla falter once again.
Sending the left-handed-hitting La Stella to Triple-A to play everyday, however, as opposed to keeping him on their bench as a part-time player, won't be an easy decision. He's good enough to help now.
Kevin Gausman's ticket back to Triple-A Norfolk was likely punched when the Baltimore Orioles signed Ubaldo Jimenez and Suk-min Yoon to big league free-agent deals late last month.
The 10th-ranked prospect in baseball, according to Baseball Prospectus, Gausman (pictured) has the ability to be the staff ace in the near future. And even if he wasn't ready to be that guy in 2014, he's still capable of being a very good starter or a dominant reliever.
It will be tempting to use him in a setup role, especially with the bullpen filled with question marks after the Orioles traded closer Jim Johnson this offseason, but they'll likely make the smart move and let him continue developing as a starting pitcher by taking the mound every fifth day in the minors.
Whether it's as a starter or reliever, the 23-year-old right-hander will be in Baltimore within a few months. It just probably won't be in April.
Boston Red Sox
One of the best players in the game from 2005-2008, Grady Sizemore (pictured) is trying to make a comeback from a knee injury that sidelined him the past two seasons. He signed a one-year, $750,000 deal with the Boston Red Sox, who are giving him a chance to compete for their starting center field job.
At just 31 years old, his chances of returning to his old form aren't great, but it's highly probable that he can still be a solid big-leaguer if he can remain healthy. That might not be good enough to beat out Jackie Bradley Jr., though.
The 23-year-old Bradley struggled in multiple big league stints in 2013, but he's a talented player with a terrific combination of speed, defensive prowess and hitting ability that makes him tough to send back to the minors if he shows that he's better prepared this time around.
A minor league assignment or disabled list stint is an option for Sizemore, though it would be tempting to give him the center field job out of the gate to see how close he actually is to the former MVP-caliber player he was with the Cleveland Indians.
Javier Baez (pictured) might be the best hitting prospect in the game. He's also yet to play at another position other than shortstop in his professional career, which is why he has no clear path to the majors as of yet because Starlin Castro is entrenched at the position for the Chicago Cubs.
If he was a second baseman or third baseman or even an outfielder, it would be tough to keep him off the big league roster much longer. As impressive as he is at the plate—he's off to a 5-for-9 start this March with a double and two homers—the Cubs will be tempted to begin the transition to a new position ASAP.
This is unlikely to happen, as the Cubs don't appear to have playoff hopes in 2014, and keeping Baez in the minors would be the best move for his development and for the good of the team's future payroll—which would likely save a ton of money by keeping Baez off the big league roster for another season and possibly the first two months of 2015.
But entering year three of the Theo Epstein regime with yet another losing season on the horizon, Cubs fans could be getting restless. Giving them a glimpse into the club's bright future by pushing Baez's big league arrival to this April could help ease their concerns.
Chicago White Sox
The offseason acquisition of third baseman Matt Davidson (pictured) was just one of several moves that Chicago White Sox general manager Rick Hahn has made since last summer to inject some young talent into the team's lineup.
But White Sox fans might have to wait to see the 22-year-old on a regular basis in Chicago. Conor Gillaspie proved in 2013 that he's a capable hitter, at least against right-handed pitching (.738 OPS, 12 HR), and Jeff Keppinger, who is still due $8.5 million over the next two seasons, should get a chance to bounce back from a poor season with regular at-bats against left-handed pitching.
It won't hurt to send Davidson to Triple-A as the Sox see if they can squeeze some solid production out of a Gillaspie-Keppinger platoon. It will also be tough to break camp without the best player of the group.
The two leading candidates for the Cincinnati Reds' starting center field job are Billy Hamilton, who is widely regarded as the fastest player in baseball, and Roger Bernadina (pictured), who has flashed big-time potential in spurts throughout his career but has mostly been a disappointment.
Both are capable of putting up big numbers in the spring—Bernadina is off to a 5-for-10 start with a double, triple and two walks; Hamilton is 3-for-9 with a double, two walks and two stolen bases—and both have potential to put up good numbers in the majors.
But there's also a good chance that Hamilton, who had a .309 on-base percentage in Triple-A last season, isn't ready for the majors. The 29-year-old Bernadina, on the other hand, is only two years removed from posting a .777 OPS with five homers and 15 stolen bases in 129 games for the Washington Nationals.
