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Who should the Blue Jays protect in an expansion draft?

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It’s not imminent, but going to 32 teams someday is an obvious step

MLB: Toronto Blue Jays at Kansas City Royals
Let’s start with some obvious ones...
Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Last winter, Tom got an email from someone conducting a hypothetical expansion exercise and draft, looking for input in terms who teams would protect. He sent it along to me, and I put together a list, but with the Blue Jays in the depths of a rebuild it wasn’t a terribly compelling exercise (my last spot came down to Ryan Tepera and Kevin Pillar, both gone for essentially nothing).

When Tepera was released, I thought back to it, and took a quick stab at making a post-2019 list with the Blue Jays now in build mode. It was a lot more interesting, with some very tough decisions. So with nothing else going on in baseball, I thought it would be a fun thing to bring up. I’ll go through making my own list following the format of the previous expansion draft, and everyone can add theirs.

In the 1997 expansion draft, all teams were allowed to protect 15 players from being drafted, then each team had a player selected in the first round (so deeper systems couldn’t be raided), at which point they were allowed to protect three more. That repeated for the second round, and then there was a partial third round in which only some teams lost players.

So basically by the end 21 players could be protected, with two players lost within theoretically the top 23. Players signed or drafted in the previous two cycles (so 2018 and 2019) were exempt, as well as players under 19 drafted/signed in 2017 (so most high school draftees and IFAs).

Since an expansion draft would theoretically in November, we don’t need to worry about any of the free agents signed this winter, which leaves 36 players on the 40-man. With all prospects signed in 2018 and 2019 exempt, as well as though under 19 if drafted/signed in 2017 (so we don’t have to worry about Eric Pardinho, Leonardo Jimenez, Miguel Hiraldo, or even Hagen Danner), there’s not that many non-40 players to consider.

From the 2016 draft, Josh Winckowski is worthy of thinking about, and the 2017 college draftees would include Riley Adams and maybe Kevin Smith, Logan Warmoth or Cullen Large. 2016 international free agents would add Gabriel Moreno, Alejandro Kirk and maybe Otto Lopez into the mix. That’s another eight players, so we’ll call it 44 total for the 23 slots.

There are seven who I think would universally be considered slam dunks: Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette, Cavan Biggio, Danny Jansen, Lourdes Gurriel Jr., Nate Pearson (from off the 40-man), and Ken Giles.

On the flip side, from the current 40-man, I’d easily eliminate the following: Anthony Bass, Wilmer Font, Sam Gavilgio, Thomas Pannone, Jonathan Davis, Brandon Drury, Billy McKinney, Breyvic Valera. That brings it down to 29 for eight remaining slots, and eight more afterwards (16 total).

Chase Anderson and Matt Shoemaker have limited control and were pretty fungibly acquired, so even though they’re established MLB pitchers, so I wouldn’t protect them. Randal Grichuk is an interesting case, as a quality player but with $43-million owing over four years and coming off a down year. That probably assures he gets through, and if not, I’m okay with that. Scratch another three off the list for me, and that’s it for veterans.

In terms of younger players, as much as I like Jordan Romano, I’m not prioritizing an unestablished reliever. Rowdy Tellez hasn’t shown enough to convince me he’s a big leaguer, and Sean Reid-Foley has been too inconsistent. Hector Perez is just in AA and probably a reliever, and Julian Merryweather is too much of a question mark despite a big arm. Likewise of the prospects, Warmoth, Smith, Large and Lopez aren’t premium prospects. Removing these nine gets me down to 17.

Of the remaining 40-man players, I think Trent Thornton, Elvis Luciano, Reese McGuire, Teoscar Hernandez and Patrick Murphy would be players I’d want to protect. None are slam dunks, but all have plenty of control and have at shown the potential to be regulars. Ryan Borucki is a tough call, given not only the injuries in 2019 but the history of them as well. But I’ll hope for the best and bet on what he showed in the second half of 2018 in protecting him too.

That leaves one more for the initial 15, from T.J. Zeuch, Anthony Alford, Jacob Waguespack, Derek Fisher, Santiago Espinal, Thomas Hatch, Yennsy Diaz, Riley Adams, Josh Winckowski, Alejandro Kirk, and Gabriel Moreno. And I think my pick would be Moreno, even though he’s a long way off. The combination of the defensive profile with some hitting ability is so tantalyzing.

The next group of protectees would be Alford, Espinal, and Kirk and assuming one of them were lost, then Adams. After that, Zeuch and Winckowski (assuming none of the other four are gone), then Diaz and Waguespack. Hatch was a pretty marginal 40-man addition, and Derek Fisher is out-of-options so the expansion team would need to be willing to play him everyday, in which case, fine.

So that’s how I’d go about an expansion draft for the Blue Jays, but there’s a lot of really close calls. So give us the players you’d want to protect, with particular attention to the initial 15 (rough order, especially at the back), the next three after the first round, and three more after the second round (plus accounting for the two losses).