Friday night the Atlanta Braves submitted the following 40-man roster to Major League Baseball:
1. MIKE HAMPTON
2. JOHN THOMSON
3. JOHN SMOLTZ
4. CHRIS REITSMA
5. JUAN CRUZ
6. KEVIN GRYBOSKI
7. TOM MARTIN
8. ROMAN COLON
9. JOSE CAPELLAN
10. HORACIO RAMIREZ
11. BLAINE BOYER
12. DAN MEYER
13. KYLE DAVIES
14. ANTHONY LEREW
15. MACAY MCBRIDE
16. JOHNNY ESTRADA
17. EDDIE PEREZ
18. ADAM LAROCHE
19. SCOTT THORMAN
20. MIKE HESSMAN
21. MARCUS GILES
22. NICK GREEN
23. PETE ORR
24. RAFAEL FURCAL
25. WILSON BETEMIT
26. TONY PENA, JR.
27. LUIS HERNANDEZ
28. CHIPPER JONES
29. MARK DEROSA
30. ANDY MARTE
31. ANDRUW JONES
32. ELI MARRERO
33. CHARLES THOMAS
34. KELLY JOHNSON
35. RYAN LANGERHANS
36. ONIL JOSEPH
37. BILLY MCCARTHY
Let's analyze the 40-man roster with a few questions.
Q: Why did the Braves leave three open spots?
A: The Braves almost always leave 2-4 spots open on their roster when they start the offseason. The reason is very simple: they want flexibility for when they start to make player moves. If they filled the roster up to 40 players, then they'd have to send someone through waivers to get them to the minor league system. If a player were claimed, he would only have to be placed on the claiming team's 40-man roster. It would not be like the Rule V where the team would have to keep the player only on the 25-man roster for all of next season. So instead of risking a player, they'll wait and make that decision if and when they need to.
Q: Why not non-tender Mark DeRosa now if it's possible to do so later this winter?
A: There is a good chance the Braves will non-tender Mark DeRosa rather than risk going to arbitration with him and having to pay him close to $1 million dollars. If he had not been hurt late in the season, it might not be a question. But he did tear his ACL in his knee and had to have surgery. He's expected back in spring training, but as of now must be considered a question mark. However, if the Braves non-tendered him now, they might be in trouble if they then traded Marcus Giles, Nick Green, Rafael Furcal, or Wilson Betemit. If they released DeRosa and then traded one of those four, then they'd be in the need of another infielder, and it's the Braves choice to simply keep DeRosa until they know they either are not going to need him or will not want to pay him big money.
Q: Why keep Mike Hessman on the roster with Adam LaRoche entrenched at first base?
A: Hessman was a legit candidate to be dropped from the roster. However, the Braves logic is that while he could be sacrificed if they need another spot on the roster, they have to use him as an insurance policy. What if something happened to LaRoche? What if Julio Franco doesn't re-sign? The Braves may feel better about letting Hessman go after Franco re-signs. If they don't need the spot, Hessman will head to spring training with a very outside chance to make the roster. But maybe the Braves can include him in a deal this winter. LaRoche is very secure as the regular first baseman, and Scott Thorman is a solid major league prospect that could be ready in another season. So Hessman's value at this point is as an insurance policy.
Q: Was it a mistake last winter to add Onil Joseph to the 40-man roster?
A: Probably so. However, a year ago Billy McCarthy and Adam Stern were coming off injury-plagued 2003 seasons, Kelly Johnson had not proven that he can play in the outfield, Josh Burrus had not established himself yet as a legit player, and no other player not already on the 40-man was above Low-A Rome that showed he had promise. Joseph was it. The Braves felt they needed to protect Joseph, who is a very good prospect. Now that Stern and McCarthy proved they were effective after staying healthy, Johnson proved he was a solid outfielder, and Burrus has established himself as a solid prospect, the Braves are solid in the outfield. Plus, Matt Esquivel, Steve Doetsch, and Ardley Jansen all played well in Rome, and the Braves signed two draft and follow players in Mark Jurich and Brandon Jones, both of whom had solid debuts in Danville in 2004. What was a question mark twelve months ago is now a strength of the organization. Joseph was the best prospect a year ago, and then he went an impressed the hell out of Braves manager Bobby Cox. Joseph probably would have been on the 40-man anyway this winter; the Braves love his talent and feel he can be a major league regular one day.
Q: Could the Braves have made a trade to keep from leaving players exposed?
