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Annual Agony: The White Sox 40-Man Roster Crunch

By Friday, we’ll find out who the South Siders are protecting from the Rule 5 draft.

MLB: Chicago White Sox at Los Angeles Angels
The White Sox must decide what to do with Micker Adolfo during this offseason.
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Every year around this time, major league teams struggle to determine which players to add to their 40-man rosters and who they can risk losing. This is because, a week before the Winter Meetings start in December, teams have to decide which minor leaguers they want to protect from selection. This year, the deadline to protect such players is November 19.

Let’s review the protection guidelines and Rule 5 process:

  • Players first signed at age 18 must be added to 40-man rosters within five seasons or they become eligible to be drafted by other organizations through the Rule 5 process.
  • Players signed at 19 years or older have to be protected within four seasons.
  • Clubs pay $100,000 to select a player in the major league phase of the Rule 5 draft. If that player doesn’t stay on the 25-man roster for the full season, he must be offered back to his former team for $50,000.
  • For this year, that means an international or high school draft pick signed in 2017 — assuming he was 18 or younger as of June 8 of that year — has to be protected. A college player taken in the 2018 draft is in the same position.

Fortunately for the White Sox, the team is better equipped than most, as only 33 men are currently on the 40-man roster. Below will include some of the factors the team will use when determining its roster.

The 23 Surefire Locks

(in alphabetical order, by position)

Pitchers (11)
Aaron Bummer, Dylan Cease, Garrett Crochet, Lucas Giolito, Liam Hendriks, Dallas Keuchel, Craig Kimbrel, Michael Kopech, Reynaldo López, Lance Lynn, Anderson Severino

Catchers (2)
Zack Collins, Yasmani Grandal

Infielders (6)
José Abreu, Tim Anderson, Jake Burger, Romy González, Yoán Moncada, Gavin Sheets

Outfielders (4)
Adam Engel, Eloy Jiménez, Luis Robert, Andrew Vaughn

Certainly, fans will be clamoring for trades for Kimbrel and Keuchel, but they most certainly will remain on the 40-man roster as of November 19. On paper, Severino is the weakest link on this list, but was deemed more important to keep on the roster than Jace Fry — that should at least say something of Severino, a southpaw who throws in the upper 90s. Among the three reserve catchers, Zack Collins hits left-handed and the team has more vested in him as a former first-rounder.

On the bubble, but safe

(10 remaining players on the current 40-man roster, from most likely to be kept to the least)

  1. Seby Zavala — Certainly he has his warts, but he’s recognized as a good game-caller. Zavala has no options left.
  2. Ryan Burr — Burr posted a solid 2.45 ERA this year, without matching peripherals. He does have two options remaining, so the White Sox could send him to the minors at the season’s onset without risk of losing him.
  3. José Ruiz — He’s done a great job in low-leverage situations, which keeps the team from using multiple pitchers needlessly in games that spin out of control. Ruiz has no options left.
  4. Matt Foster — Like Burr, he has two options remaining, which means he could be sent to the minors without risk of exposing him to waivers.
  5. Jimmy Lambert — Still ranked 14th in the Sox system per MLB Pipeline, Lambert does have the swingman capability of being a long reliever or spot starter. Lambert has two options remaining.
  6. Jonathan Stiever — Ranked 15th in the Sox system, Stiever underwent lat surgery and had a difficult 2021 (perhaps trying to pitch through that injury). Stiever also has two options remaining, and still has the stuff to succeed if he can somehow regain his confidence.
  7. Danny Mendick— He’s been a solid defender in the infield, but took a step back this year with the bat. Unfortunately for Mendick, utilitymen can be found relatively easily, which is why he’s ranked near the bottom of this list. Like many on this list, Mendick has two options remaining.
  8. Blake Rutherford — Rutherford was underwhelming last year with Charlotte, but he has one option remaining. The White Sox will give him one more opportunity to prove himself next year before they have to make the same decision they’re needing to make on option No. 10, below.
  9. Yermín Mercedes — Mercedes’ lack of positional versatility hurts his ranking here, plus his commitment to baseball was put in question thanks to his short-lived retirement.
  10. Micker Adolfo — Adolfo may actually be much higher-placed on this ranking by upper management. He is out of options, so therefore, the Sox must either place him on the active roster by Opening Day or risk losing him losing him to waivers. Therefore, the White Sox could trade him to a rebuilding team like the Texas Rangers or Pittsburgh Pirates. Or, with a strong spring Adolfo could serve as a platoon partner with Gavin Sheets in right field — provided, of course, that the Sox don’t aim bigger via free agency.

