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Breaking down the 40-man: December 2021

Frozen roster lockout edition

MLB: Baltimore Orioles at Toronto Blue Jays Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

A month ago on the eve of the offseason, I broke down the 40-man roster with a view towards the 2022 Toronto Blue Jays season. Transactions in the early part of the offseason are typically driven by four calendar milestones:

  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. November 30th tender deadline (normally December 2nd)
  4. Winter Meetings / Rule 5 Draft

That cadence has been interrupted with the lockout imposed by MLB and team owners, with the Winter Meetings cancelled and the (Major League) Rule 5 Draft postponed indefinitely. But with transactions on hold and rosters accordingly frozen for the foreseeable future, it’s as opportune a time as ever to take stock of what has changed in the interim.

Despite the truncation of the hot stove, nonetheless there’s been a moderate amount of transactions resulting in a total of seven additions and 11 players removed (with Shaun Anderson on both sides of the ledger) as the expiry of the collective agreement catalyzed a relative frenzy of activity league wide. That’s resulted in 38 players on the 40-man roster, breaking down as follows:

2022 40man breakdown 12/2021

The free agent category is now obsolete; likewise the two arbitration-related buckets are collapsed with the tender deadline passed into those offered arbitration. This accounts for most of the losses (eight free agents and Valera’s release/quasi-non-tender).

With the large cohort of free agent departures, there was minimal need for trimming from the bubble to accommodate additions, especially as opening those spots during the season resulted in significant culling in the first place then. The exception was Bryan Baker departing on waivers, as well as Anderson finally sneaking through after being claimed for the fourth time in 2021 (by his sixth organization of the year and seventh career).

The Blue Jays are up to seven players under contract for 2021 at a total of $103.3-million (cash outlay, this doesn’t include pro-rated signing bonuses already paid and often included elsewhere). That’s up sharply from about $62-million by virtue of the $41-million guaranteed to Gausman ($21M), Berrios ($15M) and Garcia ($5M).

That still leaves a large arbitration class of 10 to deal with, projected around $31-million by MLBTR, at least before any changes to the system in a new collective agreement. Figure another 12-15 pre-arbitration players (accounting for inevitable injuries) near the minimum for call it $10-million. That yields a working total of about $145-million in 2021 payroll on the books for now as things stand.

Let’s take a look at a prospective 2022 Opening Day roster with the current players:

2022 lineup 12/2021

(As usual, green is for players who can be unilaterally optioned in 2022; blue is for for those that cannot; priority is given to slotting in the latter at least where it’s close)

With most of the changes occurring on the edges or with prospects, there’s only a couple changes. Kevin Gausman slots into the starting rotation, in place of Nate Pearson who I still consider as a starter and have accordingly moved to rotation depth rather than a bullpen role.

Likewise, Yimi Garcia moves into the bullpen (in lieu of Trent Thornton), with the addition rounding out what would be the eight relievers in the bullpen if the season started tomorrow based on 2021 performance (Romano/Cimber/Mayza/Richards), plus those who are out-of-options (Borucki/Castro). Granted, some of the options in the depth column would still be in play given the likelihood of injuries to those and bubble players having tenuous roster spots.

In the initial version last month, Julian Merryweather and Trevor Richards were listed in blue as out-of-options. Both have indeed exhausted the usual complement of three options, but it appears will qualify for fourth options and thus are now shown in green. Practically, I don’t think it makes much difference in that between the former’s stuff and the latter’s track record if healthy both would be in line for bullpen spots, but does allow provide flexibility in the event of struggles or regression.

But overall, the pitching is in unusually good shape compared to the previous few years at this point when multiple spots in the rotation were placeholders and the bullpen largely question marks. A little more is always desirable, but this would be not an underwhelming pitching staff to take into a season, and with some decent prospect/minor league depth in reserve to boot.

On the position side, the back of the bench is thin, at least in terms of any type of major league track record. Of course, much of that would be remedied by the addition of an infield regular, shifting Espinal to the primary infield reserve/utility role.

Add perhaps one more established bat (perhaps a platoon type akin to the departed Corey Dickerson), and things would appear largely in order, as well as providing some injury depth. Exactly what that entails is the big question, a function of both how much further they’re willing to push the payroll (toward the previous highwater mark five year ago above $160-million? Beyond?), as well as how they feel about some of the internal options who could make an impact if they’re ready in 2022.