Cleveland Indians: 8 players who could lose their 40-man roster spot
The Cleveland Indians will have some big roster decisions coming up this offseason and these players could lose their 40-man roster spot.
By now, you’ve probably heard about the Cleveland Indians’ impending 40-man roster crunch. With a number of notable minor leaguers soon becoming eligible for the Rule 5 Draft, Cleveland will need to protect them from being poached by other teams by adding them to the 40-man.
The one major caveat of the Rule 5 Draft is that, once selected, the team acquiring a player must keep him on the major-league team for the entire season. If this doesn’t happen, the player can be offered back to his original team for half of the original investment ($50,000). So while the Indians have decisions to make, it’s not like all of their prospects are suddenly up for grabs.
There are arguably six to seven players who will be eligible for the Rule 5 Draft in 2021 that the Indians will want to potentially protect – names like George Valera, Brayan Rocchio, Tyler Freeman, Joey Cantillo, Cody Morris, and Richie Palacios. No matter how much a guy like Jhonkensy Noel mashes at Low-A Lynchburg, it’s highly unlikely a team would be placing the 20-year-old on its active roster for an entire season.
But assuming the number of protected players is somewhere in that range above, who is potentially on the 40-man chopping block? Let’s look at a few options:
As of now, Daniel Johnson just doesn’t appear to be in Cleveland’s long-term plans. With the acquisition of Myles Straw, who is going to be locked in as the center fielder of the future, there are only two regular outfield spots left. That leaves Johnson, Bradley Zimmer, Oscar Mercado, Harold Ramirez, and Josh Naylor (when he one day returns) all fighting for time while eventually fending off the outfield prospects moving up the ranks.
It’s a minuscule sample size, but the Indians don’t seem to have much confidence yet in Johnson, who has hit just .205/.222/.341 this season with 15 strikeouts in 44 at-bats. He still has minor-league options, and may still get an extended shot based on how far away outfield help is in the lower levels.
It’s clear the Indians right now are giving as much playing time as possible to Bradley Zimmer and Oscar Mercado in an effort to see who sticks. With Straw as the center fielder, Zimmer has been playing some right field, hitting .247/.353/.358 with four home runs, 20 RBIs and a 101 wRC+ – right about average, despite the excessive strikeouts that still hang over him. Zimmer has finally stayed healthy and is getting on base, giving him a solid-enough case to stick around on the big-league roster.
Oscar Mercado has also been playing all over the outfield to the tune of a .222/.300/.354 line with two home runs and eight RBIs. The issue is that neither Zimmer nor Mercado have much power, and neither of them are really tearing the cover off the ball, aside from Zimmer’s recent prodigious 471-foot blast against the Cincinnati Reds. Since his solid rookie season in 2019, Mercado has struggled in the Majors and Cleveland could soon be moving on.
Yu Chang just cannot seem to find his way into Cleveland’s lineup, not that he’s doing much with the bat once he’s actually in there. In a perfect world, Chang is in a super utility role, but a .185 batting average isn’t going to cut it, and Ernie Clement might be filling that role soon enough anyway.
This poor guy was mercifully sent back to Triple-A Columbus on August 7 after being torched across eleven starts. J.C. Mejia was in the rotation as long as he was simply because the Indians had no other options, and it led to a bloated 8.75 ERA and 1.65 WHIP in 47 1/3 innings. Mejia’s future with the team is likely going to be in the bullpen, but there will be plenty of arms battling for those roles by next spring.
Blake Parker, 36, has been effective in his 23 innings of work this season, though he often appears in mop-up duty. He has a 2.35 ERA, but if push came to shove, Cleveland would move on from Parker in order to free up a spot on the 40-man roster.
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The Indians claimed Alex Young off waivers from the Arizona Diamondbacks on July 26, optioning the left-hander to Columbus. Young has a 4.73 career ERA in the Majors, though he did have a 3.56 ERA in 83 1/3 innings in his 2019 rookie season.
This one is not impossible, but it’s certainly not all that probable. Scott Moss, who was acquired from the Cincinnati Reds in the Trevor Bauer trade of 2019, has battled injuries for much of 2021, pitching only 20 1/3 innings at Triple-A Columbus to the tune of a 7.08 ERA. This year has essentially been a lost season for Moss, who many figured would have been a sure bet to make the Majors by now. He remains a highly touted pitching prospect for the Indians, and he’s one of the more unlikely bets to lose his spot based on how close he is to the Majors and the fact that he’s a starting lefty, which remains an ongoing quest for this team.