Keep or Chuck? 1 Player Each MLB Team Has to Make Final Decision on ASAP
MLB teams are still in the preliminary stages of shaping their rosters for the upcoming season as the winter meetings start Sunday and we're still several months from the start of spring training.
Despite that fact, there is still at least one player from each team who already finds himself on the roster bubble.
Whether it's a player who is out of minor league options, an obvious trade candidate, someone who could soon be pushed out by an up-and-coming prospect or something else altogether, the following players find themselves at a crossroads with their current organization.
An asterisk indicates that a player is out of minor league options.
Baltimore Orioles: RHP Gabriel Ynoa*
Before his contract was purchased by the Orioles last February, Gabriel Ynoa had ranked among the top 20 prospects in the New York Mets organization four years running.
The 24-year-old went 2-3 with a 4.15 ERA and 1.36 WHIP in 34.2 innings at the MLB level last year in four starts and five relief appearances, and RosterResource feels he has a spot in the Baltimore rotation.
However, that will likely change with a few additions this winter. Ynoa still has some intriguing potential, especially out of the bullpen, where his mid-90s fastball and good slider have a chance to play up. It's just a question of whether he survives the roster crunch this spring or ends up landing elsewhere.
Boston Red Sox: C/OF Blake Swihart*
Blake Swihart ranked as the No. 17 prospect in baseball prior to 2015, and he debuted that season with a .712 OPS, 17 doubles and five home runs in 309 plate appearances.
He's seen just 81 plate appearances in the majors the past two seasons while dealing with injuries, but it still sounds like he has a fan in team president Dave Dombrowski. He told Jen McCaffrey of MassLive:
"We like his athleticism, we like him as a player. He didn't have a good offensive year during the season. I think a lot of that was based on missing time the year before and getting hurt early in the year with his hand, but he really swung the bat well in winter ball. We like him a great deal. We think he can hit. So, ideally, we have to find a spot somehow."
A Chris Herrmann-type role might be the best-case scenario for Swihart in Boston, but a change of scenery could prove beneficial.
New York Yankees: RHP Bryan Mitchell*
Assuming the Yankees add an arm to fill out the rotation behind Luis Severino, Masahiro Tanaka, Sonny Gray and Jordan Montgomery, there's a real chance Bryan Mitchell will be a roster casualty.
The 26-year-old has bounced between Triple-A and the majors the past few seasons with mostly underwhelming results at the MLB level, where he has a 4.94 ERA, 1.62 WHIP and 5.9 strikeouts per nine innings in 98.1 innings.
While he hasn't missed many bats in the big leagues, he did post a 3.25 ERA with a 66-to-13 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 63.2 innings as a starter for Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre last season. Success like that in the high minors will make it difficult to sneak him through waivers.
Tampa Bay Rays: IF Brad Miller
It's hard to know exactly what to make of Brad Miller.
Miller has a clear path to playing time following the departure of Logan Morrison. But even if the team doesn't sign another first baseman and he breaks camp with the starting job, prospect Jake Bauers will be knocking on the door before too long.
The window to secure his long-term place on the team is closing.
Toronto Blue Jays: OF Ezequiel Carrera*
Ezequiel Carrera provided league-average offense (100 OPS+) and some decent speed (10 steals in 11 attempts) last season, but he posted brutal defensive metrics (-14 DRS, -13.3 UZR/150) and finished the year with a minus-0.4 WAR.
While the Blue Jays opted to non-tender slick-fielding Ryan Goins and right-hander Tom Koehler last week, Carrera was tendered a contract and he's projected to earn $1.9 million in arbitration.
Considering Carrera's below-average performance last season and lack of upside, the team might be better suited giving the fourth outfielder job to someone like Dwight Smith Jr. or Dalton Pompey.
Chicago White Sox: DH Matt Davidson*
A former top prospect who was quickly earning the dreaded "Quad-A" designation, Matt Davidson finally saw extended action at the MLB level in 2017 and responded with 26 home runs in 443 plate appearances.
The second-half emergence of Nicky Delmonico should be enough to earn him the starting DH gig, which means a reduced role for Davidson. As he gets set to enter his age-27 season, his odds of being a long-term piece for the rebuilding club are dwindling.
Cleveland Indians: 3B Giovanny Urshela*
The Indians saw enough in Giovanny Urshela's glove at third base that they moved Jason Kipnis to center field when he returned from a trip to the disabled list last season.
Urshela and fellow infielder Erik Gonzalez are both out of options, and there might be just one spot for those two guys when it comes to filling out the bench. Gonzalez has a higher offensive ceiling and is a solid defender in his own right, so he'll have the upper hand.
Detroit Tigers: RHP Buck Farmer*
A fifth-round pick in 2013, Buck Farmer went 12-6 with a 3.07 ERA, 1.17 WHIP and 129 strikeouts in 123 innings over three minor league levels before reaching the majors in his first full season as a pro.
