In three weeks, from December 7-10, front office personnel from the 30 major league teams will converge on San Diego for the 2015 Winter Meetings and the annual flurry of activity that culminates with the Rule 5 Draft on the last day. In advance of that, teams must set their 40-man rosters by this Friday, November 20, adding any eligible prospects they want to protect from being selected by other teams.
In a departure from the last several years, the Blue Jays actually have a lot of open slots on the 40 man roster. With the signing of Marco Estrada, the 40-man roster stands at just 33 whereas last year it was completely full. This is largely a function of having 10 major league free agents and no waiver claims in the last month as has been typical in recent years. So there's plenty of room to protect some prospects without having to clear room, at least in the near term.
Major League Rule 5 Primer
Before getting into the actual decisions for the Jays, a quick background on the Major League Rule 5 which (skip ahead if you know the process). Its basic goal is to prevent teams from unduly stockpiling talent in the minors without giving the players a shot at the majors.
The timelines for Rule 5 eligibility are complex, but as a basic guideline, high school draftees and international free agents (IFA) are first eligible four years after signing, with college players being eligible three years after signing (the actual division is based on age at signing, and when that signing occurs, see this entry from 2012 for more details). For 2015, this means high school draftees and IFAs from 2011 and college players signed in 2012. In addition, all players who were previously Rule 5 eligible remain eligible, unless they are likewise added. This includes minor league free agents signed prior to the Rule 5 draft and former major leaguers who have been outrighted off the 40-man roster.
The draft itself consists of three phases: the major league phase, the triple-A phase, and the double-A phase. In the major league phase, major league teams can select eligible players from other organizations who are not on a 40-man roster for $50,000. That chosen player would have to remain on the 25-man (active) roster for the entire subsequent season, with a minimum of 90 active days, or be offered back to the original team. If the player fails to reach 90 active days, he will have to remain on the 25-man roster in subsequent seasons until he reaches an aggregate of 90 active days. The minor league phases of the draft are much less important and generally used just to fill out rosters.
Rule 5-Eligible Players
Theoretically, 2015 should have been a year where the Jays would face a real 40-man crunch, being four years after they had seven picks in the top 100 of the draft which were all used on high school players. Beyond that, they handed out a number of substantial bonuses to high school players in later rounds, and spent similarly heavily on IFAs (eight bonuses of $300,000 or more). But between players already reaching the majors, a lot of trades, and prospects not succeeding, there is no crunch.
2015 First-Time Eligible Players
|Jake Anderson||OF||11/22/1992||22||2011 Draft (1s)||$990,000||Rk||Rk||Injured|
|Justin Atkinson||SS||7/24/1993||22||2011 Draft (26)||$100,000||A-/A||A||A-|
|Alex Azor||CF||11/21/1988||26||2012 Draft (10)||$1,000||Military||Military||Military|
|Mark Biggs||RHP||5/10/1993||22||2011 Draft (8)||$600,000||A||A-||Rk|
|Wil Browning||RHP||9/8/1988||27||2012 NDFA||A+/AA||A+/AA||A/A+|
|Derrick Chung||C||2/23/1988||27||2012 Draft (31)||AA/A+||A+/AA||A+|
|Matt Dean||3B||12/22/1992||22||2011 Draft (13)||$737,500||A+||A||Rk|
|Brady Dragmire||RHP||2/5/1993||22||2011 Draft (17)||$250,000||A+||A||Rk|
|Jorge Flores||SS||11/25/1991||23||2012 Draft (19)||AA||AA/A+||A/A+|
|Jeremy Gabryszwski||RHP||3/16/1993||22||2011 Draft (2)||$575,000||A+||A/A+||A-|
|Alonzo Gonzalez||LHP||1/15/1992||23||2012 Draft (18)||$100,000||A+/A||A||A/A-|
|Jesus D. Gonzalez||OF||1/11/1995||20||2011 IFA||$700,000||Rk||Rk|
|Emilio Guerrero||IF||8/21/1992||23||2011 IFA||AA/A+||A+||A/A+|
|Osman Gutierrez||RHP||12/15/1994||20||2011 IFA||$210,000||Rk||DSL||DSL|
|Jason Leblebijian||SS||5/13/1991||24||2012 Draft (25)||A/A+||A||A/A-|
|Christian Lopes||IF||10/1/1992||23||2011 Draft (7)||$800,000||A+/AA||A+||A|
|Derrick Loveless||OF||3/7/1993||22||2011 Draft (27)||$125,000||A+||A||Rk|
|Ian Parmley||OF||12/19/1989||25||2012 Draft (7)||$5,000||AA/A+||A/A+||A-|
|Tom Robson||RHP||6/27/1993||22||2011 Draft (4)||$325,000||A/A-||A||A-/Rk|
|Jorge Saez||C||8/28/1990||25||2012 Draft (32)||A+||A/A+||Rk|
|Dwight Smith Jr.||OF||10/26/1992||23||2011 Draft (1s)||$800,000||AA||A+||A|
|Juan Tejada||OF||2/13/1994||21||2011 IFA||$150,000||Rk/A-||Rk||DSL|
|Colton Turner||LHP||1/17/1991||24||2012 Draft (21)||A/A+||Injured||A-/A|
Of these 23 first time eligible prospects, Dwight Smith Jr. stands out as the only one I'd consider likely to be added. He spent the entire year at AA, and posted a respectable .265/.335/.376 batting line in 512 plate appearances, with strong plate discipline despite not following up on the increased power he showed in 2014. This combination of decent performance, pedigree, and major league closeness means it would be shocking to me if he were not added to the 40-man this week.