There doesn't appear to be room for both, so the Reds will be under pressure to make the right decision with little room for error in a division with the Pittsburgh Pirates and St. Louis Cardinals.
The battle for the Cleveland Indians' No. 5 starter spot includes several candidates, like veterans Aaron Harang and Shaun Marcum. Carlos Carrasco and Josh Tomlin are probably the two favorites.
The most talented pitcher in the competition, by far, might be former prospect Trevor Bauer (pictured), who has struggled to gain consistency after he appeared to be a close-to-major-league-ready starting pitcher shortly after being taken by the Arizona Diamondbacks with the third overall pick in the 2011 draft.
The perception has changed greatly, though, and the 23-year-old Bauer is still trying to find his way as he enters his second full season with the Tribe.
Sending him back to the minors where he can continue working on his consistency seems like an easy decision. But with a less-than-stellar group of contenders vying for the last rotation spot, Bauer has a legitimate chance to win a job, and his flashes of greatness could convince the Tribe to think otherwise.
He put up a mid-to-high 90s fastball in his spring debut, in which he allowed two earned runs on two hits in two innings. The right-hander also struck out two hitters. If he can improve on that and stay relatively consistent throughout the remainder of the spring, he'll give the Indians something to think about.
The Colorado Rockies have not one, but two elite pitching prospects trying to force their way onto the team's Opening Day roster.
Eddie Butler (pictured) and Jonathan Gray are each considered to be future frontline starters who aren't that far away from the majors. While midseason is much more likely, Jhoulys Chacin's shoulder soreness could open the door just enough for either Butler or Gray to earn a spot.
With Gray entering his first full professional season after being taken as the third overall pick in the 2013 draft, the 22-year-old Butler, who allowed two earned runs on one hit and two walks over three innings in his spring debut, could get much more serious consideration to make the rotation out of camp.
And when they compare Butler's ability to other candidates, including Jordan Lyles and Juan Nicasio, they're going to ask themselves "why not?"
Between the additions of Joe Nathan, Joba Chamberlain and Ian Krol and the expected emergence of hard-throwing Bruce Rondon, the Detroit Tigers bullpen isn't one with many holes to fill.
While it may be difficult to gain notice in this crowd, 23-year-old Melvin Mercedes (pictured) is already turning heads with one-hit ball over three scoreless innings and a save this spring. Utilizing a heavy sinking fastball in the low-90s, the right-hander posted a 1.19 ERA in 50 appearances between Double-A and High-A last season. He doesn't strike out many batters, but opposing hitters have trouble making hard contact against him.
If he can keep it up, the Tigers could consider taking Mercedes, who hasn't walked a batter this spring and has greatly improved his control since early in his minor league career, to Detroit over the erratic Al Alburquerque and veteran Phil Coke.
After posting a 1.010 OPS between Double-A and Triple-A last season with 37 homers and 45 stolen bases, what else does George Springer (pictured) have to do to win a spot on the Houston Astros' Opening Day roster?
There's not much else he can do, although walking five times and striking out just once in his first eight plate appearances is a good reminder that he also does a lot more than just hit homers. He is working on the part of his game, plate discipline, that is considered to be weak.
In all likelihood, the Houston Astros will have a tough time selling a Springer demotion to a fanbase that has experienced at least 106 losses in each of the last three seasons.
It's not going to want to hear about how Robbie Grossman, L.J. Hoes and Marc Krauss are better options in April, and the Astros, even if they are interested in seeing what those young players can do with regular at-bats, can't possibly believe they're a better team without Springer on Opening Day.
Kansas City Royals
The signing of free agent Jason Vargas, the re-signing of Bruce Chen and the re-structuring of Jeremy Guthrie all work against Yordano Ventura's chances of making the Opening Day rotation. And that could be by design, as the Kansas City Royals might not be ready to give the 22-year-old right-hander (pictured) a full load in 2014.
By sending him back to the minors to start the season, they can limit his workload and ease him into the big leagues after a couple of months. But by giving him a chance to win the job this spring, Ventura will make it clear that he's probably one of the most talented pitchers in the organization with a high-90s fastball and nasty breaking pitches.
