"Hey guys, I'm looking forward to an automatic invitation to spring training next year. Wait, what?" (South Side Sox)
The White Sox had six available spots on the 40-man roster entering Friday, and even after picking players to protect from the Rule 5 draft, there's no need to take down the vacancy sign.
Leesman was a no-brainer, since he's lefty, he throws hard, and the Sox have hopes for him in one capacity or another. That's one kind of player a team will protect.
Heath is a different case. The Sox picked him up in 2010 after he fell out of favor with the Braves organization due to this incident, and he's put up great strikeout numbers across Birmingham and Charlotte (11.3 strikeouts per nine innings). The problem is that he also walks five batters per nine, and he's not a groundballer, either. If he were selected, I doubt he could last on a team for a month before he was offered back to the Sox.
Pitchers are usually the ones who go in the Rule 5 draft, though. The White Sox haven't been picked from over the last two years, but they lost a reliever in each of the four years prior: Derek Rodriguez (2008), Fernando Hernandez Jr. (2007), Jay Marshall (2006) and Fabio Castro (2005). Rodriguez and Hernandez were returned to the Sox, while Marshall and Castro were overwhelmed with their new teams.
I don't think Heath is even as compelling as Rodriguez or Hernandez, but the Sox are in dire need of anything resembling depth. Heath has a live arm, the Sox are short on strikeout pitchers on the fringes, and so this is basically a premature spring training non-non-roster invitation.
However, there are some things to read into from the players who weren't protected.
Jordan Danks was the most notable player left vulnerable for the picking, which is another blow to his prospect stock. Or rather, it's a blow to the prospect status the Sox projected for him. Objective parties are well aware of his flaws.
Danks has had contact problems for his entire pro career, and they absolutely exploded on him in Triple-A. His strikeout rate shot up from 22 percent in High-A and Double-A to 30 percent at Charlotte. For a guy with a .400 slugging percentage in a hitter-friendly park, it's untenable.
I have long theorized that John Danks' future is tied to his brother's, at least partially. From the outside, it seems both sides have trod carefully with their futures. Danks chose to go year-to-year through arbitration instead of signing a multi-year deal, and the Sox held Jordan Danks in a different regard than comparable prospects with the same problem.
The White Sox don't like their unproven hitters striking out, and they haven't been afraid to call out young players when they aren't putting the bat on the ball (Tyler Flowers, Josh Fields, Gordon Beckham, Jayson Nix, etc.). But for years, the Sox only focused on Danks' assets when his name arose, even though he's the only International League player to finish in the top three in strikeouts in each of the last two seasons.
Maybe the elder Danks never went for an extension with the Sox because he didn't want to commit before he knew Jordan's fate. Maybe the Sox didn't evaluate Jordan with the usual harshness in order to keep everybody's optimism afloat. In the last thread, Brett added some support to this line of thought.
And maybe it all came crashing down in August. After Larry wrote a fairly positive post about his future as a reserve outfielder, Danks finished the season by striking out 51 times over his last 106 at-bats, which is an Adam Dunn-like performance against minor-league pitching. After he finished the Triple-A season, the White Sox didn't call him up, even though they could have passed him off as a defensive replacement. Not only that, but the Sox allowed him to participate in the Baseball World Cup with the other non-prospects, as Larry noted in the same thread.
So now that the Sox declined the opportunity to protect Danks from the Rule 5 draft -- a courtesy (for lack of a better word) that is usually extended to high draft picks who are mildly interesting -- has the facade crumbled? Seeing as how Kenny Williams has enjoyed talking about interest in his pitchers plural during his time in Milwaukee, maybe the Sox are laying the track for a completely Danksless future.
The Sox want room to work
With four roster spots available on the 40-man roster, Williams is completely free to plot multi-player deals without any complications on the back end.
The Sox have an awful lot of lefties
Leesman is the third left-handed pitcher added to the 40-man roster this offseason, as minor-league free agents Donnie Veal and Jose Quintana preceded him. Joining them in the minor-league ranks is Hector Santiago, who was impressive in his brief stint with the Sox last season. The stockpile of hard-throwing southpaws might suggest that Matt Thornton is expendable, at least if Don Cooper thinks he can fast-track any of the fresh faces.
The farm system ... isn't good
Besides Jordan Danks, the Sox also left Tyler Kuhn, Brandon Short and Terry Doyle unprotected. All have a puncher's chance at being big-league contributors, but nobody would be able to perform soon enough to be worth a Rule 5 pick -- or so the Sox think, anyway.
That's how the Sox ended up adding just two players to the 40-man roster -- one of whom has never been considered a prospect. And that's why the farm system is considered the worst in the majors.