MLB 2023 Expansion Draft: Protected Players’ Lists
By CJ Lu Sing & Jacob Siegel | April 16, 2023
The 1998 Major League Baseball expansion added the Arizona Diamondbacks and Tampa Bay Devil Rays (now Tampa Bay Rays) to the highest professional level of America’s pastime. More than twenty years later, MLB expansion remains a widely-discussed topic with many cities eager to join the 30-team league.
Two cities, in particular, provide compelling cases for new teams:
Nashville, TN - Music City is arguably the most discussed site for potential MLB expansion with Commissioner Rob Manfred himself expressing interest in the site. The Nashville Metropolitan Area exceeds 2 million people in population and is the political and economic heart of Tennessee. The cultural scene in Nashville revolves around music, but the incorporation of Major League Baseball could reshape sports’ role in the community.
The Nashville Stars are our proposition for MLB’s thirty-first franchise. The name Nashville Stars is a tribute to the Negro League Nashville Stars, who played in Nashville from the 1930s through the 1950s. To pay homage to the Negro League Nashville Stars would recognize MLB’s commitment to a more inclusive game.
Moreover, the Stars would honor the many legacies of successful musical artists who claim Tennessee as their home. The Nashville Stars already have strong support from the local business and music leaders. With a successful start, the Stars could become an integral part of the Nashville community.
Vancouver, BC, Canada - Although Portland, Oregon, is often listed as a favorite for an expansion team, in many ways Vancouver is a natural fit. The greater Vancouver area has a population of more than 2.5 million people and the province of British Columbia has more than 5 million people. Vancouver is the 32nd biggest metro area in North America by population, ahead of other cities who have been in expansion rumors, such as Charlotte and Portland, and ahead of a handful of current MLB teams such as the Pirates and the Guardians.
The current MiLB team in Vancouver is called the Canadians, however for the expansion team we believe that the Vancouver Beavers is the best name, honoring a class B minor league team in the city from 1908-1922. This mascot would allow the team to honor the wildlife and outdoors lifestyle that Vancouver and British Columbia are known for.
One of the biggest arguments for an expansion team in Vancouver is the rivalries it would bring. Very few expansion teams enter the league with rivals, but Vancouver has two natural rivalries. They would have a natural rivalry with the Seattle Mariners in the Pacific Northwest, as the cities are separated by fewer than 150 miles, and Seattle is one of the most isolated MLB cities currently. Additionally, they would have a Canadian rivalry with the Blue Jays. Since the Expos left Montreal in 2004 there has not been a Canadian rivalry, and adding a team in Vancouver would bring exactly that.
The addition of these two teams would be a long, arduous process, but after the paperwork is signed and the stadiums are built, both teams still need complete, 40-man rosters. Before the 1998 MLB expansion, the 1997 MLB expansion draft provided the Arizona Diamondbacks and Tampa Bay Devil Rays with the means to field competitive teams.
To provide rosters for the Nashville Stars and Vancouver Beavers, MLB would have to host a new expansion draft. Each of the thirty existing MLB teams would be permitted to protect fifteen of their organization’s players while the rest are fair game for the expansion teams to acquire.
Expansion Draft Rules
The 2023 MLB expansion draft would likely attempt to preserve the rules of the 1997 draft, but after twenty years, the draft rules would likely need to be explained to a new generation of players, executives, and fans.
- Each team is permitted to add 15 players from their organization to a protected list, which neither expansion team is allowed to draft from.
- Certain players are automatically protected. If signed at age 19 or older, players with no prior major league experience and less than three years service are draft-exempt. If signed at age 18 or younger, the player is draft-exempt if they possess less than four years of service. These draft exemptions do not occupy a space on the protected list.
- In this scenario, anyone drafted in 2021 and 2022 are automatically protected. Second, any high school draftee from the 2020 draft is automatically protected. Lastly, any international signee from 2020-2022 is automatically protected.
- Players with a no-trade clause in their contract must be placed on the protected list.