With two scoreless innings in his first spring outing compared to Guthrie's disappointing debut (2.0 IP, 3 ER, 4 H), it appears that Ventura is well on his way to forcing the Royals into a very tough choice at the end of spring.
Los Angeles Angels
Not surprisingly, the Los Angeles Angels aren't particularly interested in releasing Joe Blanton (pictured), who is still due $8.5 million in 2014. They're even considering carrying eight relievers, according to Alden Gonzalez of MLB.com, which would allow them to accommodate Blanton in the case he doesn't pitch well enough to earn a job in the starting rotation. The 33-year-old allowed two earned runs on three hits in 2.1 innings during his spring debut.
Still, the team might just decide to cut ties with the veteran right-hander, who posted a 6.04 ERA in his first season with the Angels, to avoid the constant reminder that it's paying someone $8.5 million to pitch in mop-up duty.
Los Angeles Dodgers
When the Los Angeles Dodgers gave Cuban defector Alexander Guerrero (pictured) a four-year, $28 million deal last October and declined the 2014 club option on incumbent second baseman Mark Ellis, I'm fairly certain the plan wasn't to have the 27-year-old converted shortstop start the season in Triple-A.
But a few days into spring camp, it was becoming apparent that Guerrero would likely need time in the minors to work on his defense and shake off the rust from sitting out the 2013 season.
The unimpressive backup plan, which consists of Dee Gordon, Chone Figgins and Justin Turner, make it even more difficult to not break camp with Guerrero, whom the team felt would provide adequate defense and some home-run power from the second base position.
Jose Fernandez didn't give the Miami Marlins a choice last season when he forced his way onto the Opening Day roster. His successor as the team's top pitching prospect, lefty Andrew Heaney (pictured), will have a chance to do the same this spring. He's off to a good start, too, with two shutout innings in his debut.
The No. 5 spot in the rotation has some rather uninspiring candidates, including Tom Koehler and Brad Hand, so sending the 22-year-old Heaney back to the minors if he proves that he's ready might be a tough sell for a fanbase that they need to start coming to the ballpark.
Signing Matt Garza to a four-year, $50 million deal was not only a bargain, it changed the perception of the Milwaukee Brewers' offseason, which had been lackluster at best. Unfortunately for Tyler Thornburg (pictured), it also meant that his chances of winning a rotation spot had dwindled.
After finishing last season strong with a 2.16 ERA in four September starts, the 25-year-old Thornburg earned the chance to enter 2014 with a fair opportunity. But he'll have to beat out Wily Peralta, who had a decent rookie season and has five shutout innings to start the spring.
Unless Thornburg is needed in the bullpen, it's likely that he'll return to Triple-A and wait for his next opportunity.
Minnesota Twins infield prospect Danny Santana (pictured) has a fan in manager Ron Gardenhire, who called the 23-year-old switch-hitter one of the team's better-looking infielders.
There just might not be a spot for him on the big league roster, at least not in April. With Pedro Florimon Jr. and Brian Dozier penciled into the starting middle-infield spots and Eduardo Escobar a solid utility infielder, Santana might have to bide his time in Triple-A where he can continue working on his defense and plate discipline.
The more he impresses this spring, however, with his blazing speed and hitting ability—he's 4-for-11 with two triples and a stolen base this spring—the harder it will be for a Twins team without a lot of offensive talent to break camp without him.
New York Mets
After an impressive spring debut in which he shut down the Braves for two innings with a high-90s fastball, Noah Syndergaard (pictured) sure does look like he'll be the third consecutive frontline starting-pitching prospect to debut midseason for the New York Mets.
Zack Wheeler arrived last June, while Matt Harvey was first called up in late July 2012. It's Harvey's absence (due to his offseason Tommy John surgery), however, that could cause the Mets to bring up the 21-year-old Syndergaard much sooner—even, while it's a long shot, by Opening Day.
With Daisuke Matsuzaka and John Lannan the leading candidates for the No. 5 starter job, that tells you everything you need to know about why they'd consider calling up the talented Syndergaard with only 11 starts of Double-A experience under his belt.