That was enough to earn him the No. 2 rank among Detroit prospects heading into the 2015 season, but he's yet to find much success at the MLB level with a 6.80 ERA and 1.63 WHIP in 127 innings.
The Tigers can afford to be more patient than most teams as they're still in the early stages of what figures to be a lengthy rebuild. However, the 26-year-old is out of minor league options and quickly running out of chances to prove he belongs in a big league rotation.
Kansas City Royals: LHP Brian Flynn*
It looked like Brian Flynn would be a key member of the Royals bullpen after he posted a 2.60 ERA and 1.10 WHIP over 36 appearances during the 2016 season.
Instead, the left-hander suffered a freak injury last February when he fell through the roof of his barn and suffered three non-displaced fractures in his vertebrae.
He wound up making just one big league appearance, spending the bulk of the season in Triple-A, where he ran up a 5.40 ERA over 50 innings.
Just like the Tigers, the Royals are headed for a rebuild, so they can afford to be patient with the 27-year-old. He'll need to earn his spot on the roster this spring, though, or else he could be headed for the waiver wire.
Minnesota Twins: 1B Kennys Vargas*
Kennys Vargas slugged 13 doubles and 11 home runs in 264 plate appearances for the Twins last season, but he took a significant step backward in his overall approach at the plate.
His walk rate dropped from 13.6 to 7.6 percent and his on-base percentage (.333 to .314) and OPS (.833 to. 758) followed suit.
The 27-year-old doesn't offer much upside, and if the Twins decide to use Miguel Sano as the everyday DH, it will come at the cost of playing time and perhaps even a roster spot for Vargas.
Houston Astros: OF Preston Tucker
Preston Tucker turned in a solid rookie season in 2015, posting a 102 OPS+ with 19 doubles and 13 home runs in 323 plate appearances.
However, he failed to match that production the following season and spent all of 2017 in Triple-A, where he hit .250/.333/.465 with 24 home runs and 96 RBI.
The 27-year-old simply doesn't have a role beyond organizational depth for the defending champs. He's been overtaken by Derek Fisher as the next man up for a starting outfield spot. While he still has one option remaining, it will likely take a trade for him to get another extended opportunity at the MLB level.
Los Angeles Angels: C Carlos Perez*
Carlos Perez saw semiregular playing time behind the plate for the Angels during the 2015 and 2016 seasons thanks to his strong defensive skills.
However, he hit just .229/.271/.335 for a 69 OPS+ during that span and saw just 11 games of MLB action this past season.
With Gold Glove winner Martin Maldonado now firmly entrenched as the team's starting catcher and both Juan Graterol and Curt Casali in the mix for the backup job, it's unclear if Perez still has a place on the Angels roster.
Oakland Athletics: IF/OF Renato Nunez*
There's a time not long ago when Renato Nunez ranked ahead of 2017 rookie standout Matt Olson among Oakland Athletics prospects.
Nunez has little left to prove in the minors after another strong season in which he posted an .837 OPS and slugged 32 home runs in Triple-A.
However, he's also without a clear path to playing time now that Olson and Matt Chapman have seized the corner infield spots. It remains to be seen whether he'll make enough consistent contact to tap into his plus power at the next level; his opportunity to be anything more than a power bat off the bench may have already come and gone in Oakland.
Seattle Mariners: 1B Dan Vogelbach
Entering spring training last year, Dan Vogelbach expected to secure the bigger slice of a platoon with lefty-masher Danny Valencia at first base.
Instead, he began the season in Triple-A after a slow spring and wound up tallying just 31 plate appearances at the MLB level.
The 24-year-old did hit .290/.388/.455 with 25 doubles, 17 home runs and 83 RBI for Triple-A Tacoma—continuing to show terrific plate discipline and playable pop—but his future in Seattle has become cloudy after the team swung a trade for Ryon Healy.
Texas Rangers: IF/OF Jurickson Profar*
There's no player in baseball who needs a change of scenery more than Jurickson Profar.
The former No. 1 overall prospect has fallen out of favor in Texas to the point that he didn't even receive a September call-up last year. He simply doesn't have a place on the roster, especially following the addition of Willie Calhoun.
Still only 24 years old, Profar has hit just .229/.309/.329 in 718 career plate appearances, yet the Rangers should have no problem finding at least a handful of interested parties if he were shopped in earnest.
Atlanta Braves: RHP Mauricio Cabrera*
Mauricio Cabrera lit up radar guns to the tune of a 101.1 mph average fastball velocity during the 2016 season, posting a 2.82 ERA with six saves and eight holds over 41 appearances as a rookie.
However, he didn't make a single appearance with the big club last season after he was slowed by a sore elbow early. Cabrera then struggled to a 6.49 ERA with more walks (45) than strikeouts (38) over 43 innings in the minors.