Each of the 30 MLB teams would have to decide on the players they decide to protect. Ideally, teams would protect their 15 best players regardless of other considerations. However, realistically, teams would also have to consider other facts, such as no-trade clauses, salary commitments, or simply fan base attachment to a veteran. Importantly, this is being performed as if it were before the 2023 season started.
When Vancouver and Nashville are selecting players to begin their franchises, there are many factors they need to consider as well. They will likely not be immediate contenders, as it is hard to acquire stars through an expansion draft. However, they also will want to excite their new fanbases and not be in the cellar for the first few years of their existence. Two relatively recent expansion teams, the Diamondbacks and the Marlins, both won the World Series in their first five years, so it is not unfathomable to compete in a relatively short period of time. Therefore, when selecting players it is important for the two new franchises to balance fan engagement and putting a good product on the field with finding a competitive window and building a team for the long term.
Protected Player Lists
This expansion draft will be divided into multiple parts. In this article, the protected players’ list will be unveiled for every team in the National and American Leagues. These lists were compiled before the start of the 2023 MLB season.
Breaking Down the Protected Lists
The Arizona Diamondbacks are in an unenviable position in the NL West with the dominance of the Los Angeles Dodgers and the star-studded San Diego Padres to overcome. The Diamondbacks would have to protect Madison Bumgarner, with a no-trade clause in his contract, but the front office would still get to keep great pitchers Zac Gallen and Joe Mantiply. Ketel Marte is also a great talent, but the youth headlines this protected list, as the Diamondbacks would protect Corbin Carroll, Jake McCarthy, and others.
The 2021 World Series Champions are still one of the league’s most dominant teams, and their roster is star studded. The Atlanta Braves would be forced to protect Major League talent opposed to up-and-coming Minor League prospects. Their perennial MVP candidate Ronald Acuña Jr. would be added to this list alongside Ozzie Albies, Austin Riley, Michael Harris II, and others. Their frontline starting pitching would also join the list, including Max Fried, Kyle Wright, and Spencer Strider.
The Chicago Cubs have moved on from the core that won them their 2016 title, but the team insists they are on the cusp of a contending season. They would choose to protect stars like Marcus Stroman and Dansby Swanson, but they would also retain their loyalty to Cubs staples Kyle Hendricks and Ian Happ.
Reds fans will have to wait until their team can compete with the NL Central frontrunners in St. Louis and Milwaukee. The Reds will stand behind their team by protecting players like Joey Votto, Jonathan India, and Tyler Stephenson. However, they will also protect significant prospect capital, including Elly De La Cruz and Spencer Steer.
The Colorado Rockies have low expectations for their 2023 season, but as most of their top prospects are “auto-protected,” they will be able to retain Major League talent to either trade away or make a future playoff push. They will have to protect Germán Márquez and Kyle Freeland considering the scarcity of starting pitching willing to take their talents to Coors Field, but they will also keep (hopeful) sluggers like C.J. Cron and Kris Bryant. They will have to protect their No. 2 prospect Ezequiel Tovar.
Los Angeles Dodgers
The Los Angeles Dodgers will presumably continue a decade-long run of dominance in 2023, and barring major regressions from their roster, they will engage in a fierce battle for 1st place in the NL West. The Dodgers will protect mostly Major League talent, including their clubhouse leaders: Clayton Kershaw, Mookie Betts, and Freddie Freeman. They will also keep players like Walker Buehler and Will Smith, who appear to be the future of the franchise. They will also protect their No. 1 prospect Diego Cartaya.
The Miami Marlins surprised everyone with a Wild Card berth in 2020, but since then, their team has struggled in a talented NL East, which had three postseason teams last season. The Marlins have a bright future if their prospects can add to a promising Major League core. Miami’s Kim Ng would certainly protect 2022 Cy Young Award Winner Sandy Alcantara but also the electric Jazz Chisholm Jr., who the Marins hope will have a speedy, strong recovery. Jesús Luzardo, Jorge Soler, Sixto Sanchez, and others can be protected because many of Miami’s prospects are “auto-protected.” However, Miami’s No. 1 prospect Eury Pérez will take one of the Marlins’ 15 slots.
