For all of the talk over the last couple of weeks about players the Brewers could add for 2014, I think we've largely missed an important detail. When the organization selected Wei-Chung Wang in the Rule 5 Draft, it effectively filled their 40-man roster*. So if the Brewers do add any help at first base, in the rotation or bullpen in the coming months, someone will have to be designated for assignment to make room.
This is a possibility the Brewers are certainly prepared for, but it's not going to be as easy as you might think. Looking at the current roster, there aren't a lot of movable parts here. Many if not most of the candidates to come off the roster contributed to the 2013 team, and those that didn't either have some significant upside or another reason why they're unlikely to be removed.
So, with the admission that I'm speculating here, here are the guys I think might be most likely to come off the 40-man roster if a move is made:
RHP Michael Olmsted
Olmsted was signed to a major league contract a year ago despite having pitched just 14 games above A-ball, largely based on potential. Olmsted is 26 but he's big (listed at 6'6", 245 lbs) and throws hard, making him a likely candidate to pitch in the majors someday.
However, he spent the entire 2013 season in the minors while the Brewers used 21 pitchers. He appeared in 49 games for Nashville and posted a 6.71 ERA, walking almost seven batters per nine innings. The upside is still there, but it's unlikely another team would burn a roster spot claiming him at this point.
RHP Mike Fiers
This would be a much more surprising move, but it's one that makes sense. After posting the breakout performance of the 2012 season, Fiers appeared in just eleven games for the Brewers in 2013 with a 7.25 ERA, allowing eight home runs in 22.1 innings. He looked much better in five starts for Nashville, but his season ended prematurely when he was hit by a line drive in June.
When you combine Fiers' lack of recent success with health questions and a low-velocity fastball, you have a pitcher that's likely to enter camp as the Brewers eighth or ninth best rotation option. He's also a relatively safe bet to go unclaimed on waivers.
1B Sean Halton
Halton is 26 and has done everything the Brewers have asked of him in the minors, posting a career .290/.351/.450 batting line over five seasons, including 2012 and 2013 in AAA. Yet somehow he's appeared in just 42 MLB games for a team that has tried to use guys like Yuniesky Betancourt and Alex Gonzalez as primary first basemen. The Brewers like Halton enough to keep him around, but even now he's likely third or fourth on the depth chart at first base behind guys like Juan Francisco, Hunter Morris or Jason Rogers.
The catch with Halton is that there's a chance someone will claim him off waivers to see if he can translate his minor league success to the majors. With that said, if the Brewers don't plan on giving Halton a chance to play everyday, maybe giving him a shot somewhere else is the right thing to do.
RHP Donovan Hand
Like Halton, Hand is a longtime organizational player who has experienced success at every level, but the righty swingman had to wait seven professional seasons to get his first shot with the Brewers in 2013. He made seven starts and 24 relief appearances from the end of May through September and posted a 3.69 ERA, but his peripheral numbers (just 4.9 strikeouts per nine innings, 1.3 home runs) and somewhat pedestrian stuff (89-91 mph fastball, good slider, below average curve) may not have been enough to gain him any permanent foothold on this team.
If the season opened today Hand would probably be one of several contenders for the last couple of spots in the bullpen. If the Brewers follow through on their plans to add veteran relief help, though, then Hand could be one of the odd men out.
On paper all five of these guys are unlikely to be major contributors to the 2014 Brewers. JDLT and Herrera were recent waiver claims, Hall and Shackleford were added to the 40-man to be protected from the Rule 5 Draft, and Wang was the Brewers' Rule 5 pick.
Because the Brewers recently invested in all five of these guys, though, they're likely to remain on the roster through at least a week or two of spring training. Wang is likely to free up a spot when the Brewers return him to the Pirates, but that's likely to be too late to make a difference here.
What do you think? Did I miss anyone? Is there anyone on this list you think the Brewers need to hold on to?
* - The current roster technically has 41 players on it. Miguel De Los Santos, who has been out for a full year while MLB investigates his identity, is on the restricted list and doesn't count against the limit.