While being added to a team’s 40-man roster is a major accomplishment for the players involved — it’s a significant step in realizing their major league dreams — it offers little guarantee of long-term success or security with the organization that protects them.
The Orioles added 10 players to their 40-man roster to protect them from the Rule 5 draft in the four offseasons before this one. Only three of those players logged major league time the following season with the Orioles — Mike Wright and Tyler Wilson in 2015, and Parker Bridwell in 2016.
Neither player the Orioles protected last year reached the majors, and one was out of the organization by early April. One of the players the team protected for the 2016 season was waived in March. So, even when the Orioles have chosen to protect a player from the Rule 5 draft, it hasn’t necessarily meant they have a long-term plan for that player.
The Orioles added three players to their 40-man roster Monday — right-handers Hunter Harvey and David Hess, and catcher Austin Wynns. Harvey, a 22-year-old former first-round draft pick who finally appears healthy after years of injuries, was a no-brainer to protect. Both Wynns, 26, and Hess, 24, have raised their stock in the organization over the past season, enough to receive protection … for now.
Deciding which players to protect is a multilayered process, because it involves finding a balance of selecting the players that unquestionably should help your team and the ones that an organization fears losing to another club in the Rule 5 draft.
Last season, the Orioles placed right-handers Jesus Liranzo and Joe Gunkel on the 40-man roster. Gunkel was coming off a season in which he pitched well at the Double-A and Triple-A levels, posting a combined 4.02 ERA. But after an unimpressive spring training, he was designated for assignment on April 7 and was dealt to the Los Angeles Dodgers on April 10 so the team could create 40-man roster space for right-hander Miguel Castro.
Gunkel, 25, was on the Dodgers’ 40-man for just two weeks when he was designated to make 40-man space for eventual National League Rookie of the Year Cody Bellinger. The Miami Marlins claimed Gunkel off waivers, assigned him to Double-A and less than two weeks later outrighted him off their 40-man roster.
The Orioles have had far more patience with the 22-year-old Liranzo after he held opponents to a .111 batting average in spring training. He couldn’t duplicate that success at Double-A Bowie, posting a 4.85 ERA while walking 6.0 batters per nine innings. Liranzo has exemplary stuff, but obviouslys need to cut down on his walks before he can become a major league option.
By comparison, the Orioles chose not to protect right-hander Jimmy Yacabonis at this time last year, but the 25-year-old ended up with a 4.35 ERA in 20 2/3 major league innings — while neither Gunkel nor Liranzo garnered any major league innings.
Two years ago, the Orioles protected right-hander Parker Bridwell, left-hander Andrew Triggs and left-hander Chris Lee.
We know what happened with Bridwell, 26, the only homegrown player of that group. After battling back from a broken rib that cost him more than a month, he was called up by the Orioles in August and made just two appearances before being sent down. He didn’t return to Baltimore once rosters expanded, nor was he invited to be part of the Sarasota taxi squad in September. This past April, Bridwell was traded to the Los Angeles Angels to free up roster space and posted 2.0 wins above replacement (WAR) in the Angels starting rotation, going 10-3 with a 3.64 ERA.
Triggs, 28, acquired in a minor trade with Kansas City in April 2015, received a lot of buzz coming into spring training the following year, but didn’t last through camp with the Orioles. He was designated for assignment and released to make room for Pedro Álvarez.
Triggs was claimed by the Oakland Athletics and last year emerged in their starting rotation, posting a 4.27 ERA in 12 starts before his season was cut short by a hip injury.
After the Orioles protected Lee, a former fourth-round pick acquired in a minor trade with the Houston Astros, he had a strong start at Bowie (5-0, 2.98 ERA in eight games) before a lat muscle injury ended his season. But this past season, Lee posted a 5.11 ERA in 27 games (20 starts) at Triple-A Norfolk as hitters batted .302 against him.
After the 2014 season, the Orioles protected right-handers Wright and Wilson, but left Bridwell and right-hander Mychal Givens unprotected. Givens would join the major league club the following season.
And back in 2013, the Orioles added left-hander Tim Berry, catcher Michael Ohlman and right-hander Eddie Gamboa to the 40-man roster. Gamboa was removed from the 40-man shortly thereafter, became a free agent and re-signed a minor league deal with the team. Ohlman was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals in February 2015 and had a brief seven-game major league stint with the Toronto Blue Jays this past season. Berry, claimed off waivers by the Marlins in December 2015, returned to the Orioles last season and pitched mostly at the Double-A level.