A: Sure and they did try to make a deal. However, with all team rosters on the edge of 40 players, it was not easy to try to give away a player eligible for the 40-man for somebody who wouldn't have had to be on there. Trades are easier said than done. It's easy to say, ‘they should have traded Jurries or Hessman," but it's much tougher to get it done.
Q: Who could the Braves lose in the Rule V draft?
A: James Jurries, who 25 home runs and drove in 70 between AA Greenville and AAA Richmond in 2004, could easily be taken by an American League team. The Braves like Jurries, but with Chipper Jones entrenched at third once again, Andy Marte needing to get in there eventually, Adam LaRoche now the starter at first in Atlanta, and Scott Thorman behind him, there wasn't going to be a huge chance for Jurries to get a look-see. He still has defensive question marks, even though reports are he's playing very well at third base in Venezuela this winter. But there's no doubt this kid can hit. He could be one of the first players taken in the Rule V draft.
Zach Miner was somewhat of a surprise. He pitched great in the Arizona Fall League the last few weeks, showing outstanding stuff with a 95 mph fastball. Miner had a decent season in AA, starting off slow but finishing much stronger later in the year. The Braves were very encouraged by his AFL performance, but this was all about numbers. The team had a 40-man crunch, and Miner could be a victim. If a team takes Miner, he might have to pitch exceptionally well to make a 25-man roster. He's got the ability, but his lack of experience past AA might make it an uphill battle for him. The Braves hope if he is taken, they can get him back. There is no doubt that Miner is a terrific talent, but now he's got to slide through this Rule V draft. If he can do that, it's very possible that Miner could pitch well enough to make it to Atlanta at some point in 2005.
Buddy Hernandez, Kevin Barry, and Adam Stern are three more players who could be lost. Hernandez was taken in the Rule V two years ago, only to be returned back to the Braves after he failed to make the Oakland 25-man roster. The right-handed Hernandez had a solid season in AAA in 2004, going 7-2 with a 2.42 ERA in 47 games. Don't be surprised if the Kansas City Royals pick Hernandez in the Rule V. The Royals new pitching coach, Guy Hansen, was Hernandez's pitching coach in Richmond the last two seasons.
Barry was also outstanding in 2004. He started off at Greenville and went 2-1 with a 0.73 ERA in 20 games. Then he went to Richmond and had a 2.52 ERA in 30 games. The Braves really hope Barry can slip through, since some in the organization believe he might pitch in the big leagues sometime in 2005.
Adam Stern showed he was a very good player in 2004 after missing most of 2003 with injuries. Stern is a speedy outfielder who might temp some teams looking for the last piece of a roster. The Braves hope he'll stay around and head to Richmond next season.
The 40-man roster is not really a big surprise. Personally, I disagree with keeping Hessman on the roster. I understand the logic, but disagree with the decision. Hessman is going to have a tough time getting playing time with Marte coming to camp to get a look at third base, LaRoche back at first, and the probability of Franco returning as well. I don't think we should sacrifice Zach Miner for Mike Hessman. But again, the logic does make sense. They simply don't want to have to do anything (release Hessman or DeRosa) until they absolutely have to. Even if they had released one or two of those guys, there's no guarantee the Braves would have given one of those spots to another minor leaguer. They feel there are changes coming again this winter, so they feel compelled to keep several roster spots open. Some believed the Braves might have as many as five spots open on the roster when it was submitted.
I've always been a big Zach Miner fan. I think he might have really turned a corner out in Arizona. Every report I've heard has been tremendous. I'm definitely afraid someone will take him and he'll be a star. He's got a great chance of pitching in the big leagues sometime next season. However, this is the numbers crunch the Braves are under. It really stinks. The Rule V is only a punishment for teams who have a lot of talent, and the Braves are going to go through this every year for the next couple of years. Miner will be the one the Braves and all of us will be hoping slides through during the Rule V.
James Jurries is a hitting son-of-a-gun, but since he's a first baseman and third baseman, much like Hessman, there was simply little hope of him being in the picture. Plus, they are probably going to have Thorman at first and Marte at third next season in Richmond, so Jurries' only hope was to perhaps go play the outfield. Again, that's easier said than done. His best bet is to go to the American League and be a designated hitter and occasional starter in the field at first or third. But the Braves just didn't have room for him. Hopefully, he'll slide through the Rule V, but it's unlikely. If he does stick around, maybe he can prove to the Braves that he does deserve to be a serious candidate. But right now, he's just a number on a list behind solid young players like Marte, LaRoche, and Thorman.
The Rule V has become the most stressful time of the year for Braves executives. No one likes to give talent away. But that's the price we pay for having one of the best systems in baseball.
Bill Shanks can be reached at email@example.com
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