Major league clubs face an 8 p.m. deadline today to add players to their 40-man rosters and thus protect them from being taken away during next month’s Rule 5 draft. It’s not one of the high-profile deadlines of the offseason, but it can be an important one nonetheless.
Consider some of the names the Nationals protected last winter for good reason, as it turned out: Rafael Bautista and Raudy Read. Neither was seen as being all that close to big league-ready at the time, but both wound up reaching the majors before season’s end and will be among those who figure to contribute at some point during the 2018 season.
The Nationals also protected Jose Marmolejos, Matt Skole and Austin Voth last year. Those turned out not to be as big a deal: Marmolejos started the season on the disabled list before putting up solid numbers at Double-A Harrisburg, Skole actually was removed from the 40-man roster later in the summer and Voth was demoted to Harrisburg after posting a 6.38 ERA at Triple-A Syracuse.
So this is an imperfect science, with club officials trying to decide whether a player is in danger of being taken away via the Rule 5 draft or whether he doesn’t need to be protected.
Who needs to be protected? Anyone who signed his first professional contract before turning 19 and has spent five seasons in the minors, or anyone who signed his first professional contract after turning 19 and has spent four seasons in the minors. For the most part, this year, that means players taken in the 2013 draft out of high school or the 2014 draft out of college (plus any international signees who have been in the system for a while).
The Nationals already protected one such player earlier this month when they added reliever Wander Suero to the 40-man roster. Their roster currently has five openings, with 35 players locked in for the moment ...
PITCHERS (18): Austin Adams, A.J. Cole, Sean Doolittle, Erick Fedde, Koda Glover, Gio Gonzalez, Trevor Gott, Matt Grace, Shawn Kelley, Ryan Madson, Tanner Roark, Enny Romero, Joe Ross, Max Scherzer, Sammy Solís, Stephen Strasburg, Wander Suero, Austin Voth
CATCHERS (3): Raudy Read, Pedro Severino, Matt Wieters
INFIELDERS (6): Wilmer Difo, Daniel Murphy, Anthony Rendon, Adrián Sanchez, Trea Turner, Ryan Zimmerman
OUTFIELDERS (8): Rafael Bautista, Adam Eaton, Brian Goodwin, Bryce Harper, Jose Marmolejos, Victor Robles, Andrew Stevenson, Michael A. Taylor
So the Nationals could add as many as five players to the 40-man roster today. But that seems unlikely, given the fact they’ll want to keep at least a couple of spots open in the event of a trade or free agent signing in the coming weeks.
Beyond that, there aren’t many big names from their farm system that need to be protected this year. Most of the prominent guys were already added over the course of the last 12 months, including Robles, Fedde and Stevenson.
Some names to keep an eye out for today as potential 40-man additions: catcher Taylor Gushue (hit 18 homers for Single-A Potomac), third basemen Drew Ward (third-round pick in 2013) and Kelvin Gutierrez (.913 OPS in the Arizona Fall League).
It’s debatable whether any other clubs would be willing to take a chance on swiping any of those guys and having them play in the majors all season. But if the Nationals have long-term hopes for them, it might be wise not to give the rest of the league an opportunity to acquire them now.