New York Yankees
Two years since acquiring Michael Pineda (pictured) from the Seattle Mariners after his brilliant rookie season of 2011, the New York Yankees still have nothing to show for the deal. And the Mariners don't either, as Jesus Montero has been a bust, but the Yankees really need a pitcher to step up in 2014, and Pineda has the biggest ceiling of any of the No. 5 starter candidates.
While it's yet to be determined if the 25-year-old has his mid-90s fastball back after shoulder surgery sidetracked his career in 2012, the Yankees will know soon. He'll make his spring debut on Friday after an impressive simulated game in which non-roster invitee Scott Sizemore estimated that Pineda's fastball was in the low-to-mid 90s with terrific movement.
If he's impressive, the Yankees won't have a tough call to make. Pineda will win the job. But if he's just so-so, they'll have to decide if it's still better than what they have, if he can improve while in the big league rotation or if he'll have to begin his third season with the team in Triple-A.
Eric Sogard (pictured) was the Oakland A's representative vying to be the "Face of Major League Baseball." He did well in the polls, but he finally lost in the finals to David Wright of the New York Mets.
Interestingly enough, the "Face of MLB" runner-up might not even start the season in the majors. The A's have Alberto Callaspo and Nick Punto, both veterans with guaranteed multimillion-dollar salaries for 2014, penciled onto the roster, so unless they plan on carrying two utility infielders on their bench, Sogard could be the odd man out.
Despite being a fan favorite, Sogard's numbers weren't particularly strong in 2013 (.686 OPS, 2 HR), and he's off to a 1-for-13 start this spring. The A's also like the 27-year-old infielder, which is why it would be a difficult choice to exclude him from the Opening Day roster.
No one really knew what to expect from Cuban defector Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez (pictured), who signed a three-year, $12 million deal with the Philadelphia Phillies late last season.
Scouting reports pegged him anywhere from a middle reliever to a frontline starter, and the Phillies weren't going to find out until this spring. It's doubtful the Phillies would've given him that much money, though, if they didn't think he would be on their big league roster in 2014.
In his first outing, the 27-year-old right-hander allowed one earned run on two hits while walking four batters and striking out two in 1.2 innings. While general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. was encouraged and chalked up the wildness to rust, it's clear that Gonzalez may be headed for Triple-A to start the season.
Gregory Polanco (pictured) will almost certainly be the starting right fielder for the Pittsburgh Pirates at some point in 2014. It's probably the main reason they failed to replace Marlon Byrd, who departed as a free agent, this offseason and seem content to go back to Jose Tabata to begin the season.
Being content with Tabata doesn't mean that the 22-year-old Polanco can't win the job. He'd have to outplay him by a wide margin, however, so it's too early to make much out of Polanco jumping out to the lead after just a few games—Polanco is 5-for-15 with two doubles and a homer; Tabata is 2-for-13 with four strikeouts.
Considering how patient they've been with their top prospects, the Pirates could have a tough time sticking with that philosophy if this trend continues.
San Diego Padres
It's hard to find a team that has been more snake bit by injuries over the past few seasons than the San Diego Padres, who have already lost lefty Cory Luebke for the season with a torn elbow ligament and center fielder Cameron Maybin for at least a few months with a ruptured biceps tendon.
If the players can stay healthy, though, this team is talented enough to make some noise in the NL West. But unlike the past couple of seasons when their best prospects weren't quite ready to step in for injured players and make an impact, the Padres have much more big-league-ready depth this time around.
Even top pitching prospect Matt Wisler (pictured), who tossed two shutout innings in his spring debut, could help out in 2014. In fact, it wouldn't be too farfetched to think he could succeed in the majors if he breaks camp with the team.
The 21-year-old posted a 3.00 ERA with a 2.3 BB/9 and 8.8 K/9 in 20 Double-A starts last season and is considered to be a highly polished pitcher who is very close to being major league-ready. He'll just have to beat out veteran lefty Eric Stults, who has allowed six earned runs in three innings over his first two spring outings.
Knowing that it's going to be tough to hang with the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants in the NL West, the Padres might need to make the bold move by adding Wisler to their 40-man roster if they believe he's one of their best five starting pitchers.
San Francisco Giants
Since being taken in the fifth round of the 2010 draft, Heath Hembree (pictured) has been advertised as a potential late-inning reliever who wasn't too far away from the majors.
