In the past few weeks, the Texas Rangers have traded three minor leaguers who were candidates to be on the team's off-season 40-man roster. Getting Pudge for a playoff run and a high-upside pitching prospect for a collection of minor leaguers who project as major league backups or relievers is an absolute win in my book, but the two trades do have me scratching my head because the Rangers' front office seems to be actively clearing the back end of the team's 40-man roster. Not I am not much of a conspiracy theorist, but I do like a good mystery, so bear with me as I don my Sherlock Holmes hat.
THE KEY EVIDENCE
Barring unforeseen calamity, the 30 players shown in the table below are locks to be on the Rangers' 40-man roster during the coming off-season. Below the table is a ranked list of players who are candidates to either remain on or be added to the team's 40-man roster prior to the Rule 5 draft in December:
40-MAN ROSTER CANDIDATES
No. 31 -- Greg Golson (OF); No. 32 -- Esteban German (IF); No. 33 -- Beau Jones (LHP); No. 34 -- Craig Gentry (OF); No. 35 -- Michael Kirkman (LHP); No. 36 -- Zach Phillips (LHP); No. 37 -- Joaquin Arias (IF); No. 38 -- Johnny Whittleman (3B) ... Luis Mendoza (RHP), Fabio Castillo (RHP), David Paisano (OF), Adalberto Flores (RHP), Willie Eyre (RHP), Brennan Garr (RHP), A.J. Murray (LHP), Mike Hinckley (LHP), Chad Tracy (1B/DH)
Beyond the Rangers' top 30 players, there is not a lot to get excited about. German, Arias, and Whittleman are candidates to be added primarily because of the dearth of infielders on the roster. None of the three project to be more than replacement level players in the major leagues. Jones, Kirkman, and Phillips are interesting prospects, but left-handed relievers don't have a lot of value and the team certainly doesn't need three such minor leaguers clogging the roster.
Golson and Gentry profile as backup outfielders and because the Rangers have multiple years of control of five solid outfielders already, it wouldn't surprise me to see either player dropped from the 40-man roster after the season. The remaining players on the list are unlikely to be missed if they leave. In my opinion, the team could protect its key assets with a roster of 36 players.
Given that the organization has plenty of roster space available, it seems likely that the team could have protected Matt Nevarez, Manny Pina and Jose Vallejo during the off-season. So, why has the team seemingly chosen to pursue a strategy that involves removing marginal prospects who are eligible for the 40-man roster? There is likely a combination of factors at play, but the four most obvious reasons that I can come up with are listed below:
● The additions of John Bannister and Willie Eyre to the Rangers' 40-man roster seemed to come out of nowhere last year. Perhaps the team has determined that Castillo, Flores, Garr, or some other collection of prospects profile as future major league contributors and decided to add them to the roster rather than risk losing them in the Rule 5 draft.
● The team has identified a handful of free agents who will require roster slots. Re-signing Vizquel to a major league deal immediately after the season and offering Byrd arbitration would make sense and require two roster spots. A third roster spot would be required if the rumors that Ben Sheets is set to sign with the Rangers are true.
● The Rangers plan to take advantage of problems with roster congestion on other teams. Waiver claims and the Rule 5 draft can be a great way to identify productive major leaguers at a discount price. Worth noting is that the A's are facing another off-season with more talented players than room on their roster. Given the Rangers recent success with identifying contributors from other teams' expendables (O'Day, Strop, Grilli), this could be an extremely effective way to take advantage of an organizational strength.
● Upper-level prospects are worth more than equally talented lower-level prospects. If the Rangers were only willing to give up C-level prospects, then other teams likely gravitated to the older prospects with higher floors. If true, then trading prospects who will be eligible for the Rule 5 draft was not about clearing space on the 40-man roster, but was simply about giving teams what they wanted from among the prospects who the Rangers were willing to trade.
Roster flexibility for a team that has proven to be dexterous should make for a fascinating fall regardless of whether the major league team makes the playoffs. I, for one, look forward to watching the moves Daniels and the team's front office make during the coming off-season.