Two Open 40-Man Spots With Two Top Pirates Prospects Unprotected

The Pittsburgh Pirates set their 40-man roster on Friday, adding just four prospects to the list, and leaving Clay Holmes and Barrett Barnes as two of the unprotected prospects. They also left two roster spots open, which raised questions about why they didn’t protect Holmes and Barnes, and what their plans are for those spots.

One thing we do know is that the open spots have nothing to do with the upcoming Rule 5 draft and the Pirates’ plans on taking a player. They might take a player in the draft and they might not. Last year they didn’t take a player, but they’ve taken plenty of guys in previous years. But they don’t need open spots right now to take a guy. They can clear a roster spot right before the Rule 5 draft if they want to take a player. They wouldn’t have even known which players were left unprotected for the Rule 5 draft when they set their 40-man roster, so there’s no way the decision was based on that aspect.

There are guys on the current 40-man roster with lower upsides than Holmes or Barnes, such as Guido Knudson and Jorge Rondon, who were both waiver claims and added to the 40-man roster this off-season. But neither of these guys, nor anyone else who might be a risk of being removed from the 40-man this off-season, impacted the decision. To think that would assume the Pirates only plan on adding two more players to the 40-man roster this off-season, and won’t need any additional spots. Guys like Knudson and Rondon will probably be waived later in the off-season to create room. They were added at the time to get them in the system, with the hope that they remain in the system as an option next year.

Looking ahead to the off-season, the Pirates have several moves to make. They need at least one starting pitching option. They might trade Mark Melancon, Neil Walker, and/or Pedro Alvarez. They’ll need some bench and bullpen options as well. And you can expect more waiver claims in the future. All of these moves will have an impact on the 40-man roster.

The most complicated aspect here is the Melancon/Walker/Alvarez situation. Trading those guys would clear up spaces on the 40-man, although those exact same spots would be needed for their replacements. The Pirates would also need spots for the guys they got back in those trades, assuming they deal for guys on the 40-man roster. That’s not a guarantee. They traded Travis Snider last year for Steven Brault/Stephen Tarpley, who were both non 40-man guys. But back when they dealt Joel Hanrahan and Brock Holt to the Red Sox, they landed four guys who were on the 40-man roster. Granted, one of those guys was Hanrahan’s replacement, Melancon, so they didn’t need any additional moves to replace Hanrahan.

As for the other additions, we know that the Pirates need a starting pitcher, and they will probably need some additional bullpen and bench help. There are probably at least 2-3 spots needed on the 40-man for those spots.

A quick look at the expected moves this off-season shows why the Pirates might have needed those two 40-man spots more than they needed to protect Holmes and Barnes. It’s also possible that the injury histories with both players made it so that they aren’t as big of a risk of being drafted. I think both have the upside for consideration, and the skills to stick in the majors as role players for now, with teams sacrificing that roster spot to try and get their upside in the system long-term.

One thing I’ve been saying since mid-season in regards to this Rule 5 crunch is that the Pirates were set to have way too many guys on the 40-man who couldn’t help in April. They already had Alen Hanson, Elias Diaz, Keon Broxton, John Holdzkom, Jameson Taillon, Nick Kingham, Willy Garcia, and Gift Ngoepe. Some of those guys might help out in April, and a few have the chance to make the opening day roster (mainly Broxton, Holdzkom, and Ngoepe as bench/bullpen guys). When you add the new prospects to the 40-man, you get 12 spots taken by guys who seem to be locks to remain on the 40-man roster all off-season. That doesn’t leave a lot of flexibility to make moves.

It’s entirely possible that leaving Holmes and Barnes could end up a mistake. Maybe the Pirates don’t need the roster spots for trades. Maybe someone like Tony Sanchez remains on the 40-man all off-season, only to be let go in Spring Training. If that happens and Holmes or Barnes are lost, then it would look like a bad move. But right now it’s easy to see why the Pirates might prefer to keep two open spaces for a busy off-season, and why they might be willing to gamble that two guys with injury histories who haven’t had success above A-ball might not be a risk to be lost.


  • Tim … I’m on board with your insights. I believe that the 40-man roster breaks down into:
    25-man roster
    5 pitching depth options
    5 hitting depth options
    5 not counting on being ready

    Following this logic:
    * We need two free agents for the 25-man (starter, reliever) -25
    * We don’t have any options for starting depth in the minors but we do have three bullpen guys – 3 would need maybe two spots if injuries occur early
    * We have 5 (Hanson, Ngoepe, Diaz, Garcia, Broxton)
    * We have 6 (Bell, Ramirez, Moroff, Taillon, Glasnow, Kingham). As stated, due to development/super 2, they can’t be counted on until June.
    I really think Neal is still freaked out about not being able to find a catcher in 2012. So he is leaving Sanchez on until everyone makes it through Spring Training in good health. So adding two free agents and subtracting Sanchez gives them 40. But we are still at risk of needing starting pitching help at the beginning of the year.

