Pittsburgh Pirates: Offseason 40-Man Roster Crunch is Looming
By Noah Wright
Players who could be DFA’d, left unprotected
We’ve talked about a bunch of players who could be gunning for a 40-man roster spot. I had 8 players who had a very good chance of making the 40-man and 4 more players that should at least be on the Pirates’ radar. But the Pirates do have a lot of players who they’ll either DFA, release or possibly trade this off-season.
The most notable player I see them potentially DFA’ing is Cole Tucker. The 2014 first-round pick hasn’t panned out as they hoped. So far at Triple-A, he’s hitting .223/.350/.373 with a .331 wOBA, and 99 wRC+. If he could hit like that in the major leagues while showing off his elite-level defense, then he’d be the starting shortstop this year. But he’s shown no plate discipline in the major leagues. He has a walk rate of just 5.4% in 297 plate appearances despite walking at a strong 12.8% rate through 616 plate appearances through his entire Triple-A career.
Considering that the Pittsburgh Pirates have so much middle infield depth, Tucker could be out of a job. Even more so considering that Kevin Newman’s defense has greatly improved this year and his production with the bat since the last few days of July hasn’t been awful either (.280/.321/.493, .339 wOBA, 112 wRC+ since July 30th).
Though even Newman could find himself in DFA limbo. Sure, he’s been about a decent hitter over the last month with vast improvements on the defensive side of the ball. But that doesn’t change the fact that, overall, he has a .2 fWAR, 55 wRC+, and plays two positions that will have a ton of competition throughout 2022 and 2023. Newman could return to his earlier self in September and we’re back at square one. Even if Newman continues to hit well, the Pirates might decide to capitalize on his solid production down the home stretch of the season and try to find a trade partner. Though I think Tucker has a better chance of being DFA’d than Newman, you can’t completley rule out Newman reaching DFA limbo either.
Anthony Alford is another speedy position player that may receive the ax this off-season. Formerly one of baseball’s consensus top 100 prospects, Alford has fallen from grace. While he was hitting really well at Triple-A, Alford has already been DFA’d once this season. Seeing as he cleared waivers, the Pittsburgh Pirates will likely try it again. Like Newman, he’s been better in August this year, but it’s a small sample size and there are better players the Pirates can find in their minor league system.
One last position player that, sadly, may get a DFA is Phillip Evans. The Pittsburgh Pirates signed Evans in the 2019-2020 off-season to a minor league deal and the early returns looked good. But after strong starts to the 2020 and 2021 seasons, Evans has not been able to carry on even as a league-average bat. While nobody expected him to keep being a 150+ wRC+ hitter, he has just a 75 wRC+ and .281 wOBA this year. He was optioned earlier in the season and most of his value comes from being able to play multiple positions to an adequate level.
There’s a handful of different pitchers who should receive a DFA this offseason. Cody Ponce, Kyle Keller, Sam Howard, Shea Spitzbarth, Dillon Peters, and Anthony Banda could be in DFA limbo. The Pirates might try to find trade partners for Chris Stratton and Chad Kuhl, opening up, even more, potential 40-man roster spots.
The Pittsburgh Pirates also have three pending free agents. Trevor Cahill is on the 60-day IL, so he isn’t taking up a 40-man spot. But left-handed reliever Chasen Shreve and slugging utility man Yoshi Tsutsugo will both hit free agency. The Pirates might try and retain Tsutsugo, but both Shreve and Cahill are two fewer players to worry about.
Overall, that’s 13 spots that could open up for the players I talked about earlier. You could probably make an argument for some other players to be traded like Steven Brault, Ben Gamel or Duane Cody Ponce, Michael Perez, Wilmer Difo and Jared Oliva may find themselves in DFA limbo, freeing even more spots. Obviously, not all the players I’ve talked about today will get added to the 40-man roster, nor will all the players I brought up get DFA’d released or traded. But this was just an early look at some possibilities of players added, removed or ones who have a very good chance of making the roster in order to get protection from the Rule 5 Draft.