Thursday, August 3, 2017

Ronald Acuna Not Getting Called Up? Maybe That's Good

Jeff Morris - Follow on Twitter
John Hart stopped by with Chip Carey and Joe Simpson during Wednesday night's game to talk about a host of issues. During it, we found out that Ronald Acuna was unlikely to be called up this year. Why not, you might wonder. Acuna is one of the best prospects in baseball and he has a .423 wOBA at Triple-A? Why not bring him up to get his feet wet? Because of the 40-man roster concerns this winter, that's why. Now whether or not the Braves follow through and refuse the temptation to call up Acuna this season - baseball general managers are notorious for changing their mind on a dime - the reality of the situation has some factual basis. With that in mind, today I want to look at the potential 40-man roster concerns after this season.

Just a few reminders. Every team has two rosters - the Active roster (usually 25-man) and the 40-man roster. Everyone on the Active roster is also on the 40-man roster. The other 15 players are a mixture of minor leaguers and - typically - injured major leaguers currently on the 10-day DL. Once a player is placed on the 40-man roster, he will typically remain on it until one of three things happens - he no longer is under contract by the organization, he is designated for assignment (and waived), or he is on the 60-day DL. That last designation doesn't clear jo, for good, though. When a player is able to return from the 60-day DL, he either has to be placed on the 40-man roster or designated for assignment and exposed to the other teams via waivers. But I'm not telling you anything you don't already know, right?

With all of that in mind, let's dive in. Atlanta's 40-man roster currently has 39 players on it. This is a common practice by the Braves, who like to keep a spot open in case it's needed to make an immediate move (waiver pickup, call-up, etc). You might say that there is an open spot so why not bring up Acuna? We'll get back to that.

Of those 39 players, the Braves "control" 36 of them into next season. That's just a way of saying that it's up to the Braves whether or not they bring back the player in 2018. For most of the players, they are either arbitration-eligible or will have their contracts renewed because they haven't reached arbitration. In the case of Tyler Flowers and R.A. Dickey, the Braves hold options to retain their services. Others like Julio Teheran, Ender Inciarte, and Matt Kemp have contracts that guarantee them a salary in 2018. Immediately, you might see a problem. All but four spots are already locked up for next year's 40-man roster? Isn't that kind of tight?

But that's not all. It gets even tighter when you take into account the players on the 60-day DL right now like Jacob Lindgren, Armando Rivero, and Dan Winkler. Regardless of their injury situation at the end of the season, the Braves will have to transfer them to the 40-man roster or risk losing them. Say that they do. Now, we're back to that 39 number. Only one spot empty.

Of course, the Braves aren't going to bring back all 39 of these players. There will be trades, guys will get non-tendered, and others will be designated for assignment to make room and we'll address some of the players most likely to be in the mix for that. You might think the Braves will be searching for room for free agents, but the primary reason people will be shuffled off the 40-man roster at the end of the season will be to allow the Braves to keep players who would be otherwise eligible to be selected in the Rule 5 draft.

Quick reminder - players eligible for the Rule 5 draft are typically those that were younger than 19 on June 4 of their signing year five years ago or players who were 19 or older on June 4 of their signing year four years ago. In the simplest terms, that's typically high schoolers/international signees from 2013 or college-age draftees from 2014. There are exceptions, but let's not get too bogged down with the details just yet.

In practical terms, let's see what this means for the Braves. Some of the most noteworthy players to be eligible for the Rule 5 draft this season include five players who made our Midseason Top 50 in Luiz Gohara, Travis Demeritte, Dustin Peterson, Tyler Pike, and Caleb Dirks. I want to point out that Pike is a little different because he's been eligible before. A few others include Tanner Murphy, Michael Mader, and Omar Obregon, but let's focus on just the five I mentioned a couple of sentences ago. If the Braves want to protect all five from being drafted, that adds to the 39 players I counted before. So, with that, we're four players over and the Braves haven't signed anyone yet.

Again, many of these players will be shuffled off the roster through the various means of removing a player from the 40-man. One common tool is to non-tender an arbitration-eligible player. Who's getting Arby this year? This list includes Matt Adams, Arodys Vizcaino, Ian Krol, Rex Brothers, and potential first-year arbitration players like Danny Santana, Mike Foltynewicz, and possibly Sam Freeman. Interestingly enough, there is a possibility that Winkler will be eligible for arbitration. Yeah. Of this list, we know Adams, Vizcaino, and Foltynewicz will be offered arbitration. The Braves could bring back others, but do their performances deserve raises in pay due to arbitration? Let's say the Braves pass on the other players on the list and we're back to 39 players on the 40-man roster.

The Braves can shave some others off the list by designating them for assignment. Prime candidates for that might include Lane Adams, Enrique Burgos, Adonis Garcia, and Micah Johnson.

At that point, the Braves would have room to acquire players ahead of the Rule 5 draft and still have a chance to dip their toes in the water for that draft should they want to.

I started this article by talking about Acuna so let's get back to him. Say the Braves call him up now. While it makes for a great story as Acuna began the year in High-A ball, it also makes all of this 40-man roster maneuvering all the more difficult. Unlike Gohara and Demeritte, the Braves don't have to place Acuna on the 40-man roster this offseason. A similar thing happened in 2009. As the Braves struggled through a final couple of months with Garret Anderson, Nate McLouth, and Matt Diaz/Ryan Church playing the outfield, many wanted the Braves to call up Jason Heyward. He destroyed the ball with Mississippi before ending the year with Gwinnett. Certainly, he's a better option than watching a substandard outfield fail to produce.

The Braves stressed that J-Hey wasn't ready, but the bigger reason was the Braves could use the 40-man roster room. Heyward wasn't placed on the 40-man roster until right before opening day the next spring. That gave the Braves a little more room to make decisions that offseason. Calling up Acuna before the end of this season might make the fans happy, but it will also make choices after the World Series a bit tougher.

What do you think? Do you think the Braves should just put together the best roster regardless of 40-man and Rule 5 concerns or should the Braves give an appropriate amount of consideration to these factors to not compound the issues they will already have keeping this amazing collection of young talent together? I look forward to hearing what you have to say. As a fan, I want to see Acuna sooner rather than later. As a fan who tries to stay informed, I'll wait. The Braves have enough complicated decisions this offseason.


  1. If the plan is for Acuna to start for the Braves in 2018, a September call-up would be beneficial. They would need to move Markakis or Kemp this winter. I'm guessing Kemp would be too difficult to move with his bad legs and two years remaining on his contract. Acuna's performance in August will make the decision clearer.

  2. The fanatic Braves fan wants to see Acuna play now at STP. The guy who watched the team throw away my favorite players (Kimbrel, Andrelton, Alex Wood) for mostly questionable prospects now cringes at the thought that they might endanger control of legitimate major prospects like Gohara by limiting roster space. Management needs to stay the course by focusing on serious eventual championship (not wild card) contention by maximizing control of our best players -- so delaying Acuna for 30 days makes more sense. Very short-term thinking helped create a series of unwise "easy sign, high floor" draft decisions (for example, Jason Hursh instead of Aaron Judge). We need to remain focused on building a long-term serious championship contender. Stay the course. I would rather wait to see Acuna in the spring.


  4. Can't they "option" acuna off the 40 man without losing him ????

    1. They can option him to the minors, but he'll remain on the 40-man roster unless he's designated for assignment or released (two things that there is nearly no chance of happening).