  • This is one of those decisions/moves where the Pirates have all the information and those of us on the outside have none. Second-guessing them, or already warning that it could be a mistake, is unwarranted and premature.

  • A number of folks have suggested that the options “clock” starting when a player is added to the 40 man roster is a concern with both Holmes and Barnes. Does anyone have the rule book handy and can they verify that is the case?

    I still think the smarter thing would be to add and protect them – and if they have good years they become useful trade chips – if not then they can be waived and lost…

    A also don’t see a reason to keep a bunch of other “garbage” that is on the 40 man – plenty of folks who have little or no chance of helping the MLB team over the next two seasons.

    • The first time they are “optioned” (which would occur in spring training) when they are assigned to minor league camp in 2016 or anytime during that season, they will use their first option.

      • Meanwhile, a player like Mike Leake whom literally never spent anytime in minor leagues- still probably has options left even though he’s been in the majors for over 5 years. It’s a great thing to have in your back pocket around the all-star break or in the event of a couple double-headers in a short period of time where you can option them without really ever sending them down for a roster spot

  • Diaz should make the team over Stewart, simply because he has more potential and is better, same with Tailion over Locke.

    • stewart has done a good job except for rushing throws too often when he has no chance of throwing a runner out…… i’m for keeping him

      • I just don’t see it with Stewart, he had some huge hits. But a lot of horrible throws, passed balls and drops from throws from out field.

  • Barrett Barnes still strikes me as just about the perfect Rule 5 pick for a team either not in contention or struggling to fill that 24th or 25th roster spot.

    Power/patience profile that could work in the corners as a second division regular fairly easily, with the athletic pedigree and lack of time on the field that could convince someone of more upside than your typical 24 yo with under 200 PA in AA. Steamer projections already have him around a 91 wRC+, which is far from nothing out of your 4th/5th outfielder. The injury history also means that if he does go down again, it’s that much easier to keep him in the org.

    As for the Pirates own missing spots, several interesting arms were DFA’d last week. Would anyone really rather have Guido Knudson than Alan Webster? The inevitable Mark Melancon trade will leave just three relievers returning to the 25-man with John Holdzkom the only guy on the 40 you really want to see pitching in Pittsburgh, which says something in itself. There’s going to be a ton of turnover by April.

    • The Phillies have 4 OF in their 40 roster, tow converted infielders, Barnes might be picked, but so what

      • Sorry, missed the time when the Pirates became so successful that they could just start giving prospects away.

        I’ll look for the banners on Opening Day.

        • Never want to give prospects away, but a quality farm system will at times have to take risks on a few guys. Its not all that uncommon for semi interesting guys to be open.

          Dont wanna lose either guy, but its not without locking as to why both were risked.

          • That’s great, and I can’t wait til the Pirates actually find themselves in the predicament you describe.

            This most certainly is not that case.

            • So you dont think we have a quality system deep enough that some guys will be risked via Rule 5 due to roster issues?

              Its an opinion, but i dont see how we get there unless we go “well since we have Florimon we cant get rid of guys” sans the logic of adding guys later in FA and needing to not risk a guy like….Holmes….to waivers to open a spot for Happ/a relief pitcher/a bench player etc. You either throw a guy like Holmes to Rule 5, or add him and likely remove him later when you sign 2-4 guys and need roster spots for them.

              • Luke, don’t make this harder than it needs to be.

                If the Pirates wanted to, they *absolutely* could have fit every actual prospect they have that’s Rule 5 eligible onto the 40-man roster. And it’s not even close.

                • And that would have been, in my and other peoples opinion, really dumb owning to the fact that they have to add players better than them at some point and not want to rely on about 20 rookies to be depth options at nearly every spot.

                  They wont roll with a roster that is basically all rookies as depth, and they in no logical world want to try slipping Holmes through actual waivers. So while they sure could fit the name onto the list, it actual is more complicated than just “we can do it”.

                  • NMR- you know I argue endlessly with Luke Generally- but I’m completely on board with him here… it would be pointless to add them now just to have to put them through waivers later……which would inevitably happen

                    • Inevitable? Hardly. Holmes is the only one you can make an argument for, given “only” three more years before he’d need added to the 40-man. And guess what, if it ain’t happening in three more years, the chances of that actually coming back to bite you are about as good as the chances of him getting picked and kept in the Rule 5 in the first place.

