By tomorrow (Tuesday) evening at 8:59 p.m. our time, MLB teams must decide which players to add to their 40-man roster, and thus protect from possibly being taken in the Rule 5 draft.
The Mariners currently have 37 players on their 40-man roster, leaving three open slots. But there are also players that can (and probably will) be removed to make room for newcomers.
First, a quick review of the rules. To be protected from the major-league phase of the Rule 5 draft, a player must go on the 40-man roster after four or five years as a pro. It’s four years if he signed his first pro contract at age 19 or later, and five years if he signed initially at 18 years old or younger. Anyone in that category who is not on the 40-man roster is eligible to be selected by another team in the Rule 5 draft, which takes place Dec. 6 during the winter meetings in Nashville. You might recall that is how the Mariners obtained reliever Lucas Luetge from the Brewers last winter. Rule 5 selections cost $50,000, but the catch is you must keep the player on your 25-man roster all season, or else offer him back to his original club for half the purchase price ($25,000). Luetge is looking like a wise pickup by the Mariners. Rather than just fill a seat in the bullpen, he became a valuable lefty setup man as the season progressed, and will likely continue in that role in 2013. Luetge appeared in 63 games and had a 3.98 ERA, allowing 37 hits in 40.2 innings, with 38 strikeouts. Most importantly, lefties hit just .193 off him.
Here are some players in the Mariners’ organization who will have to be protected, or will be at risk in the Rule 5 draft. Keep in mind that last year, just 12 players were selected in the major-league phase of the Rule 5 draft, so the risk of losing a player is minimal — but it does exist. Notable players who have been acquired in the Rule 5 draft include Josh Hamilton, Johan Santana, Joakim Soria, Dan Uggla and Shane Victorino, so sometimes you hit lightning in a bottle. Far more often, the player is offered back to his original team, or never heard from again (see Ugueto, Luis).
OK, here’s that list I promised several digressions ago:
Vinnie Catricala, INF/OF: He was just about the hottest prospect in the Mariners’ organization last year, even considered a longshot to make the major-league roster out of spring training. But Catricala had a disappointing year in Triple-A, hitting just .229 with 10 homers and 60 RBIs for Tacoma. Still, there’s too much potential here, and I don’t see the Mariners risk losing Catricala.
Andrew Carraway, RHP: Carraway excelled at Double-A Jackson (4-0, 2.61 in seven starts), then went 5-7, 4.66 in 20 starts for Tacoma.
Denny Almonte, OF: Almonte slowed down after a torrid start with Jackson, finishing at .249 with 12 homers and 53 RBIs, with 24 stolen bases and a .732 OPS. Lots of potential, though.
Joe Dunigan, 1B/DH: Extremely strong left-handed hitter who had a nice bounce-back season after some injury issues. He hit 25 homers for Jackson and put up a .502 slugging percentage to go with his .254 batting average.
Daniel Farquhar, RHP: Currently pitching very well in relief for Venezuela in the winter league, Farquhar came from the Yankees organization in the Ichiro deal. In 12 appearances at Tacoma, he had a 0.54 ERA and allowed just nine hits in 16.2 innings, fanning 16.
Anthony Fernandez, LHP: Was 4-3 with a 3.32 ERA in 13 starts for Jackson, with two complete games (one a shutout).
Steven Hensley, RHP: A fourth-round pick in 2008, Hensley struck out 36 in 33.1 innings for Jackson (where he had a 3.24 ERA in 20 relief appearances). But in 24 games at Tacoma, his ERA was 6.27, and he struck out just 22 in 37 innings.
James Jones, OF The Mariners have always loved his athleticism since making him a fourth-round pick in 2009, and he hit .306 in the hitter-friendly California League for High Desert, with 14 homers.
Bobby LaFromboise, LHP: He just finished a stint with Peoria in the Arizona Fall League, with a 5.54 ERA in 13 relief outings. That follows a sensational stint with Jackson (1.01 ERA in 20 relief appearances, 32 strikouts in 26.2 innings) and more success at Tacoma (5-2, 1.59 in 27 appearances, 38 strikeouts in 39.2 innings).
Brandon Maurer, RHP: You can take it to the bank that he’ll be added to the 40-man. The Mariners now believe he’s close to being up there as a prospect with the vaunted “Big Three” of Danny Hultzen, Taijuan Walker and James Paxton. Maurer was named top pitcher in the Southern League after going 9-2 with a 3.20 ERA for Jackson.
Brian Moran, LHP: He had a 1.14 ERA in 24 outings with Jackson, and a 3.89 ERA in 23 outings with Tacoma, with a whopping 53 strikeouts in 37 innings.
As you can see, there are some players (and this isn’t a definitive list) with strong credentials knocking at the door of the 40-man roster. It will be interesting to see if the Mariners take a chance on losing some past prospects who so far have not panned out (the likes of Carlos Peguero or Alex Liddi) by clearing them off the 40-man (I doubt it). You could find a lot of other names that may be on the bubble. Could this be the impetus for the Mariners to finally cut ties with Chone Figgins, and free up his spot on the 40-man? And what about Scott Cousins, claimed off waivers recently despite a .183 career average? There are a lot of ways the Mariners could go, so stay tuned.