Montas is pitching Sunday, but he’ll need to be activated first
The Oakland A’s have a roster decision coming in the next 24 hours. Pitcher Frankie Montas is still on the COVID-19 related injured list, after being delayed this spring by a positive coronavirus test. But he’s healthy and cleared and back in camp, and he’s scheduled to pitch on Sunday in a Cactus League game.
Before Montas can play, he must be activated from the IL, and in this case that also means being added back to the 40-man roster. There are already 40 players on that roster, so, according to math, someone else will need to be removed to make room.
There are three main ways this can happen. Someone else can get hurt badly enough that they need to go on the 60-day IL, someone can get traded, or someone can get DFA’d or otherwise cut.
But first, here’s a reminder of who’s on the roster right now. Players in –-italics haven’t yet debuted in MLB, and those with asterisks** are can’t be sent down to the minors because they’re either notably out of options or they’re Rule 5 draft picks.
Chris Bassitt (R)
IL: (Frankie Montas) (R)
Trevor Rosenthal (R)
Sean Murphy (R)
Matt Chapman (R)
Mark Canha (R)
Let’s look at the three likely possible methods.
The injury report is mostly clean for now. Of course someone will get hurt eventually, but all that matters is who is hurt as of Sunday morning.
It’s not Jed Lowrie, who just played the last two games, or A.J. Puk, who is throwing sim games. Trevor Rosenthal tweaked his groin but is already throwing again, and Ka’ai Tom is set to play Monday after dealing with a balky oblique.
That leaves Mike Fiers, who was shut down with a back issue this week, unless it might be a hip issue per Alex Coffey of the Athletic. He’ll get an MRI on Sunday, and it is indeed possible he could miss the beginning of the season. If all of that happens in the morning and an unfavorable prognosis is settled by game time, perhaps the answer will be that he swaps out to the long-term IL to make room for Montas.
The main offseason dealing is over, but there are still minor trades happening, especially in circumstances like these where teams need to squeeze someone out but don’t want to give up on their remaining value. The A’s themselves just did this, dealing outfielder Dustin Fowler to the Pirates for cash instead of losing him for nothing, although they did DFA him first and I’m talking here about trading someone instead of DFA’ing them.
What we’re looking for here is someone who is blocked or superfluous on the depth chart, but also is good enough that it would feel like a waste to simply cut them.
There are some pitchers who could fit the bill, but we’ll get to them in the DFA section. All the catchers and infielders are indispensable. That leaves the crowded outfield, and in particular Skye Bolt.
Athletics Nation has always liked Bolt, as the kind of toolsy prospect you can dream on if only he makes that one adjustment to break out. He’s debuted in the majors, however briefly, and his skill set as a switch-hitter with plus defense would seem to fit well with the current group if he could earn a bench/platoon job.
But there are two problems. One is that he’s not a front-runner to make the Opening Day roster, especially if Lowrie and Tom secure spots, much less if Seth Brown remains higher in the pecking order. The second is that he’s sort of being passed right now by Buddy Reed, the darling of spring training.
Reed has the same strengths as Bolt, but better. The speed, the arm, the CF defense, and maybe even the power based on what we’ve seen this month, and Reed’s a year younger. The one who learns to make more consistent contact will ultimately have the better career, but if you had to pick a Triple-A lotto ticket today, Reed has now become more interesting — and he doesn’t need a 40-man spot until next winter.
You could write roughly the same paragraph about Luis Barrera, though without the power. Barrera is already on the 40-man, and although he’s not quite MLB-ready, he’s not far behind and could be there by the time the next opportunity arises in Oakland.
The book isn’t closed on Bolt’s MLB chances, even at age 27, and the roster clock hasn’t chimed midnight either (like it did on Fowler) because he can still be optioned to Triple-A this season. If you had to DFA someone right now, it would not make sense to pick him. But if someone else likes him and would give you a worthwhile trade return? It might be a convenient time to cash in on a player whose odds of making it in Oakland are shrinking by the month, at a position of logjam-level impacted depth.
This is probably the least likely route to clearing space for Montas, just statistically speaking, because we see more injuries and DFAs than trades, but it is one available method. You could also make a case for trading Seth Brown, but to this point Bolt has been lower on the depth chart and thus less costly to part with tomorrow.
DFA? Rule 5?
Barring an injury like the dousing of Fiers, this is usually how a spot gets cleared in mid-March.
As mentioned, I doubt Bolt would get straight-up cut. We can also leave out Rule 5 draft pick Ka’ai Tom. He hasn’t gotten to play yet but it sounds like he’s about to, and it would be a surprise to see them pull the plug on him before even watching him once. That doesn’t mean he’s guaranteed his spot for April, but the timing isn’t right to dump him tomorrow.
Plus, the roster has 22 pitchers and is about to add another, and at some point the balance is going to shift more toward the usual 20/20 split. That could yet happen via 60-day injuries over the next couple weeks, but at the moment it seems likely that at least one pitcher will need to be DFA’d between now and the end of the month — remember, they’re also probably going to need to add Jed Lowrie at some point, so this isn’t even the last personnel decision they’ll have to make.
That leaves two prime candidates. One of them is the other Rule 5 pick, righty Dany Jimenez. The roster and bullpen depth chart have changed a lot since they took a flier on him, and there’s no longer the dire need to cling to a second Rule 5 pick — especially one who has struggled this spring.
The other is lefty Nik Turley. Similarly, he was picked up cheap when the pen was still a question mark, and he’d already been pushed down to seventh or eighth on the chart before getting annihilated this spring. His out of options status makes him functionally equivalent to Jimenez in terms of transactional inflexibility, so it would come down to a question of which upside arm the team wants to gamble on.
The only difference is that if Turley gets DFA’d, there’s at least the chance he could be traded for cash like Fowler. After all, the A’s themselves acquired him in that exact way a few months ago.
On the other hand, as a second-round Rule 5 pick, and with the Rule 5 restrictions that would still be attached to him, it’s less likely that Jimenez would have trade value. Instead, perhaps they’d just find a way to bring him back in a non-roster capacity like they did after Paul Blackburn cleared waivers, or like the Reds did with outfielder Mark Payton last year when they Rule 5’d him from the A’s, returned him, and quickly reacquired him. In that sense, cutting Jimenez has the highest potential to mean not actually losing anybody.
What do you think, Athletics Nation? What will the news be on Sunday? I’ll guess Jimenez because I don’t think they’ll have time to make a decision on Fiers. Take your guess in the poll below!