It will be a balancing act for the Milwaukee Brewers. Despite missing the 2022 postseason, the 2023 Milwaukee Brewers are in a competitive position with hopes to dethrone the St. Louis Cardinals or secure a Wild Card berth. They will retain highly-decorated Major League talents, including former Cy Young Award Winner Corbin Burnes, former Rookie of the Year Devin Williams, and former MVP Christian Yelich. They will also protect solid contributors, including Willy Adames, Brandon Woodruff, and Freddy Peralta. The Milwaukee Brewers have a few prospects to protect, including Garrett Mitchell and Brice Turang.
New York Mets
The New York Mets are a force to be reckoned with in the NL East with several major acquisitions over the past few seasons. Fortunately, since recently acquired prospects like Kodai Senga are “auto-protected,” the Mets will be able to protect mostly Major League talent. Their lethal 1-2 punch in Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer would be on this list. As well as Francisco Lindor, Pete Alonso, Jeff McNeil, Brandon Nimmo and others. The Mets want to compete now and would not want their plans to be disrupted.
The reigning National League Champions have a lot of work to do, if they wish to repeat their 2022 success, but they have the pieces to do it. The combination of Bryce Harper, Kyle Schwarber, Trea Turner, Rhys Hoskins, and J.T. Realmuto composes a solid offensive core, even if the Phillies have to account for injury recovery time. Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler are two of baseball’s top pitchers. The Phillies are also hoping to compete now, and with several “auto-protected” prospects, they should be able to make another postseason push.
The state of Pittsburgh Pirates baseball is depressing, but the franchise has several talents worth protecting. Contract negotiations with Bryan Reynolds have sparked drama, but the team would certainly hope to keep the franchise cornerstone. Oneil Cruz, David Bednar, and Ke’Bryan Hayes are names known throughout baseball and are worth keeping. Andrew McCutchen, who is in the twilight of his career, is worth keeping in Pittsburgh for the veteran presence and storylines alone. As a rebuilding team, the Pirates have numerous prospects to protect: Endy Rodríguez, Quinn Priester, and Nick Gonzales.
San Diego Padres
The San Diego Padres are in a similar position to the New York Mets. Their recent acquisitions indicate their high expectations for the 2023 season, and the World Series is their primary objective. San Diego’s goal is undoubtedly the retention of Major League talent: Juan Soto, Manny Machado, Fernando Tatis Jr., Xander Bogaerts, and many, many others. The Padres’ roster is stacked, and this superteam, with quality pitching from Yu Darvish, Blake Snell, and Josh Hader, could potentially go the distance.
San Francisco Giants
The San Francisco Giants shocked the baseball world in 2021 with a 107-win season before falling back to Earth with a .500 finish in 2022. On paper, the Giants’ roster is outmatched by San Diego and the rival Los Angeles Dodgers, but their front office believes they could return to the playoffs with a National League Wild Card berth. The Giants would have to protect franchise cornerstone Brandon Crawford, due to the shortstop’s no-trade clause, but Farhan Zaidi would also have other promising players to protect. Logan Webb is an elite starter, Joc Pederson was a 2022 All-Star, and Camilo Doval is quietly one of the most electric closers in MLB. Recent acquisitions, including Michael Conforto and Mitch Haniger, would join prospects like Marco Luciano and Luis Matos on the protected list.
St. Louis Cardinals
The St. Louis Cardinals have a roster their fans can be excited about. The reigning NL Central Champions will retain their longest-tenured player, Adam Wainwright, as well as premium infielders, reigning MVP Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado. Willson Contreras, Tommy Edman, Jack Flaherty, and Miles Mikolas are other key Cardinals players the front office would likely keep. Additionally, WBC champion and sensation Lars Nootbaar will make the protected players’ list after becoming a Japanese hero.
The Washington Nationals have a severe lack of Major League talent to protect, but their front office will try its best to keep key players and their farm system. Stephen Strasburg is undoubtedly the biggest name on this list, but his effectiveness as he bounces back from injury will be uncertain at best. The Nationals have solid players like Joey Meneses to protect, and they will also protect prospects like Cade Cavalli and Jeremy De La Rosa.
