Looking ahead: White Sox 40-man roster

Grinder currency: Danny Mendick is one of the players the Sox will have to decide whether or not to protect prior to this year’s Rule 5 draft. (@dmendick01)

The Chicago White Sox, concluding the third year of their major rebuild, have laid the groundwork for future contention. Next year could be the first since 2012 that they’ll field a winning team. However, everything would have to go well for that to happen — the young players continue making adjustments as they adapt to the speed of the pro game, most of the key players stay healthy, and the team makes wise decisions with trades and/or free agents.

At this moment, the roster speaks to several no-brainers to head the 40-man list, while many spots are filled with players who may not have any long-term value for the White Sox. The Rule 5 draft won’t be held until December, but even though that’s still well more than three months away, it still factors into some of the team’s current decision making. For example, the White Sox likely brought A.J. Reed up to the majors immediately upon his acquisition instead of stashing him in Charlotte to see if he was worthy of being protected.

Rule 5 eligibility

Players are eligible for selection in the Rule 5 draft if they are not on their major league organization’s 40-man roster and were 18 or younger on the June 5 preceding their signing and this is the fifth Rule 5 draft upcoming or were 19 or older on the June 5 preceding their signing and this is the fourth Rule 5 draft upcoming.

Arbitration-eligible players, options and unrestricted free agents

Unless the White Sox acquire any arbitration-eligible players via trade prior to December, the team will have to decide whether to not to offer arbitration to five players. The players, with this year’s salaries in parentheses, are:

Alex Colomé ($7.325 million)
James McCann ($2.5 million)
Leury García ($1.55 million)
Yolmer Sánchez ($4.625 million)
Carlos Rodón ($4.2 million)

With the July 31 trade of Nate Jones to the Rangers, the Sox have just one player with a team option, and most assuredly it will not be picked up:

Welington Castillo ($8 million, with team buyout of $500,000)

The White Sox have three unrestricted free agents, who could be re-signed prior to the Rule 5 draft. Their current salaries are in parentheses:

José Abreu ($16 million)
Iván Nova ($9.17 million)
Jon Jay ($4 million)

The odds are strong that most, if not all, of the arbitration-eligible players will be tendered. The most likely exception would be Sánchez, especially if the White Sox feel that Nick Madrigal is ready to begin next season on the 25-man roster.

If that’s the case, it simply wouldn’t make much financial sense to offer so much money on a reserve infielder when the Sox could opt for a lower-cost option like Danny Mendick or Ryan Goins instead. For that matter, Goins could be a more economically-viable alternative at second base to begin next year if the team doesn’t feel Madrigal is quite ready to handle the role by Opening Day.

It seems a certainty that the White Sox will reject Castillo’s option for 2020. Also, even though most White Sox fans (myself included) believe the White Sox will re-sign Abreu due to the limited supply of first basemen in this year’s free agent market, I won’t include him on the 40-man roster yet — I would definitely leave a 40-man spot open for him, however, if/when he signs. It’s doubtful the White Sox would re-sign either Nova or Jay in the offseason.

Thus, of the nine players listed above, Colomé, García, McCann, and Rodón are most likely to remain on the 40-man roster.

The rest of the 40-man roster

In addition to the four players listed above who’ll likely be tendered arbitration, these 20 guys will unquestionably remain on the 40-man roster (once the season ends, all players on the 60-day IL will be treated as regular players on the 40-man): Micker Adolfo, Tim Anderson, Luis Basabe, Aaron Bummer, Ryan Burr, Dylan Cease, Zack Collins, Caleb Frare, Jace Fry, Carson Fulmer, Lucas Giolito, Ian Hamilton, Kelvin Herrera, Eloy Jiménez, Michael Kopech, Reynaldo López, Evan Marshall, Yoán Moncada, José Ruiz and Seby Zavala.

The above list is far from perfect — Adolfo and Basabe both had injury-riddled seasons and have yet to play in Charlotte, Fulmer continued to have his struggles as he’s bounced back-and-forth between Chicago and Charlotte, Engel has continued to struggle offensively, and Herrera has been horrendous this year but still has $8.5 million owed him for 2020. Frare and Hamilton also struggled through inconsistencies and injuries in 2019 but both still have plenty of upside, while Burr will miss much of next season due to Tommy John surgery. But, compared to the rest of those that remain on the 40-man roster, they’re relative locks.

The vulnerable 15

With the 20 locks and four guys I have being tendered arbitration, that gives us 24 protected players. Because we actually began with 43 men on the roster thanks to utilization of the 60-day IL, and because five players have been removed from the 43 players on the current 40-man roster for now (via free agency, denied options, and non-tendered arbitration), that leaves 14 players who are in the most precarious position.

