For the deadline to add players to the 40-man roster and protect them from the Rule 5 draft to have particular intrigue, two factors need to be present: a glut of candidates to add, and a scarcity of spots to add them.
Neither, really, is present for the Orioles today, as they approach the Friday evening deadline to protect players. They have seven open spots on the 40-man roster, and no more than one or two players that scouts would consider in the Rule 5 draft.
Minor league players who were over the age of 19 when they signed their first professional contract are exposed to the Rule 5 draft after four seasons, while players 18 or younger have five seasons before they need to be added. If selected, a player must spend the entire year on another club’s 25-man roster or be returned to his original club.
The highest profile Orioles prospect that would have needed to be added today was first baseman Trey Mancini, but he joined the team in mid-September and swatted three home runs down the stretch. Left-handed reliever Donnie Hart would also have needed to be added this year, too.
That leaves a list of candidates to be added that’s short on big names. Without being too privy to the Orioles’ thoughts, I’d view it this way —with seven spots open, there’s no reason not to add anyone who might come back to bite you. You can always knock one off later in the offseason, and there are still players on the roster currently who could be shuffled off.
The only starting pitching prospect that is likely to be added, to my mind, is right-hander Joe Gunkel. Acquired from Boston two years ago for outfielder Alejandro De Aza, Gunkel posted a 4.02 ERA between Double-A Bowie and Triple-A Norfolk this year and has a lifetime 3.30 ERA and 1.12 WHIP in the minors. He doesn’t have overpowering stuff, but could stick in a major league bullpen as a swingman if a team saw a fit in the Rule 5 process.
With the overall scarcity of starting pitchers around the game, and the projected exodus of four starting pitchers leaving the major league rotation after next season for the Orioles, the prospect of giving up a starting pitcher who even has a small chance to make it isn’t worth the risk for the Orioles.
Next, there’s a trio of relievers who ended the year at Double-A Bowie and spent time in the Arizona Fall League — Jesus Liranzo, Jimmy Yacabonis and Stefan Crichton. Liranzo, a 21-year-old Dominican right-hander, is finally healthy after missing 2014 with Tommy John surgery and features a fastball that sits in the mid-90s and a sharp slider. He’s a near-lock to be selected if he’s exposed to the Rule 5 draft.
The other two show flashes of the stuff to be a major league reliever, but don’t have the consistency in their delivery to translate it into consistent results. If you’re going to add one, you might as well add both.
As for position players, catcher Austin Wynns has fans in the scouting community but probably wouldn’t stick on a major league roster. The only player who could conceivably do so is outfielder Mike Yastrzemski.
His meteoric rise through the Orioles system in 2014 caught everyone’s attention, but even then, his skillset seemed like that of a fourth outfielder to scouts who saw him. Executive vice president Dan Duquette mentioned on the team’s Hot Stove radio show Thursday that Yastrzemski dealt with core and shoulder issues all season that required surgery and could explain his batting .221 in Norfolk this year.
His ability to play all three outfield positions capably with a mix of some speed and power make him a candidate to stick on any team’s bench as a fourth outfielder, and thus make him a candidate for the Orioles to protect. He’s also the type of player who will come back to bite you if he ends up elsewhere, and the Orioles have too many of those on the wrong side of the ledger already.
Others who could warrant consideration are right-hander Branden Kline, who is a year removed from Tommy John surgery, and right-hander Christian Alvarado. Kline only threw on the side in the instructional league, likely to keep him away from scouts who might see something they like in his recovery and pop him in the Rule 5 draft, so it will be hard for teams to gauge his progress and justify selecting him. Alvarado pitched well this year for Class-A Delmarva, but doesn’t have overpowering raw stuff and is still too far from the majors.