                      I’m far from upset about these two kids going unprotected, but don’t make this out to be because of some prospect glut. These were decisions that could have easily been made differently, and if they do turn out to be mistakes there should be no excuses given.

                    • It is what it is- opinions differ. We are all big boys here, this time we don’t agree. I don’t think it’s a prospect glut either, but it doesn’t make any sense to protect them given they would have been taken off the 40 man later on in the off-season because we need pieces for the active roster at the ML level.

                  • No, Luke, they will not have to waive them. They will waive the half dozen or so worthless assets on the 40-man that people have already pointed out. This isn’t difficult.

                    • Well im sure if you say “this isnt difficult” enough itll mean you are just right and others should realize it.

                      If this is anything, its not simple and armchair GM worthy.

                    • Luke, I just did it. This *is* simple. If you wanted to protect these prospects, you could’ve easily done it.

                      They made the explicit decision not to. Of course there are other factors at play, but having too much talent to protect most certainly was not among them.

  • I think Baseball America comes out with a list of ” Best Available” for unprotected guys. Should be a neat read.

    • Good call. This would really be a good way for fans of one org with a semi interesting guy on the list to look at others viewed similar to their guy. At times, its easy to assume a guy like Holmes will be the best option for a team willing to eat a roster spot+development time.

  • Realistically Holmes is 3 years away when you consider his inning pitch and development, if you add him now you will burn through all his options before his ready, same applies to any team that drafts him.

  • I posted this on the other thread, but not until after it was dead. Here goes again:

    I suspect the reason they didn’t protect Holmes (and maybe Barnes too) is because they actually do like him and therefore want to have him longer before he hits arbitration and Free Agency, but if they protect him they will start that clock early, and so they are gambling that one will take him because he’s so far away from the bigs.

    So, if they get taken, they lose that player, but if they don’t get taken, the Pirates get that extra year in their prime.

    • I totally get what you and David Lewis are saying, and it makes a lot of sense.

      But if im some garbage team thats got no shot in 2016 and is lean on pitching in my system, im taking Holmes for a $50k test drive. After all he is a #10-15 prospect, right? Hell, the Pirates signed him for 1.2 million.

      And who knows they might get him back, but if they dont, a lot of people will look back on it and wonder about those two open slots and the half a dozen marginal bums they protected.

      • Agree that he might get taken. And another factor in the “we’ll never know for sure” deparment is that if he “loses” a year of development being stuck on the MLB roster for the Braves or Marlins, he may never get to where he could have been.

        • It feels good to be on the other end of this, to be honest.

          I actually wonder if there would be a worthy LH still available when they pick. Cause they do need one if they don’t keep Bastardo and slide Watson to closer. As I said, what’s a 50k flyer?

    • arbitration and free agency is irrelevant here- what the concern is, is option years.

  • Here is the problem I have with leaving Holmes and Barnes off the 40 Man. They now have ZERO trade value until after the Rule 5 Draft. By leaving them off the 40 man they are risking to lose them for nothing, which means in NH eyes they had no trade value, which seems strange to me. If they did have any trade value they would have almost certainly been added. Again, so maybe there is strong possibility they will not be picked? Also, Is it possible that Holmes has a extra year or eligibility from TJ?

    • Why,and how could these two players have any trade value at any time ? They have proven nothing, the upper levels of MiLB have plenty of guys just like them. David Lewis’ explanation has all the information explaining the situation.

      • Wait, what???

      • They’d still have some value. Plenty of guys not in AAA still have value, and we arent talking about pure fringe types lacking any upside at all.

        There is a difference between good value and value. Might not get a great return for just that guy, but they have value.

      • They are prospects, high round picks with lots of talent, IE they have trade value. Leaving them off the roster really means that the Pirates are willing to take the gamble because whatever value they do have, is probably more if we keep them and let them grow another year without using up an option in the process. It’s a gamble, no two ways about it.

      • Umm, prospects do tend to have some trade value, especially projectable tall RHP and supplemental 1st rd picks who can play CF and have raw power.

  • BuccosFanStuckinMD
    November 23, 2015 12:23 pm

    So, the team thought there was a possibility that one of the following journeymen players would be grabbed by another team, and that would represent some sort of significant loss?
    Are you serious?
    Jorge Rondon
    Jaff Decker
    Bobby LaFromboise
    Guido Knudson
    Pedro Florimon

    • As above: If one of these guys was dropped from the 40-man, they could be picked up without conditions by another team. If Holmes or Barnes is picked up in the Rule 5, they have to be kept on the drafting team’s 25-man all season or offered back to the Pirates. So a team may be perfectly happy tossing the Pirates $25k for a waiver claim on Jaff Decker, invite him to ST, and assign him to AAA if he doesn’t make the 25-man with the only risk being that someone else claims him – but they’re only going to waste a pick on Barnes if they think they have a realistic chance of keeping him on the 25-man all year.

