The off-season is filled with a lot of transaction deadlines, where teams need to make decisions on specific players by a certain date. The big deadline this week comes on Friday, November 18th, with teams needing to add prospects to their 40-man roster in order to protect them from the Rule 5 draft in December.
The Pirates don’t really have many tough decisions to make this year, and that’s mostly because they’ve made a lot of their decisions already. Chad Kuhl, Adam Frazier, Steven Brault, and Trevor Williams would have been eligible this year, but all four players were added during the 2016 season.
Stephen Tarpley and Tito Polo would have been eligible, but both players were traded for Ivan Nova.
Dovydas Neverauskas and Jose Osuna would have been minor league free agents, and the Pirates added both to the 40-man roster, keeping them in the system and protecting them from the draft (on the flip side, Jared Lakind was a minor league free agent, was re-signed to a minor league deal, and is eligible, although unlikely to be selected).
The Pirates have already added six players to the roster this year who would have otherwise been eligible for the Rule 5 draft in December. They traded two away, and the result here, as you’d expect, is that there aren’t many players left to add. That doesn’t mean there are no players remaining.
The most notable players remaining are Clay Holmes and Barrett Barnes. Holmes had his first full season back from Tommy John surgery in 2016, and had a strong second half in Altoona. The Pirates left him unprotected last year, and he wasn’t drafted. They might be able to try and sneak him through again, especially since he did still have some control problems throughout the year. He looks like a future MLB pitcher with a chance to start, but more likely to end up as a reliever in the Pirates’ system. He’s the best prospect of the remaining guys to be protected, and it will be interesting to see if the Pirates roll the dice with him and expose him to the draft one more time.
Barnes spent the first few years of his pro career dealing with injuries, but has mostly stayed healthy in the last two years. This year he had a .306/.377/.477 line in 458 plate appearances with Altoona. He has the ability to play all three outfield spots as well, making him a valuable prospect who could be a strong fourth outfielder one day, and maybe an average starter if his power translates well through Triple-A and into the majors. The Pirates have seen their outfield depth depleted a bit with the trades of Polo and Harold Ramirez, so it might make sense to make sure Barnes sticks around in the system.
The other two interesting decisions will come down to Eric Wood and Jin-De Jhang, who are both spending time in the Arizona Fall League this off-season. In both cases, you’ve got players who play positions that don’t usually get drafted and protected in the Rule 5 draft. It’s difficult to carry three catchers all year, and Jhang doesn’t have enough work the last few years to be ready to catch as a backup in the majors. So it would be pretty safe to leave him unprotected.
Wood might be a different story. He had a good year in Altoona, showing some power, and has been hitting a ton in the AFL. He plays third base, which is a position rarely drafted in the Rule 5 draft, but the Pirates have given him work at first base and the corner outfield spots this off-season. With some added versatility, it makes him more likely to stick in the majors, although I don’t know if you could say his bat is ready after a successful second season in Altoona and a strong AFL campaign. That said, third base prospects are rare, and Wood can play the position well, with no questions about his ability to stick. With his emergence, it might make sense for the Pirates to protect him.
In order to protect these players, the Pirates must clear space on the 40-man roster. They currently have one open spot, so if they protected Holmes, Barnes, and Wood, they’d need two additional spots. I currently have Jared Hughes, Jeff Locke, and Eric Fryer as non-tender candidates, with the deadline for those decisions being December 2nd. The Pirates could make the decision early on one or two of those players and clear the space they need.
There are a few players who could be designated for assignment, such as Brady Dragmire and Willy Garcia, giving the Pirates more options to clear roster space. They shouldn’t have an issue clearing spots. The issue they’d have would be the decision of how many spots to use on prospects when they definitely need spots for the MLB team this off-season.
There’s also the possibility that they could add someone on waivers this week, as plenty of other teams will be clearing space on their roster for their own prospects. That has happened in previous years, although most of the guys added don’t last on the 40-man roster throughout the off-season, with the Pirates ultimately looking to get players in the system, hoping to designate them for assignment and outright them to Indianapolis as depth.
In terms of impact to the MLB club in 2017, the moves made this week won’t show up big on the radar. That said, this should be one of the biggest weeks of the off-season in terms of the number of transactions made.