Pretty much lost at the end of yesterday's KC Star article in which Dayton Moore proclaimed the Royals 'might be done' this off-season was a paragraph on the current 40 man roster setup.
Although the team has just 39 players on its 40-man roster right now, they have to activate from the 60-day disabled list five additional players no later than November 14th. By November 20th, the winter roster must be finalized in preparation for the Rule 5 draft. What's that mean? Well...
Let's start with the five players currently on the 60 day DL: Ryan Braun, Luke Hochevar, Luke Hudson, Carlos Rosa and Shane Costa.
Without question, the Royals will activate and keep on their 40-man both Hochevar and Rosa. Although that puts them one over the limit, that is not really a problem as the current 40-man roster has the likes of Jeff Fulchino and Josh Newman on it.
Luke Hudson is surely going to be cut loose and likely will make it back through to the minor league roster after going unclaimed.
Coming off of an injury himself, I would think Ryan Braun might be able to do the same—it's probably worth the risk to try that and save a roster spot.
Shane Costa's time has probably run with the Royals, but all things being equal he might be worth keeping on the 40 man roster over a Jason Smith.
Okay, let's say the Royals activate and keep Hochevar, Rosa and Costa, try to pass Braun and Hudson through waivers and then release Jeff Fulchino and Jason Smith to create space on the 40 man roster. They now have a full complement of forty, but the Rule 5 is looming.
The Star article listed 11 minor leaguers who it was reported the club was going to 'discuss' in regard to adding some of them to the roster to protect them from the Rule 5 draft.
Four position players were listed, none of whom really seem to be guys that a team would draft and carry on their major league roster all year. The four: Chris Lubanski, Jose Duarte, Chris McConnell and Brian McFall. Duarte has upside, McConnell is a shortstop who can play defense, McFall has some pop and Lubanski was a first round pick.
None of that is enough to justify taking up a spot on some teams 25 man roster in 2009.
The pitchers listed, however, are a different deal. Royals' fans, more than anyone else, should know the value of a Rule 5 drafteee out of your bullpen. The team has benefited from past draftees such as Billy Brewer, D.J. Carrasco, Andrew Sisco and a guy named Soria, to name a few.
Given that, let's take a quick look at the pitchers in question.
As a 23-year-old, he was old for the Midwest League, but did strikeout 12.3 batters per nine innings after missing all of the 2007 season due to injury. Given his age and the ability to make people miss, a team might take a look at Abreu.
On the other hand, a 23-year-old with only 178 minor league career innings, none above Low A, may be too much of a reach for anyone. Probably the Royals just leave Abreu exposed and see what happens.
He's been in the organization since 2002, long enough that three of the cities he played in are no longer in the Royals' minor league system. He had a decent year in 2008 splitting time between AA and AAA, after having a pretty cruddy year in 2007 splitting time between AA and AAA. At 26 years old and sporting a career minor league ERA of 5.12, you kind of wonder why this guy's name comes up at all.
Picked in the 5th round of the 2004 draft, Barrera had three pretty non-descript seasons before striking out 12.17 batters per 9 innings this past season in High A Wilimington. With a WHIP of 1.23 and a better than 3 strikeouts to every one walk, the 22 year old looks exactly like the kind of guy that teams take a chance on in the Rule 5 draft.
The 26 year old lefty had a very nice 2007 in AA, followed by a good Arizona Fall League. He came right back in 2008 and pitched extremely well for half a season in AA, then fell flat after being promoted to AAA. His strikeouts went down, his walks went up and his home run allowed rate nearly tripled. That enough information for you?
Part of the Odalis Perez trade, the former 2nd round pick of the Dodgers say his 2008 ERA go up by a run and a half over his numbers the previous season in Wilmington.
Still just 23 years old, Johnson is worth holding onto. However, the Royals likely do not have to protect him as minor league starters who project out as back of the rotation guys don't get their names called in the Rule 5.
The Royals' 3rd round pick in 2005, Nicoll was outstanding in 2006, awful in 2007, and outstanding once more in 2008. After striking out 49 and walking only 15 in 43 innings for Wilmington, Nicoll was promoted to AA NW Arkansas and struck out 55 and walked 8 in 44 innings.
If the Royals don't protect him, someone WILL take him. As it stands, Kansas City almost certainly will add Nicoll to the 40 man roster and give him some shot to make the 2009 big league pen next spring.
As a starter, Santiago posted an ERA of 3.74 in 132 innings at Low A ball in 2007, then followed that up with an ERA of 3.43 in 142 innings in High A ball this past season. At 23 years of age, Mario has always been a touch old for the level he was at and has never been a strikeout pitcher (5.3 K/9 over his career). Worth hanging onto, not worth protecting and very unlikely to be picked by another team.
So, who do you like better, Chris Nicoll or Josh Newman?
Easy one: Newman released, Nicoll added to the 40 man roster.
Not quite as easy, but probably a move I would make is to also protect Henry Barrera. Doing that, might also be easy, if the Royals and Mark Grudzielanek move forward as expected and the veteran second baseman takes the free agency route.
If I were general manager, those are probably all the moves I make prior to November 20th. If the Royals wanted to create more space (to pick someone in the Rule 5 or protect a Blake Johnson), they still have the abysmal Tyler Lumsden on the 40 man roster, along with Brandon Duckworth, Neal Musser and Tony Pena Jr. Frankly, the roster maneuverings required prior to November 20th do not seem too hard to this writer.
Now, perhaps the better question might be this: given that Rafael Furcal might command $12 or $13 million per year, does it make sense for the Royals to think about retaining Mark Grudzielanek and let Mike Aviles play shortstop again in 2009?