      • What do you think of Holmes chances?

      • “…but they’re only going to waste a pick on Barnes if they think they have a realistic chance of keeping him on the 25-man all year.”

        Every year it seems at least one team makes a Rule 5 pick only to trade them, like the Rockies did last year with Mark Canha.

        • Interesting notion, though that’d still come with the risk that Holmes distance from the majors and injury issues really dent his trade value.

          Seems like if he goes, it’ll be a team willing to just stash him in the majors while they suck and work on his development going forward.

          • Oh definitely, these guys don’t bring significant prospects of note in return but they do represent a way to turn a Rule 5 selection into a prospect without limits on control/usage. The Rule 5 guy has to be returned if he doesn’t stick, but the prospect you got for him doesn’t.

            • Be interesting to see what his value is. Not in reality, since that’d mean him getting taken and months of “how dumb is NH for this” before he’s returned, but im curious as to where his value stands. Lotta ability, decent upside, long ways away from helping a ML team himself and with injury issues at times.

              So basically im bored and avoiding real work considering hypotheticals and thinking of random things Pirate related. Ho boy its only November 23rd.

              • I’m literally in that exact real world spot today and love that someone wants to talk baseball.

                I just posted something on Barnes, but to answer your question, I don’t actually think he’s that far from the big leagues at all. He already has a successful AA stint under his belt, and as a 24 year old in another org, could easily split 2016 in AA/AAA leaving 2017 as a realistic debut in his age 25 season.

              • As for value, he’s comfortably a top 20 prospect in a top 10 org. Difference between the value of Barnes and Willy Garcia is probably negligible, and it wouldn’t surprise me at all if teams actually preferred Barnes; I certainly do.

                Not going to center a deal, but could definitely be a Brock Holt-like add that a team requests in order to get it done.

                • Holt comp seems on point. He’s not 3 years from the bigs, and has shown flashes of his potential.

                  Sticking point for Barnes, for me, is that id wager most teams see him as a corner OFer as opposed to CF. For whatever reason, the more pure corner OF types dont get taken. He could play CF and not be god awful, but from what i’ve seen and read scouting wise he’s not long for CF.

  • Scahill, Knudsen and Holzkum all have options left, aren’t free agents for either the minors or majors, so why weren’t they sent down instead of Holmes or Barrett?

    • If you option them, they stay on the 40-man so you don’t clear any space. To clear 40-man space, you have to outright them, and then you risk losing them on waivers to a team that doesn’t have the same requirement to keep them on the 25-man all season.

  • At least as important is this: If you add Holmes or Barnes to the 40-man now to protect them from the Rule 5 and you need a roster spot later, you expose them to a waiver claim. All the claiming team has to do is add them to their 40-man; they don’t have to stay on the 25-man all season, like a Rule 5 pick would.

    So leaving them off the 40-man now could actually be increasing the probability of keeping them in the system – because it’s more likely that a team would be willing to spend a waiver claim and a 40-man spot on one of them than try to keep them on their 25-man all year.

  • I’ll beat the dead horse again. Sanchez if left off probably would have been taken but I do not see that as a loss. If I was a team looking to rebuild I would take either Holmes or Barnes. I would be really shaking my head if Miami selects Holmes. This makes me wonder what I am missing with these guys as being left unprotected. I agree about keeping one or two spots open I just don’t see who we protected.

  • Pretty strong message to Holmes and Barnes too. Holmes I’d feel bad about losing. Barnes not so much due to his persistent injury history, though it will be a shame to lose his future trade value.

    I hope what this means is that the Pirates will be adding at least three top flight, MLB ready starting pitching options to the roster

    • I don’t really think it’s a personal message to those guys. The pirates are deep and it’s a numbers game that causes calculated risks. That is all. They would very much like to keep those guys but the system dictates that someone needs to be risked. I do think how they have set their roster means they will be more active that usual this winter.

      • I think it was a calculated risk to leave them unprotected. If it doesn’t work out, it won’t set franchise back much, and leaves them more flexible this winter to make more aggressive moves if situation presents itself.

  • Im with you on this, Tim. Personally, I would have protected Holmes. I could see some of these awful teams (especially in division Reds, Brewers) taking a chance and throwing him in the bullpen. Heck, at least take him to Spring Training for 50k and see what happens.