The Baltimore Orioles are approaching their competitive window after a long rebuild, with General Manager Mike Elias saying late last year that they are nearing “liftoff”. Although they had a quiet offseason, the Orioles have a lot of young talent, protecting young players both in the major and minor leagues. The hope for the O’s is that players like Heston Kjerstad and Jordan Westburg will make an impact from the minors so they are protected. Many of the top prospects in the system, such as Colton Cowser and Jackson Holliday, have been drafted in the past few years and are thus exempt from the draft, leaving space for the Orioles to protect a veteran like new offseason acquisition Cole Irvin.
Boston Red Sox
The Boston Red Sox are in a little bit of a middle ground, stuck in a tough division and having lost some of their best players over the last few years in Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts. However, they just made Rafael Devers their third baseman for the next decade and have some other building blocks at the major league level in trade acquisition Alex Verdugo and Rule 5 success story Garrett Whitlock. With the hope that players just starting to break into the big leagues like Triston Casas and Brayan Bello will make impacts and the myriad of exempt players, including the likes of Masataka Yoshida, Marcelo Mayer, and Mikey Romero, the Red Sox believe they are in a position to compete in the future and feel okay leaving vetrans like Justin Turner and Corey Kluber unprotected.
Chicago White Sox
The Chicago White Sox expected to contend the last few years with their core including Luis Robert Jr., Tim Anderson, and Lucas Giolito, but due to many factors, perhaps primarily the failed managerial tenure of Tony La Russa. However, that core is still intact and set up to be productive in the present, especially with the 2022 breakout of Dylan Cease. Therefore, the White Sox’s protected players tend to tilt towards winning now, especially due to their weak farm system. One interesting player left unprotected is catcher Yasmani Grandal, left unprotected in large part because of his large salary.
The Cleveland Guardians had a great 2022 on the back of a great pitching staff helmed by Shane Bieber and a unique lineup with José Ramírez in the middle. Much of Cleveland’s 2022 team is back in 2023, with the lineup getting a boost with the acquisition of Josh Bell. Most protection decisions for the Guardians were fairly straightforward, protecting the core of the team from last year and Brayan Rocchio and Daniel Espino, even though Espino has struggled with injuries. One interesting player left unprotected is new catcher Mike Zunino, a move that shows faith in prospect Bo Naylor.
The Detroit Tigers are in transition, with old GM Al Avila out the door after a long tenure. In steps Scott Harris, who was second in command in San Francisco under Farhan Zaidi. Harris is walking into a tough situation, with big free agent acquisitions Javier Báez and Eduardo Rodriguez having disappointed in 2022. However, there is some young upside with players like Tarik Skubal and Riley Greene in the majors and Dillon Dingler in the minors. With recent top draft picks Jackson Jobe and Ty Madden exempt, the Tigers were able to additionally protect new trade acquisitions Matt Vierling and Nick Maton, two shots Harris is taking on outfielders becoming important pieces of the next competitive Tigers team.
The reigning World Series champion Houston Astros are in more transition than would be expected for a reigning champion, as General Manager James Click is no longer the head man in the front office. In comes Dana Brown from Atlanta, coming from more of a scouting background. The Astros are one of the easiest teams to choose protected players for, as they are in the middle of an extended competitive window and want to maximize their talent for these next few years, so they simply keep their best player. One interesting protected player is Hunter Brown, a young starter with upside.
Kansas City Royals
The Kansas City Royals are also led by a new man in the front office, with JJ Picollo replacing Dayton Moore. The Royals have a few strong young pieces in Bobby Witt Jr., Vinnie Pasquantino, and Brady Singer, all protected players. They also are one of the few teams protecting two catchers, MJ Melendez and Salvador Perez, further thinning the pool of available catchers for other teams. Many young pitchers are also protected who are not proven but have at least a little upside.
Los Angeles Angels
The Los Angeles Angels are one of the oddest teams in baseball, having not made the playoffs in nearly a decade despite having two of the best players in the game in Shohei Ohtani and Mike Trout. After a busy offseason, the Angels have many difficult decisions to make when protecting players. They opted to protect new options Brandon Drury and Carlos Estévez over veterans David Fletcher and Luis Rengifo, along with left handed relievers Matt Moore and Aaron Loup. Given their position with two true superstars, the Angels have much more of an eye towards the present than the future, although they must be wary of Ohtani’s pending free agency.
