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Minor League Update: What Now Edition

With the Fisher Cats having capped off their undefeated post-season and their Eastern League championship on the evening of my last post, all farm team play is of course now more than two weeks in the past. The Blue Jays clubhouse has been packed with kids at a level no one can remember in previous Septembers and with the major league season now done, all that remains for the prospects is Fall Instructional league for (mostly) first year players, and the handful who will make the trip out to Arizona in the next few days (update on that – Bo Bichette is no longer going, his slot will be filled by Santiago Espinal). So what comes next?

Well, minor league rosters will be affected going forward in five potential ways:
1. A handful of the better players will be added to the 40 man roster – more on that below.
2. Over 20 others will be eligible for the Rule 5 draft on the last day of the winter meetings. A few might be selected.
3. At least 25 others are eligible to become six-year minor league free agents. Likely no more than two or three of them will be re-signed to return next year.
4. Some players will simply be released, this will go on irregularly throughout the offseason.
5. Of course some trades will occur with players coming in and potentially going out.

The aspect of this movement most immediately on the minds of most fans of course is the 40 man roster question, and who might remain exposed to the draft (albeit it’s rare to lose someone who comes back to haunt you). As you may have seen discussed, the Blue Jays 40 man roster is not only full but has very little flexibility. And considerable flexibility is needed which will demand some creativity from Ross Atkins and his staff.  If we go ahead and presume that impending free agents Marco Estrada and Tyler Clippard are now off the roster, here’s how things stand as of the dawning of October 1:

Pitchers (17): Aaron Sanchez, Marcus Stroman, Ryan Borucki, Sean Reid-Foley, Tom Panonne, Sam Gaviglio, David Paulino, Ken Giles, Ryan Tepera, Tim Mayza, Joe Biagini, Danny Barnes, Jake Petricka, Tyler Gurrieri, Justin Schafer, Jose Fernandez, Mark Lieter, Jr.

Hitters (21): Russell Martin, Danny Jansen, Luke Maile, Reese McGuire, Justin Smoak, Kendrys Morales, Rowdy Tellez, Devon Travis, Lourdes Gurriel, Jr, Aledmys Diaz, Yangervis Solarte, Richard Urena, Jon Berti, Randal Grichuk, Kevin Pillar, Teoscar Hernandez, Billy McKinney, Anthony Alford, Dwight Smith, Jr., Dalton Pompey, Jon Davis

60-day DL (must be added back to the 40 man roster): Troy Tulowitzski, Brandon Drury, Rhiner Cruz

So, there’s two openings and three guys who must be added. lets state the obvious – Cruz is destined to be released, Tulo and Drury will fill up the roster and that’s your starting point.

But wait, there’s more. The jays are expected to receive a player who’s currently on the Cleveland 40 man roster in the Josh Donaldson deal. So he has to go on the roster right away which means you need a cut immediately. Let’s table that for a moment.

Turning our focus to the minors, there are 31 players (at least) still in the minor league system who are eligible for the Rule 5 draft. Obviously most of these are inconsequential players who will not even be considered for the major league portion of the draft (albeit the bar is lower for the minor league rounds) but there are some crucial cases this winter. Here’s my ranking of the top 10 targets among the eligible class:

1. Hector Perez – Acquired this summer, generally ranked in or near the top 10 Jays prospects
2. Patrick Murphy – took massive leap forward as he puts injury history in the past
3. Jordan Romano – widely considered to be capable of pitching in a major league bullpen already, still being refined as a SP but a team could Biagini him.
4. Yennsy Diaz – safer than Romano only that he still hasn’t reached AA but still will be attractive.
5. Travis Bergen – near untouchable lefty in AA, it would be stunning if he weren’t selected.
6. Max Pentecost – a catcher, a position in which most teams assume they won’t get much offense from their reserve, with clear upside would seem to me to be a prime target. I seem to be the only person who thinks he might be taken though and I’m no insider.
7. Jackson McClelland – can touch 100 MPH out of the ‘pen, not as polished yet as a team probably wants but he’s a “cross your fingers” guy if you don’t protect him.
8. Harold Ramirez – May well be taken after a big year, but has a limited skill set and way down the team’s depth chart for outfielders – a loss they could afford.
9. Jake Waugespack – proximity and flexibility are attractive as a poor man’s Biagini but limited ceiling.
10. Jon Harris – I’d be stunned. He’s a former first rounder but hasn’t distinguished himself the last couple of years. But someone has to be #10 so …?

In my view, the conclusion is that we need at least six spots freed up. It could potentially be eight but that is likely too hard. So who are the top candidates to be turned lose?

1. Jon Berti – Last on, first off. The organization likes him a lot and would certainly be happy to bring him back on a minor league deal if he doesn’t get a better chance elsewhere, but there’s a reason he was an emergency add.
2. Mark Lieter, Jr. – Finished with a 13.50 ERA, it’s hard to fail an audition harder than this.
3. Jake Petricka – Arbitration eligible, probably would be a non-tender candidate later on anyway. Jays would welcome him back after the first of the year on a minor league deal depending on depth.
4. Yangervis Solarte – they will shop him for a return that doesn’t need to be protected, if they find none they will decline the option and let him become a free agent.
5. Sam Gaviglio – as much as he was a feel-good story, the reality is that the final results were nothing to get jazzed about. Another guy they’d be happy to keep around in the minors if he survives waivers and the draft.
6. Danny Barnes – he’d need to pass through waivers to be outrighted to AAA but this is the ideal time of year to slide someone through. The flip side is he would be a prime target to be drafted. They’ll have to decide if this year was the exception to his excellent past or if it’s likely a trend.  As much as I like him, from this distance I can’t tell. In theory they might see this logic applying to Biagini too but my hunch is Joe is safer.
7. Jon Davis/Dalton Pompey/Dwight Smith Jr. – for me Davis, the oldest of the three, would be the easy remove (though likely to be drafted). Other than speed it seems like a reserve player skill set. On the other hand, they seem done with Pompey but surely they would trade him — alone or in combination with someone else (like, say, Maile) — rather than just cutting him. I think they have been pretty pleased with DSJ but he’s closer to this category than he is to the Alford/McKinney tier.
8. Tyler Gurrieri, Jose Fernandez, Justin Schafer – they will all be 26 next season, not too old or impressively young – also all cheap and optionable. My instinct is that pitching depth will be guarded and I couldn’t guess which of these they might like less than the others (other than noting Fernandez is the lefty in the group which usually provides an edge), but if the cuts were to get this deep, this is the cohort you’d have to look at.

Barring trades my guess is that the first five on this list are relatively easy losses to deal with, the first hard decision comes on whether or not to expose Barnes/Biagini in order to protect Bergen, and then assess the odds that they would lose Pentecost if they don’t make room for him.

Finally, as it relates to trades, the rosters don’t have to be locked in for another 7+ weeks there’s obviously a possibility that deals change these equations. My guess would be that the Blue Jays shop Martin – but it would be a complex deal that would be unlikely to happen early enough to help. I also thing they will see if Luke Maile created any interest out there. If players like Jeff Mathis can keep working, there should be. I think they will shop Devon Travis despite being at a lower-than-ideal value after a down year with the bat. Being the only one of the infielders married to one position makes him the least likely to stay in my opinion. I could see a team like the Twins maybe looking for a big year if he gets off the turf.

Also, as I mentioned, one of the excess outfielders would be an obvious trade chip, either alone or as a second piece. That being above and beyond the reality that Kevin Pillar will surely be shopped heavily. Any of these might happen early enough in the winter to create a free slot.

The post season is just beginning but the Jays are already gathering wood for the hot stove.

Lead Photo Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports

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