Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

The Braves' 40-man Roster Woes

There are two roster lists in Major League Baseball circles:  the 25-man “active” list and the 40-man roster.  The 25-man list consists of active players currently eligible to play in a major league game.  The 40-man roster is a list of protected players:  those the organization cannot lose to other teams, unless traded (this is grossly oversimplified for now, but we’ll get to some of that later).  Every player on the 25-man list must also appear on the 40-man.

Ideally, this means that there are fifteen players (40 minus 25) that can be quickly recalled to the majors in the event of an injury.

Right now, the Braves’ roster situation is not exactly ideal:

According to the rules, players on the 60-day DL may be replaced on the 40-man roster without penalty.  Because of this, the Braves now have 42 names on their 40-man roster… but only 33 healthy names (32 if you count out Jordan Walden)… and three of those play at the AA level.  If (another) injury disaster occurs – say Tyler Pastornicky comes up lame – then Atlanta can move another of these 15-day DL guys (one of Hudson, Pena, DeWitt, Martinez are most likely) to the 60-day list.

That kinda leads into the real topic

A lot of people in the twitter and blog world have been asking – begging, even – Frank Wren to promote AA second baseman Tommy La Stella to replace Uggla while the latter’s eyes are tweaked. 

There are good reasons for doing this:  La Stella is just killing it at AA Mississippi, now hitting .336 – and he’s been a .300+ hitter at every minor league season he’s had, with nearly identical walk and strikeout rates (10%).  He’s very much looking like the second-sacker of the future.  Oh, and he’s also a better defender than Dan.  So why not bring him up?

It’s mostly because he’s not on the 40-man roster.

 

This Winter, Frank Wren is going to have some decisions to make.  There are some he could make now – and he might ultimately be forced to do so.  But Frank’s modus operandi has been to make no decision until he has to do so.  With Uggla going down, he’s stayed with that philosophy and promoted Pastornicky.  There are so good reasons to do so:

  • Tyler has major league experience
  • He was already “closer” to the majors, being at AAA Gwinnett… literally as he drove to Atlanta upon being notified of the promotion during BP on Tuesday
  • This is, after all, La Stella’s first year as high as AA

The Rule 5 Draft

The decisions Frank has to make involve clearing 40-man roster space in order to protect some of the team’s better prospects from being taken in the Rule 5 Draft – the one in which longer-term minor leaguers have an opportunity to become “unblocked” by moving to another organization that is then obligated to place them on their active (25-man) roster.  Players on the 40-man list cannot be stolen away during that draft.

This Winter, there are a couple of players that I’m pretty sure Wren wants to protect:  Robby Hefflinger and (possibly) Emerson Landoni.  There could be a couple of other ‘sleeper’ prospects.  William Beckwith is also on the list to consider, but a DUI arrest in May also landed him on the suspension list with the Braves.  He has not played since, and all of that together will likely mean that the Braves expose him to the draft in December.  AA reliever Gary Moran is also possible, though at 28 years old, he’s not a typical candidate for 40-man roster protection (by my reckoning, those are the only Rule 5 eligible candidates among the top 35-ish prospects in the system).  So for the purposes of this discussion, let’s suggest that Wren needs room for two ‘Rule 5′ slots.

 

The Quandry of Tim Hudson

Mandatory Credit: Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

In addition to all of that, the Braves have to figure out what to do with 37-year-old Tim Hudson.  His contract is up at the end of the year, but after the out-pouring of support after his injury, it’s also crystal clear how much his presence means in that clubhouse:

  • Would he re-sign?  I call that “likely”.
  • For how much?  Last deal was for $9 million per year; I’d suggest $7 million, with a team option for 2015.
  • Is there room for him in the rotation?  Well, there’s the question.  Minor, Teheran, Medlen, Beachy… that would leave Alex Wood as the odd man out.  That sounds like a whole ‘nother analysis for another day… so I’m gonna chicken out for now, except to repeat the mantra:  “There’s no such thing as having too much pitching.”

What other flexibility will Wren have available to him?

  • Paul Maholm.  His contract is nearly done; I believe his time in Atlanta will also be done.  He’ll be allowed to walk away and take his 40-man spot with him
  • Blake DeWitt.  Has been injured for most of the year; I believe he will be non-tendered – freeing up a spot.
  • Cristhian Martinez.  Shoulder surgery – had a setback during rehab.  He was getting more expensive (2nd arb year coming up), but the other bullpen moves made by Atlanta have clearly overcome his absence.  It’s unfortunate, given his contributions over the past several years, but I expect he will be non-tendered.
  • Eric O’Flaherty.  EOF is a free agent at the end of the year – bad for him since he will be unable to pitch again until mid-year 2014.  Could Atlanta re-sign him?  Yes, but that call can be deferred until at least next April or May, given the circumstances.  Either way, his 40-man slot will be cleared because of his free agent status.
  • Brian McCann.  Yeah – him.  I call it a 90% chance that he’s gone somewhere else this Winter.  The good news?  The Braves will pocket an extra draft pick – and a 40-man roster spot.
  • Scott Downs.  Thanks for stopping by and giving us a shot in the arm, Scott.
  • Luis Ayala.  Contract also ending after this season.  Would we like to retain him?  Hard to say.  I’ll put him in the “maybe” category.
  • Jonny Venters.  The Braves still have 2 years of control remaining, so despite the fact that he will miss the first half-year of that, I expect they will offer him a contract this winter.
  • Reed Johnson.  The Braves hold a option year on his contract for 2014.  In a pinch, they could decline the option and free him for a $150,000 buyout.  His $1.6m deal is probably worth bringing him back… even at age 37.

Okay, so add it all up for me

  • There are 42 names on the 40-man roster.  The Braves need (probably) two more slots to protect prospects from the Rule 5 draft.
  • There are six – maybe seven – names that could easily be cleared from the list by December, the result of either non-tenders or expiring contracts.  Two more (Venters and Reed Johnson) in case of emergency, but I think not.
  • They could still put Huddy on the 60-day list to clear another spot, if the Braves opt to re-sign him.
  • All of that leaves enough space for the needs in December.

So Once Again… Why Not Bring Up La Stella?

I believe it came down to two things:  Pastornicky’s experience vs. La Stella having to jump up two levels into territory he hasn’t seen before, and the desire not to further cramp an already crowded 40-man roster that really doesn’t get freed up until after the season ends.  General Managers always have to anticipate the worst, and thus need to allow themselves the most flexibility possible in personnel moves.  This actually includes the possibility of adding a player via a trade here in August.

So adding Pastornicky may not have been the best possible move for the team, but it’s the safe one – without introducing too much pain.

Of course, all of that can change… quickly.

>> Oh, and I just saw a tweet from Kevin McAlpin:  Jordan Walden (bruised hand) was playing some catch today and yesterday – hopes to be ready to go again by Friday.

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Tags: 40-man Roster Atlanta Braves Frank Wren

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