Normally, the run up to the Rule 5 Draft is a time for players that seem close to being MLB-ready and have some potential as big-league players to be rostered. In the draft, any minor-leaguer with more than three or four years of MiLB experience (depending on how old they were when they signed) can be claimed and taken by one of the other 29 teams, so each club tries to protect its core prospects by adding them to their 40-man rosters.
That’s why it was so puzzling that Scott Barnes, Danny Salazar and Juan Diaz were added to the Indians’ roster right before the roster-locking deadline on Friday. Rostering Barnes was a no-brainer—he’s a left-handed starter with mid-rotation potential—but Salazar and Diaz are simply unworthy of a roster spot.
Salazar has some upside: as a potential starter with a 98-mph fastball, he is certainly an intriguing prospect. Still, I can’t see a reason why any team would select him in the Rule 5 Draft. The way the draft works, any team that claim a player then has to keep the player on its 25-man for an entire year. Seeing as Salazar has never pitched above Low-A (largely due to his 2010 Tommy John surgery), no team in their right mind would think Salazar was ready for the majors.
Diaz is a different story. He could start off the year at Triple-A Columbus, meaning he’s not too far away from being a potential big-league contributor. But before we jump to any conclusions, let’s take a look at two different players, both infielders in Cleveland’s farm system:
Player A: .302/.372/.476, 17 HR, 75 RBI, 6 SB, 46 BB, 96 SO
Player B: .255/.310/.368, 9 HR, 60 RBI, 9 SB, 40 BB, 116 SO
Which player looks more impressive? Player A looks like the obvious choice, given that his OBP is higher than Player B’s SLG.
What if I told you that Player A’s stats are from Triple-A and Player B’s are from Double-A? Certainly A would be considered the superior prospect at this point.
Player B is Diaz. Player A is Luis Valbuena, who was designated for assignment to make room for Diaz on the roster. Many Tribe fans are tired of watching Valbuena struggle against MLB pitching, but do they really want to see Diaz instead of him?
Diaz’s defense may be superior to Valbuena’s; since both are seen as utility infielders at best, that’s certainly an important factor. But while Diaz has only played SS his entire career, Valbuena has experience at almost every infield position: he has played the majority of his Major League career at 2B, but he played SS all of last year at Triple-A and also worked on his defense at 3B as he was considered a candidate for the spot during the spring training last year once Jason Donald broke his thumb.
There’s one thing Diaz has on Valbuena: age. Diaz is still 21 and definitely has room to grow, but Valbuena will be 26 later this month, so at this point what you see from him is probably what you get in the future. But does age alone make it worthwhile to DFA Valbuena for the seemingly inferior Diaz in hopes that he’ll improve? No.
Despite his struggles in the majors, Valbuena has now had back-to-back strong seasons at Triple-A Columbus. For a Cleveland team finally looking to contend again, they need something closer to a sure thing now than a potentially useful player later. At this point, that makes Valbuena the better bet.
So we’re left scratching our heads about how Cleveland filled its 40-man roster. Salazar did not need to be protected because he won’t be MLB-ready at least for another year or two, and while I am all for DFAing Valbuena, replacing him with Diaz isn’t an upgrade—especially since the Indians already have plenty of infield options on the 40-man.
The open spots should have been spent on more worthy candidates. Bryce Stowell is Rule 5 Draft-eligible and could pitch in a Major League bullpen right now. Kevin De La Cruz would have been a better move, or perhaps even taking a gamble on Nick Weglarz‘s health and rostering him since his bat could already make at impact in The Show.
At the very least, the Indians should have left a spot open, which would have made it easier to add a player via free agency or trade this winter. It will be interesting to see how adding Salazar and Diaz to the 40-man affects roster movements this winter. GM Chris Antonetti must have some sort of plan for the two, but I don’t see it.