Here’s a list of those players, from least to most vulnerable:

  1. Adam Engel
  2. Jimmy Cordero
  3. Kodi Medeiros
  4. Daniel Palka
  5. Ryan Cordell
  6. Thyago Vieira
  7. Charlie Tilson
  8. Ryan Goins
  9. Josh Osich
  10. Matt Skole
  11. Dylan Covey
  12. Manny Bañuelos
  13. Hector Santiago
  14. Ross Detwiler

Of course, this order is subject to discretion and change. If Vieira pitches like gangbusters in August and September, for example, he could move closer to the top of this list. Ultimately, the order of these 14 players may be largely dependent upon how they fare during the last two months of the season. I thought about pushing Goins higher on this list, but if the White Sox believe Madrigal will play in Chicago early next year and they keep Mendick, Goins basically becomes superfluous. To be honest, while most of these guys have certain attributes, they also have their warts as well, which makes it difficult to them in any particular order.

Additions to the 40-man

By my count, nearly 60 White Sox minor leaguers will be eligible for the Rule 5 draft — this includes 25 players who have yet to advance past Winston-Salem. This group doesn’t even include minor league free agents such as Jacob Lindgren, Juan Minaya, Paulo Orlando, Ramon Torres, Brandon Guyer, Alfredo Gonzalez, Odrisamer Despaigne and Justin Nicolino, to name just a few — Lindgren’s the most likely of these to be added to the 40-man. Generally speaking, the most likely to be selected by other squads in the Rule 5 draft are those who have at least finished the season in Double-A ball.

Thus, here’s my rankings of the 15 players most likely to be protected from the Rule 5 draft:

  1. Dane Dunning
  2. Blake Rutherford
  3. Zack Burdi
  4. Bernardo Flores
  5. Danny Mendick
  6. Jacob Lindgren
  7. Yermín Mercedes
  8. Jimmy Lambert
  9. Matt Foster
  10. Alec Hansen
  11. Zach Thompson
  12. Danny Dopico
  13. Joel Booker
  14. Ti’Quan Forbes
  15. Kyle Kubat

Last year, the White Sox protected just four players from the Rule 5 draft: Dylan Cease, Medeiros, Jordan Stephens and Zavala. It is my belief that the Sox will protect the first seven on my list, however, as the team’s finally ready to begin its competitive window.

Let’s first go to the guys who don’t make my cutoff. I like Lambert a lot, but due to his June surgery, it’s not likely he’ll be able pitch on a major league squad for three months next year, which would make it unlikely for a team to draft him. Foster has pitched well in Charlotte for the past couple of months, and has easily outpitched Hansen while performing in a much more hitting-friendly league. Two years ago, it seemed that Hansen would be a cinch to make it to the majors; now, not so much. Thompson and Dopico have all done well, but there will be many such relievers left unprotected throughout baseball, so it’s highly possible they won’t be selected. Booker’s struggled with his bat during the second half of the year, and Forbes simply hasn’t produced enough power to become particularly interesting to other teams. One could make a legitimate case for any of the aforementioned players to be protected, including Kubat, to be protected; it just wouldn’t be feasible to do so.

On the other hand, Dunning and Rutherford are both Top 10 system prospects, Burdi should be ready to return from injury, and still will be given the opportunity to pitch in Chicago before the end of the year if he could stay healthy and gain more consistency. Flores likely will begin next year in Charlotte, and he’s done nothing but succeed while in the minors; unfortunately, he’s spent enough time on the IL to prevent him to pitching for the Knights in 2019. Mendick profiles as the classic utility infielder, and he could win that role next year for the White Sox. The hard-throwing Lindgren, who signed a minor league contract last offseason, may need to be protected to avoid the risk of him signing a minor or major league deal elsewhere. Mercedes is an offensive force.

With these seven additions added to the 24 locks listed previously, that leaves 31 players before we add back four of the players on the most vulnerable list: Engel, Cordero, Medeiros, and Palka. Engel continues to struggle offensively in a White Sox uniform, but his defense makes him a viable reserve outfielder going forward. Cordero has excellent stuff and has performed well both in Charlotte and Chicago since his acquisition. After a difficult start to his season in Birmingham, Medeiros has really stepped up his game since switching from starter to reliever. Palka struggled badly this year, but he had a decent enough season in 2018 to be considered for a 40-man spot next year, as perhaps a left-handed DH.

This would mean that several players would be unprotected including, among others, Cordell, Covey, Vieira, Goins, Osich, Tilson and Skole. In the meantime, most of those players left off the 40-man roster would be likely to clear waivers due to the difficult 2019 they’ve all suffered through. Thus, unless they’re actually released, they would remain in the White Sox system. The White Sox may leave as many as five spots open for Winter Meetings transactions, as the the team would certainly like to add a first baseman (i.e Abreu), a right fielder, a starting pitcher and a couple of relievers via trades or free agency. If they only leave four spots open, that could allow someone like Jimmy Lambert or Ryan Cordell to be protected instead.

Everyone has different takes on the 40-man list going forward. It’s not an exact science. The purpose of the exercise is to show how difficult it is to determine these rosters prior to the Rule 5 draft. The bottom line is that we all hope upper management will protect the right players, and even more importantly, make the right free agent selections and trades over the next few months.