Rule-5 candidates worth considering for the 40-man roster

The White Sox have several options here; the question is how many players do they want to add. It’s likely they leave at least two or three slots open to sign free agents before they’d be requested to release/trade a player currently on the 40-man roster with future additions. Below are 15 of the candidates, including several players on the team’s Top 30 per MLB Pipeline:

  • Bennett Sousa (LHRP) — Sousa kept his ERA at less than 4.00 for both Birmingham and Charlotte this year, and is considered the best southpaw reliever in the system.
  • Carlos Pérez (C) — Unranked as of yet in the system, Pérez is regarded as the best defensive catcher in the system. While not possessing a power bat, he is a decent enough hitter to stick as a backup. He hit .264 for Birmingham in 2021 with a career-high 13 homers, before earning a four-game promotion to Charlotte at year’s end.
  • Kade McClure (RHSP) — Ranked 19th in the system, he performed well in Birmingham but posted a 6.81 ERA with Charlotte in nine starts. Beyond Lambert, McClure is the only upper minors starter who could conceivably see Chicago for a spot start in 2022.
  • Johan Dominguez (RHSP) — Dominguez worked his way up from Winston-Salem to Charlotte this year, but struggled big-time with the Knights in a very short sample size. The Sox thought well enough of him to have him pitch in the Arizona Fall League this year.
  • Andrew Perez (LHRP) — Entering the system at the same time as Sousa, Perez fanned 59 in 43 23 innings for Birmingham, with a 3.50 ERA and 1.19 WHIP.
  • Lenyn Sosa (SS) — Ranked 17th in the system per MLB Pipeline, Sosa split his time last year with Winston-Salem and Birmingham.
  • Jason Bilous (RHSP) — Ranked 18th in the system, Bilous posted a 6.51 ERA in 17 starts for Birmingham.
  • Luis Mieses (RF) — Ranked 22nd in the system, Mieses combined in Kannapolis and Winston-Salem to hit .312.
  • Hunter Schryver (LHRP) — Ranked 24th in the system, Schryver posted a 4.98 ERA for Charlotte, with 28 walks in fewer than 44 innings.
  • Tyler Neslony (LF) — Acquired for cash considerations from the Braves at midseason, all the lefty did was slash .355/.444/.678 in 38 games with 16 doubles and seven homers for Birmingham.
  • Craig Dedelow (RF) — The lefty has been an extra-base machine, but is prone to longer slumps due to inconsistencies with maintaining his swing. This year, Dedelow hit just .224 for Birmingham, but with 20 doubles and 17 homers. In 2019, he was a triple-double performer with Winston-Salem when hit 21 doubles, 10 triples, and 18 homers.
  • John Parke (LHSP) — Parke has exceeded expectations everywhere he’s pitched, despite not possessing premium stuff. In that regard, he’s an indigent man’s version of Mark Buehrle or Dallas Keuchel. The question is whether or not he’ll ever get the opportunity in the majors.
  • Harvin Mendoza (1B) — Mendoza has looked great so far in his minor league career, but hasn’t moved above High-A ball and doesn’t possess enough in-game power to be seriously considered.
  • Xavier Fernández (C) — Fernández has produced solid offensive numbers behind the plate in the Royals and Sox systems. However, he’s considered below Carlos Pérez in the depth charts.
  • Luke Shilling (RHRP) — Ranked 29th in the system, Shilling missed significant time before this year due to injury. After a solid 18 13 innings for Winston-Salem this year (2.95 ERA), he again went under the knife and likely won’t return until 2023.

Peter Tago would’ve been on this list, as he fanned 20 and walked just four for Charlotte in 11 13 innings for Charlotte after receiving a promotion from Birmingham (a 0.00 ERA and 0.62 WHIP is worthy of mention despite the small sample size). The White Sox could’ve have added Tago to the 40-man at the same time they moved Severino there, but decided to let Tago opt for minor-league free agency instead.

The White Sox may likely add up to four or five players to the 40-man roster in order to leave two or three spots for free agents. Of course, if they add more free agents than that (or if they acquire more 40-man guys via trade than they are relinquishing), they will have to search the bottom of their 40-man list; last man on board, likely first man kicked off.

Here’s a best guess at the four players added by November 19:

  • Kade McClure — He’s got size and decent velocity. He likely will begin the year with Charlotte, but could make the White Sox roster as a swingman.
  • Carlos Pérez — Easily the best minor league catcher who played beyond A-ball, he hit for more power this year while continuing to keep his strikeouts down. His only defensive weakness may be pitch framing. Likely letting go of Mercedes could make Pérez a “free” add to the 40-man.
  • Bennett Sousa — Rule-5 drafters are always on the lookout for southpaw relievers, and it’s much easier to envision a player like this sticking on a major league roster all season. Sousa is arguably the best one in the system not currently on the 40-man roster.
  • Tyler Neslony — On the surface, this seems rather blasphemous to rate Neslony over someone like Sosa. Neslony, however, posted such an amazing stretch for Birmingham that it may be worthwhile to see what he can do in Charlotte. Injuries have been the biggest factor that’s kept him advancing beyond Double-A. Perhaps he could be a White Sox version of Mike Yastrzemski, who toiled in the Orioles system before finding a new lease on life with the Giants. The White Sox are lighter in outfield prospects than they are shortstops, which also makes a difference.

After the Rule 5 draft and before the season starts, the White Sox could also add in-house players like Yoelqui Céspedes and Yolbert Sánchez to the 40-man roster before they become Rule 5 eligible. If they do so, that would indicate that the White Sox consider them ready to begin the year in the majors, or be promoted relatively quickly. Obviously, someone would either need to be released or placed on the 60-day injured list to make room for them.

This is just one assessment of White Sox prospects’ chances for placement on the 40-man roster. Management and SSS readers may think differently.

No matter what, though, it will be intriguing to see how the White Sox handle this post-season with their 40-man transactions via trades and free agency.