As part of the ongoing discussion on who should play for the Mets and who should be sent down, brought up, or traded for, one constant requirement remains: creating enough space on the 40 man roster to permit all these maneuvers to take place. For those needing a refresher, a team’s 40 man (or “expanded”) roster consists of all players on the major league team (generally 25 except for a temporary bump to 26 for day/night doubleheaders), plus 15 more players with the slots divided between minor leaguers and those on the 15-day disabled list. Players on the 60-day DL do not count toward the 40, thus moving a player from the 15-day DL to the 60-day will create a space. This was the case recently when Frank Francisco was moved to the 60-day to open a space for Omar Quintanilla. After a player has been in any team’s minor league system long enough (four or five years depending on their age when signed), they must be placed on the 40 if the team wishes to protect them from being taken by another organization during the Rule 5 draft.
As we look forward to the eventual arrival of promising talent from the Mets’ farm system, there are those that contend the major league club would benefit from an immediate infusion. However, they may not have considered the ramifications of these proposed moves due to the requirements of getting players onto the 40 before they can be called up. Josh Satin, for instance, who many have lobbied to install as at least a platoon partner if not outright replacement for Ike Davis, does not presently have a place on the 40. If management were to make a move to bring him up from Las Vegas, he would have to be added and someone would have to be removed as the Mets presently have a full slate of players already occupying those slots (plus 3 more on the 60-day DL).
Removing a player from the 40 requires that they be designated for assignment (DFA’d) and the team then has 10 days to trade, release, or send them to the minors provided they clear waivers. Without going into undue detail over the waiver process, suffice it to say that if a team doesn’t want to risk losing a player altogether, they will strive to avoid exposing them. This was the concern recently with the promotion of Quintanilla as, out of options, he will have to clear waivers if the Mets want to return him to Vegas when Ruben Tejada is ready to return to active duty.
Judicious management of the 40 is a crucial element to a GM seeking to provide his field manager with the tools needed to compete. Often hard choices must be made- when deciding to protect a player in the farm system who may still be years away from contributing at the major league level, a degree of flexibility with the active roster is surrendered. To some extent, this can be pointed to as an issue with the current Mets team.
A look at the current state of the Mets’ 40 reveals how certain players are regarded within the organization and, to a degree, by baseball insiders. The 15 players beyond the active roster include those who have previously appeared on it this year (Atchison, Familia, Tejada, Brown, Cowgill, Edgin and Nieuwenhuis), and a mixed bag of prospects consisting of infielders Zach Lutz, Wilmer Flores, and Wilfredo Tovar, catcher Travis d’Arnaud, outfielder Cesar Puello, and pitchers Zack Wheeler, Hansel Robles, and Gonzalez Germen. Aside from Atchison, Tejada and Familia who are currently on the 15-day DL, the bulk of these players consist of fringe major league talent (or “AAAA” players) who can provide coverage in the event of injuries, and legitimate prospects who the front office clearly needs to protect.
This list says as much about those who are not on it as it does about those it includes. As mentioned before, Josh Satin did not rate a slot, and the front office is apparently content to keep him as AAA roster filler or allow him to leave next year as a six-year free agent. They have not worried about another organization drafting him, so that should tell you something about how he is regarded by the other 29 MLB clubs as well. Still, you never know, someone may yet give him a shot as a role player somewhere.
I do have some questions with respect to some of the other players who have been allotted space here. Lutz turns 27 this month, a bit old for a “legitimate” prospect, and is kept around apparently to provide insurance in the event of an injury to David Wright. He has been fairly consistent in his level of play as he has made his way up the ladder and projects as someone who would hit about .250-.260 with maybe 15-20 HR’s over a full season while providing less than stellar defense. Assuming, of course, he could stay healthy himself, something that has been a bit of an issue in the past. In other words, he could be a decent fill-in but not a player you would tag for stardom. His place on the roster is to provide depth and were Ike Davis to be demoted, he would be the likely call-up despite a relative lack of experience at first base. His ability to play third probably gets him the edge on the roster over Satin despite the latter’s somewhat better numbers over the past few years.
The other players holding down slots that might raise an eyebrow are Tovar and Germen. Tovar, despite his youth and ability to play a key position (shortstop), apparently projects at best as a utility guy according to scouting reports. If the team is simply trying to provide depth at the position, they might have considered going with Tovar’s Binghamton teammate Josh Rodriguez, a more veteran player at age 28 who has shown flashes of power throughout his minor league career. As of this writing, Rodriguez leads the B-Mets in hits and has an OBP of .439, numbers that greatly overshadow those of Tovar to this point. Germen is a 25-year old middle reliever with decent if somewhat unspectacular numbers at Las Vegas. He has put up some nice K/9 and hits per innings numbers in the past though, and pitchers can develop later than position players so I’m willing to assume they know what they are doing with him. Still, if Jack Leathersich is bumped up to AAA at the season’s mid-point and continues to blow away the opposition like he’s been doing so far, I’m sure we would all like to see a September call-up and somebody will have to make space on the 40. In addition, Chase Huchingson’s performance out of the same bullpen has put him in the picture as a lefty relief option as well.
Clearly roster management is an inexact science that involves some guesswork. Like many, I’ll be watching the shuffling that is due to occur ahead of the Rule 5 in December. Let’s hope for some wise decisions and for some player performances that help make those decisions easier to make.