November 19th, 2013

Projecting the Tigers 40-man roster

I wrote a piece on the site tonight about the decisions looming tomorrow for the Tigers 40-man roster. Any minor-leaguers who are eligible for the Rule 5 Draft have to be added to the roster by tomorrow night (midnight ET) to be protected. And as I wrote on the site, while there aren’t highly-touted prospects to add, there are some key decisions to make:

  1. How good are the prospects they have left at the upper levels who aren’t yet on the 40-man roster?
  2. Just how much do they value their insurance options at the upper levels?

On the first question, the Tigers value what they have, more for potential than what they’ve done in the minors already. While Daniel Fields just started putting up strong offensive numbers this year, batting .284 with a .791 OPS at Double-A Erie, he’s still relatively young with room for growth and enough potential that I’d expect the Tigers to protect him rather than risk losing them. He’s coming off a wrist injury that cut short any plans for fall or winter ball, but should be ready for the start of Spring Training. Potential rules, too, for raw but talented Steven Moya and A-ball level pitcher Endrys Briceno, and probably shortstop Eugenio Suarez.

On the second question, the problem for the Tigers is that it hasn’t been easy for them to fill gaps with minor-league free agents the past couple years. Four-A players tend to want to go someplace where they can compete for a big league job, not sit at Triple-A and wait for an injury. The Tigers have gotten some value out of minor-league free agents, Matt Tuiasosopo and Jose Alvarez being good examples, but they’ve also missed on others.

That’s where the question gets complicated for guys like Kyle Lobstein, Jordan Lennerton and Blaine Hardy. None are top 20 prospects, but all have a path to Detroit next season if there’s an injury at the big league level.

I would be very surprised if Kyle Lobstein isn’t protected after the Tigers traded Curt Casali to get his full rights last spring, especially at age 24. I think there’s a case to be made for Lennerton and Hardy, both of them older but both of them potential Rule 5 Draft bait for a team looking for cheap talent. That doesn’t mean either will be protected, but there are points for it.

The Tigers don’t have a similar type prospect to Lennerton ready for the upper levels. Maybe Aaron Westlake gets there, but it won’t be immediate. That said, the Tigers tried to market Lennerton as a prospect in trade talks with teams this year and didn’t find much interest. The interest might, however, be different as a Rule 5 pick.

As for the fate of the current roster, it would be a surprise if the Tigers sent off any arbitration-eligible players at this point. When the Tigers released Ryan Raburn at the deadline last offseason, it opened a spot for them. Unless the Tigers protect a few more guys than expected, they won’t need the space. That would push those decisions to the non-tender deadline just before the winter meetings in a few weeks.