The Braves have five other relievers who are also out of minor league options—Jose Ramirez, Sam Freeman, Luke Jackson, Josh Ravin and Chase Whitley—so they'll need to decide if it's worth committing a roster spot to Cabrera, likely at the cost of one of those other guys.
Miami Marlins: LHP Justin Nicolino*
Justin Nicolino showed some promise as a rookie during the 2015 season when he posted a 4.01 ERA and 1.24 WHIP over 12 starts, despite striking out just 23 batters in 74 innings.
However, he's failed to build off that success in subsequent seasons and owns a 4.65 ERA, 1.46 WHIP and 3.8 K/9 in three MLB seasons.
The 26-year-old spent most of his time last season in the bullpen, but allowing a .397 average and .986 OPS to opposing lefties don't bode well for his chances of carving out a role as a specialist.
Instead, it looks like there's a good chance he'll be a roster casualty.
New York Mets: 1B Dominic Smith
The No. 71 prospect in baseball at the start of last season, Dominic Smith struggled mightily in his first taste of the big leagues.
The 22-year-old hit a paltry .198/.262/.395 for a 71 OPS+ and a minus-1.2 WAR in 49 games. Those struggles have caused the Mets to explore potential alternatives at first base for the upcoming season.
General manager Sandy Alderson made it clear that Smith is not guaranteed the starting job during exit interviews at the end of the season. Smith sounded ready to use that as motivation, telling Peter Botte of the New York Daily News:
"We had a great conversation. We both agreed that I didn't perform like I would like, and like he said, the job isn't mine. It's not secured, it's not mine. I didn't leave that meeting upset or hurt or mad or angry. I left it motivated. I'm not taking anything for granted. I know I didn't perform like I know I'm capable of. I know I didn't perform like I would like and I'm definitely going to work my butt off this spring training. I'm going to spring training in shape and going to spring training ready to win a job."
Philadelphia Phillies: OF Roman Quinn
Unless he can find a way to stay healthy long enough to showcase his game-changing speed and top-of-the-order potential, Roman Quinn risks falling by the wayside in the Phillies' rebuild.
The 24-year-old was slowed by an elbow injury last year and he's yet to play 100 games in a season since being selected in the second round of the 2011 draft.
With 169 stolen bases, 32 triples and a .352 on-base percentage in 401 minor league games, his upside is obvious. What's not obvious is how he fits into the team's long-term plans since he has yet to stay on the field for a full season.
Washington Nationals: RHP A.J. Cole*
Is A.J. Cole a legitimate rotation candidate, a future reliever or organizational depth?
That's the question the Nationals will have to answer this spring as they decide whether to commit a roster spot to the 25-year-old right-hander.
Cole appeared as a top-100 prospect twice during his time in the minors, and he has the stuff with a mid-90s fastball that is backed by a solid slider/curveball pairing.
However, he struggled to a 5.88 ERA and 1.75 WHIP in 18 starts for Triple-A Syracuse, and his 5.20 FIP in 52 innings in the majors didn't inspire much hope for future success.
Chicago Cubs: RHP Eddie Butler*
The Cubs claimed Eddie Butler off waivers from the Rockies last offseason, and the former top prospect ended up going 4-3 with a 3.95 ERA in 11 starts and two relief appearances.
While those numbers might look good on the surface, he backed them with a 4.66 FIP, 1.43 WHIP and a 30-28 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 54.2 innings.
He also averaged just 4.2 innings per start.
The 26-year-old will either need to carve out a role as a multi-inning reliever or risk being exposed to the waiver wire once again, as it's unlikely he'll get another chance to start in Chicago beyond spot duty.
Cincinnati Reds: IF Dilson Herrera*
It looked like Dilson Herrera had a chance to be the second baseman of the future for the Reds when he was acquired from the Mets in exchange for Jay Bruce.
After posting a .791 OPS with 24 doubles and 15 home runs at Triple-A in 2016, he was slowed by a bum shoulder this past season and eventually underwent season-ending arthroscopic surgery to remove bone chips at the end of July.
Meanwhile, waiver pickup Scooter Gennett came out of nowhere with a 124 OPS+ and 27 home runs to seize the everyday second base job and he's under team control through 2019.
Herrera could break camp in a utility role simply to keep from exposing him to waivers, but he has a lot to prove if he still has his sights set on the everyday second base gig.
Milwaukee Brewers: RHP Junior Guerra*
There was perhaps no bigger surprise during the 2016 season than Junior Guerra, who went 9-3 with a 2.81 ERA, 1.13 WHIP and 4.0 WAR in 20 starts as a 30-year-old rookie.
That earned him the Opening Day start last season, but he suffered a calf injury in that game that would sideline him for nearly two months. He was never able to get things going once he returned.