Other than that, I don't anticipate any other additions. Christian Lopes would probably be the next most likely, having reached AA and having had enough potential to merit a $800,000 bonus (having once been ranked the top 13 year old baseball player in the US). But there's not much in his career to date to suggest an impact major league player. Of the other five prospects receiving bonuses over $500,000 have, two haven't even made it to low-A, and the ones that have haven't shown the type of upside needed to justify carrying a player on the active roster. Matt Dean has shown legitimate power, but with a huge strikeout rate.
Brady Dragmire had a really impressive second half for Dunedin (40K / 5BB in 36.2 innings), and has followed it up with a strong AFL showing. A strong 2016 could put him in the picture next year at this time, but relievers without AA experience or plus-plus stuff aren't Rule 5 candidates. Tom Robson is a similar story, with interesting stuff but injuries having kept him to just a handful of innings in low-A.
2015 Previously Eligible Players
|Gustavo Pierre||RHP||12/28/1991||23||2016 FA||Rk|
|Danny Barnes||RHP||10/21/1989||26||2010 Draft (35)||AA||A+||A+/Rk|
|Andy Fermin||2B||7/27/1989||26||2010 Draft (32)||A+/AA||AA/A+||A-|
|K.C. Hobson||1B||8/22/1990||25||2009 Draft (6)||$500,000||AA||A+/AA||A+|
|Casey Lawrence||RHP||10/28/1987||28||2010 NDFA||AA/AAA||AA||A+/AA|
|Matt Newman||LF||9/20/1988||27||2010 NDFA||AA||AA/A+||A+|
|Chris Schaeffer||C||11/19/1987||27||2010 NDFA||Injured||A||A+/AA|
|Jon Berti||SS||1/22/1990||25||2011 Draft (18)||AA/AAA||AA||A+|
|Andy Burns||SS||8/7/1990||25||2011 Draft (11)||$250,000||AAA/AA||AA||AA/A+|
|Adonys Cardona||RHP||1/16/1994||21||2010 IFA||$2,800,000||Injured||A||Rk|
|Gabriel Cenas||3B||10/16/1993||22||2010 IFA||$750,000||A-||Rk||Rk|
|Taylor Cole||RHP||8/20/1989||26||2011 Draft (29)||$50,000||AA||A+/AA||A/A+|
|Seth Conner||C||1/29/1992||23||2010 Draft (41)||$100,000||Injured||A-/A||A/A-|
|Blake McFarland||RHP||2/2/1988||27||2011 NDFA||AA/AAA||AA/A+||A+|
|Martin Medina||C||3/24/1990||25||2015 Trade||A+/AA|
|Shane Opitz||SS||1/10/1992||23||2010 Draft (11)||$225,000||AA||A+/Rk||A+/A|
|John Stilson||RHP||7/28/1990||25||2011 Draft (3)||$500,000||A+||AAA||AAA/AA|
|Dickie Thon||SS||11/16/1991||24||2010 Draft (5)||$1,500,000||A+/A||A||A-|
|Brad Allen||RHP||3/26/1989||26||2016 FA||A+||A|
|Luis Hurtado||C||11/4/1988||27||2016 FA||Coach|
|Bobby Korecky||RHP||9/16/1979||36||2016 FA||AAA||AAA/MLB||AAA|
|Luis Santos||RHP||2/11/1991||24||2016 FA||A+|
|Chris Smith||RHP||8/19/1988||27||2016 FA||A+/AA|
Of the 23 previously eligible players, no one stands out to me as a lock to be added. I was quite surprised when Andy Burns wasn't protected last year, and he now has a full season at AAA with a decent .293/.350/.373 line in 527 PA for Buffalo after a weaker 2014. He also played all around the infield, so he could useful to replace Ryan Goins if he were forced into full-time duty as an injury replacement. I'd think there's a good chance this gets him added.
Last year, the Jays added a reliever in Ryan Tepera, and it's one of the areas of need for 2016 so the Jays could look to give some internal options a shot. One intriguing guy for me is Danny Barnes, who put up some dominating strikeout numbers in 2011-12 (99K in 66 innings for Lansing, 63 in 51 for Dunedin). Injuries essentially wiped out his 2013 and some of 2014 when he repeated Dunedin, but he moved up to AA in 2015 and whiffed 74 in 61 innings against just 19 walks. His stuff isn't overpowering with a 92-94 fastball and decent breaking ball, but it's worked pretty well so far.
Likewise, Blake McFarland followed up a strong 2014 (73 strikeouts in 62.1 innings in A+/AA and 15 in 13 innings in the AFL) with an even stronger 2015. He struck out 72 batters in 57.2 innings mostly in AA, but also a midseason promotion to Buffalo. Again, it's not dominating stuff, as a fastball in low 90s and a overhand breaking ball, but it's got the job done.
Finally, a piece of esoterica: Luis Hurtado was re-signed as a player last week per Baseball America, having spent 2014 as a coach with the DSL Jays and 2015 as a coach with the GCL Jays (spending the entire year on New Hampshire's disabled list). So if another organization wanted to poach him...the Rule 5 is their chance.
My gut prediction: Dwight Smith Jr. is added, as is one or two of Andy Burns, Danny Barnes, and Blake McFarland (in declining order of likelihood).