If you follow the Phillies, you've likely heard or read the phrase, "crowded 40-man roster" quite often in recent months. It's come into play in their call-ups, trades and signings.
The construction of the 40-man roster matters because an organization risks losing a player in the Rule 5 draft if he is not one its 40 protected players.
The quick refresher there, from the CBA:
Players are eligible for selection in the Rule 5 draft who are not on their major league organization's 40-man roster and:
– were 18 or younger on the June 5 preceding their signing and this is the fifth Rule 5 draft upcoming; or
– were 19 or older on the June 5 preceding their signing and this is the fourth Rule 5 draft upcoming.
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The Phils, after their recent flurry of moves, have 38 players on the 40-man roster. The following players could be selected by another team in December's Rule 5 draft if the Phillies don't first add them to the 40 this winter:
• 1B Rhys Hoskins
• SS J.P. Crawford
• RHP Seranthony Dominguez
• LHP Ranger Suarez
• RHP Franklyn Kilome
• OF Carlos Tocci
• OF Andrew Pullin
• LHP Brandon Leibrandt
• RHP Yacksel Rios
Those first six players are no-brainer additions to the 40. The Phils would probably like to figure out a way to protect all of them, but that will depend on how they approach adding veterans this winter via trades and free agency.
Adding eight or so players to the 40 would require trimming six others. So, how do they make the pieces fit?
3 players have expiring contracts
INF Andres Blanco
OF/1B Daniel Nava
LF Hyun Soo Kim
10 players the Phillies could consider removing from the 40 - sorted by most likely to least likely based on replaceability/value/ceiling
RHP Pedro Beato
OF Cameron Perkins
RHP Alberto Tirado
1B Brock Stassi
LHP Adam Morgan
INF/OF Ty Kelly
LHP Hoby Milner
INF Jesmuel Valentin
RHP Mark Appel
OF Roman Quinn
Let's examine each case in order:
• Beato is a 30-year-old reliever who's been with six different organizations and has a career ERA 10 percent below the MLB average.
• Perkins is essentially the outfield version of Stassi - he's been a solid minor-leaguer in this organization but hasn't hit enough to cement his role as a major-league bench piece.
• Tirado has walked 56 batters in 74⅓ innings this season at Clearwater and Reading. That won't sit well when it comes time to make roster decisions, but since he's already on the 40 he'll probably get an audition in the majors when rosters expand on Sept. 1.
Tirado was one of two pitchers acquired from the Blue Jays at the 2015 trade deadline for Ben Revere. The other player was hard-throwing reliever Jimmy Cordero, who was designated for assignment by the Nationals on Monday to make room for Brandon Kintzler.
• Stassi plays very good first base defense, which is important moving forward because that's not exactly a strength for Tommy Joseph or Rhys Hoskins. But Stassi turns 28 this week and hasn't hit enough for a first baseman/corner outfielder. The Phillies would like to keep him around, but if they have to remove him from the 40, finding an inexpensive defense-first 1B in free agency wouldn't be too difficult.
• Morgan has become something of a scapegoat among Phillies fans, kind of like Luis Garcia once was. But Morgan's throwing harder than ever before, flashing a mid-90s fastball this season, and the Phillies don't have a whole lot of close-to-major-league-ready left-handed pitchers. They could find some lefty specialists in free agency this winter, though, and those decisions will determine Morgan's fate.
• Kelly has had some clutch hits this season, no doubt about it - three-game winning knocks and six go-ahead RBIs. He could have a career in the National League because he's a switch hitter with the ability to play so many positions - for the Phillies this season, he's played 2B, 3B, LF, CF and RF. Still, he's a .209 career hitter in 156 plate appearances.
• The Phillies will probably try to keep Milner as an inexpensive lefty specialist. The 26-year-old has been just OK in 12 appearances this season with the Phils but has pitched very well at Triple A. You'd rather have a lefty reliever for $600,000 than $3 million so it's worth giving Milner some more time.
• Valentin's season-ending shoulder injury opened up a natural spot at second base at Triple A for Scott Kingery, who has thrived. Valentin himself is a nice little player, though, a potential utility infielder. Valentin had a decent 2016, hitting .269/.341/.395 at Double A and Triple A, then impressed in spring training, going 21 for 41 (.366) with six doubles and four walks. He's not a lock to remain on the 40 but he's a pretty good bet to stick.
• If you looked at Appel's career arc in the minors and did not know he was a former No. 1 overall pick, you might wonder why he's on the 40-man roster. Appel has not had a good year. He has a 5.27 ERA in 17 starts with 60 strikeouts and 53 walks in 82 innings. He has a 4.82 career ERA at Triple A.
Will the Phillies non-tender him this winter? They could choose instead to try him out as a reliever next season to see if they could salvage some of his strengths. If they give up on Appel, they'd be giving up on a major piece of the Ken Giles trade, which looked like a win at the time.
• Quinn's case is the most interesting. He's so talented that if he were Rule 5 eligible this winter, he'd probably get picked pretty high - he's exactly the type of high-reward player another team would seek. But he hasn't been able to stay healthy. Quinn has been in pro ball since 2012 and his career-high during that six-year span is 382 plate appearances. He's yet to play 90 games in a season.
Throughout his career, Quinn has dealt with a broken wrist, a torn Achilles, a torn hip flexor, two oblique strains, a quad strain and now a ligament injury in his non-throwing elbow that has kept him out since Memorial Day and looks like it will end his season.
There are pronounced pros and cons with keeping Quinn on the 40. You'd think the Phillies would try their best to keep him in case he ever does play a full season.
The last group
Lastly, there are two players - 2B Scott Kingery and right-handed starting pitcher Tom Eshelman, another member of the Giles trade - who don't yet need to be added to the 40-man roster for Rule 5 protection reasons, but who could help the Phillies as immediately as opening day 2018 and thus would need to be added to the 40.
If Kingery is up here on opening day 2018, it almost certainly means either Cesar Hernandez or Maikel Franco is no longer in the picture, so you'd think that would be a 1-for-1 roster swap.
Hernandez is a valuable leadoff hitter, and Franco could hit 200-plus home runs in the majors, but Kingery might be a better all-around player who makes one of them expendable. Teams were interested last offseason in Hernandez and will certainly be calling the Phillies about him again this winter.
Eshelman was on the DL for three weeks with an elbow strain, and the Phillies will be cautious with his workload the rest of the summer. The 23-year-old is already at 113 innings, seven shy of his career high.
Eshelman allowed eight runs in four innings in his return Friday night, but he's been so good at Triple A this season that his ERA is still 2.86. Prior to Friday night, he was 7-2 with a 2.14 ERA and 0.95 WHIP in 12 starts with the IronPigs, even better numbers than he had at Double A.
Aaron Nola, Jerad Eickhoff, Vince Velasquez, Nick Pivetta, Ben Lively and Zach Eflin make for six starting pitchers ahead of Eshelman on the depth chart, but he's probably next on the list at this point. If he gets a spring training invite in 2018 and impresses, he could move up a spot or two.