Guerra eventually ended up spending the final month of the season pitching out of the bullpen, where he saw his strikeout rate spike to 17.6 K/9, but it came at the cost of a 6.23 ERA.
He'll be facing an uphill battle this spring to claim a rotation spot.
Pittsburgh Pirates: IF Max Moroff
A 16th-round pick in 2012, Max Moroff turned some heads last season when he posted a .909 OPS with 13 home runs and 37 RBI in 228 plate appearances for Triple-A Indianapolis.
The 24-year-old still has two minor league options left, so he's not facing the same roster crunch as a lot of the players highlighted here. But there will be a sense of urgency this spring all the same.
Aside from competing with Adam Frazier, Sean Rodriguez and Chris Bostick for a spot on the 2018 bench, there's also a wave of middle infield prospect talent rapidly approaching the majors led by Cole Tucker, Kevin Newman and Kevin Kramer.
Moroff needs to do something to separate himself from the pack or he'll risk being lost in the shuffle.
St. Louis Cardinals: OF Randal Grichuk*
With a .488 slugging percentage and more extra-base hits (163) than singles (158) during his time in the majors, there's no denying that Randal Grichuk is capable of being an impact offensive player.
At the same time, a .249 average and .297 on-base percentage speak to a player who has yet to develop the approach needed to sustain success at the MLB level.
With Tommy Pham, Dexter Fowler and Stephen Piscotty joined by prospects Tyler O'Neill, Harrison Bader and Magneuris Sierra—all of whom are ready for an extended look in the majors—there's a logjam in the outfield.
Grichuk is the name that "comes up the most often" in trade talks, according to Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Given his 30-homer potential, ability to play center field and team control through 2020, it's no surprise teams are looking to buy low on his upside.
Arizona Diamondbacks: C John Ryan Murphy*
The catching platoon of Chris Iannetta and Jeff Mathis was quietly terrific for the Diamondbacks this past season and undoubtedly played a significant role in the team improving from 30th (5.09) to third (3.66) in ERA.
That being said, Mathis doesn't offer much offensively (51 OPS+) and Iannetta is a free agent, so the front office has some decisions to make at the position, with John Ryan Murphy factoring into those decisions in some capacity.
The 26-year-old was acquired from the Twins in July for reliever Gabriel Moya, and he's currently the only other catcher on the 40-man roster, aside from utility man Chris Herrmann.
Young catchers with strong receiving skills are tough to sneak through waivers, so he'll likely either break camp as the backup or head elsewhere.
Colorado Rockies: C Tom Murphy
It feels like Tom Murphy squandered his chance to seize the starting catching job.
The 26-year-old hit .327/.361/.647 with 26 doubles and 19 home runs in 321 plate appearances in Triple-A in 2016, and the departure of Nick Hundley set him up perfectly to slide into the starting job this past season.
Instead, a fractured forearm sidelined him in March, and he played in just 12 games at the MLB level.
Now, it looks like re-signing veteran Jonathan Lucroy is a priority for the front office and that means the best Murphy can hope for in the coming seasons is a backup role.
Los Angeles Dodgers: OF Trayce Thompson*
Trayce Thompson has considerable raw power, and it was on full display when he slugged 11 doubles and 13 home runs in 262 plate appearances in 2016 before suffering two fractured vertebrae in his lower back at the end of July.
He was essentially a non-factor this past season, hitting .122/.218/.265 with one home runs in 55 plate appearances in the majors after posting less-than-stellar numbers in Triple-A following his return to action.
A healthy Adrian Gonzalez will likely push Cody Bellinger to left field to start the 2018 season, and with Andrew Toles also back in the mix and prospect Alex Verdugo knocking on the door, it's a crowded outfield situation, to say the least.
Will Thompson survive the crunch?
San Diego Padres: OF Travis Jankowski
Thanks to his stellar outfield defense (8 DRS, 20.6 UZR/150) and plus wheels (30 steals), Travis Jankowski was a solid contributor for the Padres during the 2016 season.
While he began the 2017 season as the starting left fielder, a fractured foot cost him significant time. While he was sidelined, Jose Pirela (122 OPS+) turned in a breakout season that likely earned him the first crack at the left field job this coming season.
The 26-year-old Jankowski still has plenty of value thanks to his glove, and he'd fit the fourth outfielder role well. That said, he could also be used as a trade chip, depending on how the rebuilding Padres view him in their long-term plans.
San Francisco Giants: OF Jarrett Parker*
Remember when Jarrett Parker hit six home runs in 40 at-bats as a September call-up in 2015?
Unfortunately, that was not a precursor to him seizing the everyday left field job as hoped. He's hit just .242/.323/.406 with nine home runs in 293 at-bats over the past two seasons.
The 28-year-old was a late bloomer to begin with, and his mediocre recent performance has likely cost him a shot at securing an everyday job.
Now he'll simply be looking to win a bench spot out of camp.