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Breaking down the 40-man: December 2019

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As we approach the halfway point of the offseason after the Winter Meetings

MLB: General Managers Meetings Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Six weeks ago on the eve of the offseason, I broke down the 40-man roster with a view towards the 2020 season. Since then, there have been four calendar milestones that drive roster decisions:

  1. Post-World Series free agency and “roster cleanup” to get down to the hard 40-man limit
  2. November 20th deadline to add prospects to 40-man
  3. December 2nd tender deadline
  4. Winter Meetings

There certainly hasn’t been wholesale roster turnover, but there has been a moderate amount of transactions at each, resulting in a total of four additions and 11 players removed. While there’s still two months to the beginning of Spring Training, the major calendar events are wrapped up, so let’s take stock of where things stand with the 38 players on the 40-man. It now breaks down as such:

2020 40man breakdown 12/2019

The free agent category is now obsolete; likewise the two arbitration-related buckets are collapsed into one for those offered arbitration with the tender deadline passed. This accounts for seven of the losses (two free agents, three formal non-tenders, two removed before they would have been non-tendered).

The remaining departures unsurprisingly came from the bubble. Brock Stewart was out-of-options, as was Buddy Boshers. In the latter case as well and Ryan Dull, because Rule 55(f) complicates outrighting players who would be in line for minor league free agency after the date when it would be declared, there was a timing component in outrighting them within five days of the World Series. Tim Mayza would normally have been covered under this as well, but the collective agreement [Article XIX(C)(2)] allows for injured players to be sent outright until the filing of reserve lists on November 20th.

The Blue Jays are up to five players under contract for 2020 at a total of just under $38-million, up from two and $15.5-million six weeks ago (plus $14- or $18-million to both in guaranteed obligations to Troy Tulowitzki in 2020). The three players offered arbitration add a projected $11.7-million to that, the non-tenders and releases having shed $5.7-million in projected salaries/payroll.

Add another 20 pre-arbitration players (accounting for inevitable injuries) for call it $12-million, and you’re looking at about $62-million in 2020 payroll on the books for now, or about $80-million including the dead Tulo money that will be paid out in 2020. As I’ve said before, there is absolutely no reason for this to be below $100-million or even last year’s level of above $110-million, so I’ll be very disappointed not be see significant further additions. A number of very interesting opportunities have passed them by, but there’s still time before the pitchforks get taken out.

Let’s take a look at a prospective 2020 Opening Day roster:

2020 lineup as of 12/2019

There’s almost no change on the position player side, with no moves that figure to have implications for the starting lineup. The only change is Reese McGuire (formally) slotted into the backup catcher with Luke Maile non-tendered. At this point it still looks like there’s one spot for Richard and Breyvic Valera, unless the Jays want to pay Brandon Drury a couple million to play in Buffalo. That probably gets hashed out in Spring Training.

The turnover has changed things a fair bit on the pitching side. The additions of two established starters in Chase Anderson and Tanner Roark pushes Jacob Waguespack and T.J. Zeuch back to Buffalo after being plugged in essentially by default at the beginning of the offseason.

The obvious area requiring remediation is in the bullpen, where candidates have been quite thinned out with the releases/non-tenders of Ryan Tepera, Jason Adam, and Derek Law followed by the loss of Justin Shafer. That backfills Jordan Romano and Sean Reid-Foley into two of those spots in the interim, but even the latter is a stretch and there’s still a spot open with no obvious candidates among the other nine pitchers on the 40-man. And that’s before Ken Giles is presumably moved.

That would seem to suggest two or three additions to come, which would fit with the past few offseasons. That said, it seems like the depth of established free agent relievers is a lot thinner than past couple years. Alternatively, they could look to some of the pitchers with no major league experience. Julian Merryweather would be the most obvious candidate, especially with 2020 his last option year. Perhaps Hector Perez and Yennsy Diaz, but it would really be throwing them to the fire. And it’s possible they just go with Thomas Pannone and/or Reid-Foley in a make or break gambit.

If the Jays were to be aggressive with upgrades, there is a bit of a snag in terms of roster spots. They currently have two spots open on the 40-man, but beyond that, of the seven “bubble” players who would normally be the next candidates to go, only Pannone is currently eligible to be outrighted under Major League Rule 55(f) — though it doesn’t prevent them being put on outright waivers for another team to claim. And the Jays could simply release any of them (with some termination pay), or induce them to sign a 2020 contract which would allow an outright before they unilaterally renewed in March.