It was a busy day around MLB as teams hurried to add top prospects to rosters to protect them from the Rule 5 draft, swinging trades and DFA’ing players to clear roster space. But for once the Mariners weren’t at the center of the transactional hubbub. Despite having five open spots on the roster and a few deserving candidates in the stables, the Mariners opted to stand pat at the deadline, offering no players 40-man protection.
The most surprising omission is RHP Ljay Newsome, whom we saw as a lock to make a fairly wide-open roster. One of the few remaining members of the 2015 draft class, Ljay plodded through the lower minors with solid if unspectacular results thanks to his plus-plus command of an underwhelming fastball, even winning a Spring Training invite in 2017 thanks to his excellent K-BB numbers. The Cal League came hard for Ljay in 2018, but after an off-season spent at the Mariners’ “Gas Camp” adding a few ticks to his fastball and some more chonk to his donk (technical terms), the then-22-year-old roared back into High-A and dominated, earning a starting role at the Cal League All-Star Game and at one time leading all of the minor leagues (and the Mexican League!) in strikeouts. Ljay scuffled in his 48 innings after being promoted to Double-A, as the same pitches that tempted batters in the Cal League weren’t fooling more advanced hitters, and towards the end of the season was working on incorporating more of his off-speed offerings. In the first five games he pitched in Double-A, Ljay struck out just 15% of batters he faced; in the last four games he pitched he saw his K% rise back up, to 23%—still a good bit off the 30% he pitched at in High-A, but against tougher batters in a first Double-A stint while still being young for the level.
Clearly, the pitching-starved Mariners think Newsome, despite attracting national attention for his strikeout numbers, will slip through the Rule 5 draft unclaimed. While it would be difficult for a team to keep the fairly-green Newsome on a big-league roster for the year, with a number of teams not contending, stashing Newsome in the bullpen to have him learn the ropes isn’t an impossible notion. Moreover, giving Newsome a 40-man spot would be an acknowledgement of the hard work the player has done to make himself into a prospect. Not only did Newsome spend last season training at “Gas Camp,” he returned to the Mariners’ high-performance camp this year to continue working on maximizing everything he can get out of his 5’11” frame. 40-man roster protection isn’t just about the Rule 5 draft; it also carries financial perks, including an invite to Spring Training and the attendant big-league per diem. Give Ljay the gold star he deserves, dammit.
Also unprotected in a system thin on pitching is lefty Anthony Misiewicz. Misiewicz might be more tempting Rule 5 bait than Newsome for a team wanting a lefty out of the pen who could also be a swingman or spot starter, as he has experience at Triple-A, with solid K-BB numbers. The rabbit ball came for Misiewicz as it did for all other PCL pitchers this year, but a team willing to look past that might take a flyer on him.
Submarining reliever Jack “The Creature” Anderson also went unprotected; this one didn’t surprise me as much, despite the fact that polished relievers are usually hot commodities in the Rule 5, because it seemed like the Mariners would have called him up at the end of last season if they were interested in adding him to the 40. The Mariners didn’t send Anderson to the AFL despite a relatively light workload and solid numbers this season; my tinfoil hat tells me they’re trying to keep him hidden away and hoping he won’t get selected in the Rule 5.
OF Dom Thompson-Williams was also left off the 40-man; the third piece in the Paxton trade, DTW had a pretty rough year at Dickey-Stephens’ offense-eating park and the probability another team would carry him on their 25 without a carrying tool like plus-plus speed-and-defense is very low.
In addition to not adding anyone to the roster, the Mariners also didn’t swing any trades with teams with roster crunches, as we saw Cleveland and Milwaukee do, for example. With a host of players recently DFA’d, however, the Mariners might opt to pick something up off the scrap heap over the coming days, so stay tuned. They’ll also likely be active in the Rule 5 draft, where they’ll hold the sixth pick. We’ll have a list breaking down potential candidates for the Mariners to select as soon as all teams have finalized their 40-mans.