So while he finally got to San Francisco last September and was quite impressive during the short stint (7.2 IP, 0 R, 4 H, 2 BB, 12 K), the 25-year-old isn't guaranteed a job in the 2014 Opening Day bullpen.
The Giants are set in the late innings with Santiago Casilla, Jeremy Affeldt, Javier Lopez and Jean Machi bridging the gap to closer Sergio Romo. Unless they feel Hembree needs to be eased into a middle-relief role, they might not feel it's necessary to add him to the mix until he can be utilized in a higher-leverage role.
The offseason signing of Robinson Cano signaled the end of Nick Franklin's short tenure as the starting second baseman of the Seattle Mariners. And since the M's had already determined that he wasn't a good fit defensively at shortstop, the only realistic chance the 23-year-old switch-hitter (pictured) had with the major league club was as a super-utility man.
He won't have much time to work on his outfield defense, though, which makes it likely he'll head back to Triple-A to do so, barring a trade. Considering he's already off to a good start this spring (4-for-12, 2B, HR, SB) and showed a ton of promise as a rookie in 2013 (.686 OPS, 12 HR, 20 2B, 6 SB in 102 games), that is going to be one tough call.
St. Louis Cardinals
Top prospect Oscar Taveras (pictured) has yet to make his spring debut, as the team is taking it slow after he missed most of last season with an ankle injury. The 21-year-old outfielder might not need much time, however, to show how much better of a hitter he is than Peter Bourjos or Jon Jay or any other Cardinals players standing in his way of a starting job.
If he can show that he's completely healthy and hitting the ball well by the end of spring camp, the Cardinals will consider breaking camp with him on the Opening Day roster as they did with Matt Adams in 2013. Sending one of their best hitters back to the minors might be necessary, though, if only to ensure he plays regularly before he gets the call to St. Louis for good later in the season.
Tampa Bay Rays
With Jeremy Hellickson expected to start the season on the disabled list after arthroscopic elbow surgery, Jake Odorizzi's chances of making the Opening Day roster skyrocketed. But the signing of veteran lefty Erik Bedard to a minor league deal certainly didn't help his cause, especially considering how well the Tampa Bay Rays are at "fixing" players whose value has taken a dip in recent years.
The 23-year-old Odorizzi (pictured), who has pitched two scoreless innings of relief this spring, might have to wait for his chance as the team tries to get whatever value it can get out of the 35-year-old Bedard, who had a 4.59 ERA in 151 innings for the Houston Astros last season.
Michael Choice (pictured) may seem like the perfect fit to be Mitch Moreland's platoon partner at the designated hitter spot, especially considering there doesn't appear to be very many other options. But Texas Rangers manager Ron Washington apparently disagrees, as he's reportedly reluctant to use a young player in that spot, according to T.R. Sullivan of MLB.com.
The 24-year-old Choice, who is 4-for-12 with a homer, double and triple this spring, is doing what he can to change the manager's mind. But he's a young and inexperienced player, and the Rangers may opt to go with a veteran such as Kevin Kouzmanoff, who hasn't been in the majors since 2011 and hasn't put up decent numbers since 2009. But at least he's 32, so he has that going for him.
Toronto Blue Jays
Ryan Goins might be the favorite to win the starting second base job for the Toronto Blue Jays, but that's only by default. The 26-year-old struggled when given an extended look in the majors (.609 OPS) and had previously posted subpar numbers during his time in Triple-A (.679 OPS).
The job might not be a wide-open competition, but there's certainly an opportunity for a non-roster invitee like Chris Getz (pictured) to win the job with a strong spring. So far, he's doing just that with five hits in 13 at-bats, including a double and a triple.
If he continues to outplay Goins, who is 3-for-12 thus far, sending him back to the minors knowing that the best man didn't win the job will be a tough pill to swallow.
As good as Tanner Roark (pictured) was during his rookie season (1.51 ERA, 53.2 IP, 38 H, 11 BB, 40 K), Ross Detwiler likely has the edge in the battle for the No. 5 starter spot. A crowded bullpen picture became even more crowded with the signing of veteran lefty Mike Gonzalez to a minor league deal.
Barring an injury or two, the 27-year-old might fall short in his bid to win a 25-man roster spot unless he can beat out Ross Ohlendorf for the long relief job.