The Minnesota Twins believe they are in position to compete this year after re-signing Carlos Correa after his crazy offseason. The Twins are building a rotation of solid, although not ace worthy, right handers; guys like Kenta Maeda and Joe Ryan. The Twins will protect their whole rotation along with much of their starting lineup. One key prospect protected is Royce Lewis, a shortstop who has struggled with injuries but is still talented. Top prospect Brooks Lee is exempt from the draft, although he may make an impact at the major league level later this year.
New York Yankees
The New York Yankees and their fans, as they do every year, expect to win the World Series. Most protected players for the Yankees are proven big leaguers, including stars Gerrit Cole and $360 million man Aaron Judge. Young guns with upside are also protected in Oswald Peraza, Oswaldo Cabrera, and new shortstop Anthony Volpe. Although both catchers, Jose Trevino and Kyle Higashioka, are protected, only one can get taken in the first round of the expansion draft and the Yankees will likely protect the other before the second round. Jasson Dominguez is one top prospect who is protected.
Unlike the Yankees, the Oakland Athletics and their fans do not expect to win the World Series. Nor do they expect to make the playoffs, or even expect to go .500. They are deep into a rebuild, however it has not gone according to plan thus far. One of the top prospects they acquired in their firesale was Cristian Pache, who is no longer in the organization. One new and exciting player, although exempt from the draft, is Japanese pitcher Shintaro Fujinami. Some interesting protected players are the speedy Esteury Ruiz and hard hitting catcher Shea Langeliers, but overall the list of protected players is very lackluster.
After breaking their playoff drought last season, the Seattle Mariners enter 2023 looking for more. They just locked up franchise cornerstone Julio Rodríguez for more than a decade, and although they did not spend as much as many fans hoped in the 2022-23 offseason, they still made a big move trading for outfielder Teoscar Hernández. After Jarred Kelenic’s hot start he is protected with the hopes he can reach his upside that was once so tantalizing, and most other players protected are guys in positions to help the Mariners win now. Because of the depth of their bullpen, solid relievers like Penn Murfee and Diego Castillo are left unprotected, as are speedy depth players like Taylor Trammell and Dylan Moore.
Tampa Bay Rays
The Tampa Bay Rays are off to a hot start in 2023, being the longest team left undefeated. Having just given Zach Eflin their largest free agent deal ever, the Rays are ready to compete this year for their first ever Commissioner's Trophy. The Rays have arms for days, and protect many of them, including the injured Shane Baz and Tyler Glasnow and top prospect Taj Bradley. In the bullpen only Pete Fairbanks is protected, meaning many of the strong arms in the bullpen are available for other teams, like Jalen Beeks, Colin Poche, and Jason Adam. In the outfield, more experienced players Manuel Margot and Jose Siri are left unprotected to protect the upside of 25 year old Josh Lowe.
After making splashes in the starting rotation and manager’s office in the offseason, the Texas Rangers seem ready to compete in their new ballpark. The entire rotation is protected, along with pitching prospects Cole Winn and Evan White. The Rangers are another team who protects two catchers, hanging onto both Jonah Heim and Mitch Garver. Many of the former pitching prospects with shine who the Rangers have acquired for cheap are left unprotected if a team wants to take a shot on guys like Dane Dunning or Spencer Howard.
Toronto Blue Jays
After saying last year was going to be a movie, the Toronto Blue Jays fell short of many expectations by losing to the Mariners in the playoffs. However, they have a strong core this year, bolstered by the addition of Daulton Varsho. Although José Berrios and Hyun-Jin Ryu and their large contracts must be protected because of no trade clauses, the Blue Jays still have plenty of flexibility to protect most of their lineup and rotation, including two catchers (plus Varsho). However, outside of Jordan Romano their bullpen is left unprotected and two veteran free agent acquisitions in Brandon Belt and Kevin Kiermaier are also left unprotected.