Who needs to be protected from the Rule 5 Draft?


The Rule 5 Draft, an annual tradition as part of baseball’s Winter Meetings that take place each December, has become a popular opportunity for teams to take a chance on a player currently within another organization’s minor league system. The process was started as an effort to prevent teams from essentially stashing prospects in the minors, rather than giving them a chance at reaching the Majors. Some of the more notable players who have been Rule 5 selections include Johan Santana, Dan Uggla, Shane Victorino, Josh Hamilton, and Roberto Clemente.

Jayson Werth was also once a Rule 5 selection, drafted by the Toronto Blue Jays from the Baltimore Orioles in 2001 (the two sides completed a trade to secure Werth’s rights as Toronto’s). As was Jesus Flores, taken from the New York Mets in 2006.

For those unfamiliar with how the Rule 5 Draft works, here is an abridged version of the rules:

  • Teams are allowed to select players who are not currently on another organization’s 40-man roster provided those players were signed at age 19 and have been in their organization for at least four years or were signed at age 18 and have been in their organization for at least five years.
  • Teams select in the same order as the June Amateur Draft (i.e. reverse order of the previous season’s final standings).
  • Teams may only select a player if it has an existing opening on their 40-man roster.
  • Selections cost an organization $50,000.
  • Selected players must remain on their new team’s 25-man roster for a minimum of 90 non-September days during the subsequent season. Time spent on the DL does not count towards this requirement.
  • A player must be offered back to their original team in the event that he no longer remains on a drafted team’s active roster. The original team must repay $25,000 in the event that they accept a player back.
  • Should a player remain on the drafting team’s active roster for the necessary time frame, that player will then become “property” of the drafting team. The player may be then sent to the minor leagues, per regular guidelines, the following season

Now, the reason why we’re bringing the Rule 5 Draft up now is thanks to Marc Zuckerman’s reminder yesterday afternoon that teams have until this Friday to place eligible players on the 40-man roster to protect them from being selected by another organization this December. For some teams, this process will necessitate a good deal of discussion and evaluation. 40-man roster spots are scarce in most organizations, particularly those with few free agents and few needs to address. The Nationals currently have 34 players on their 40-man roster, so that normally would make some of this decision easier. Don’t forget the team still has needs to address – starting rotation, center field, bench and bullpen – and any player signed and/or traded for will immediately take one of those open roster spots.

Zuckerman runs down a list of notable names that will be under discussion leading up to Friday. He specifically mentions 14 candidates, concluding with four being protected (Derek Norris, Tyler Moore, Josh Smoker, Erik Komatsu).

Norris is an easy decision as the chances currently seem high that he’ll be in Washington sometime during the 2012 season. Despite a subpar 2011 season in Double-A he still figures highly into the organization’s plans moving forward and he’s the type of player that another organization would love to take a chance on with the knowledge that he could be sent back to minors for additional seasoning in a year if needed. I don’t expect that Norris will make the Nationals’ active roster out of Spring Training as I expect the team will either rely on Flores or an experienced backup in order to keep Wilson Ramos fresh. Norris is likely headed for Triple-A in the Spring as he’s not quite ready yet.

Moore is a first baseman with strong power potential (62 combined home runs over his past two seasons). He also spent the 2011 season at Double-A. For more on Moore, I’ll refer you to our look a few weeks ago at Adam LaRoche‘s upcoming contract option.

Smoker was once a promising left-handed starter but injuries largely derailed his career. He was converted to the bullpen last season and the results returned, meaning some team might take a flyer on him as a lefty specialist.

Komatsu, an outfielder, was acquired this past summer from Milwaukee (for Jerry Hairston Jr.). Over four minor league seasons he is a career .302/.389/.434 hitter with strong on-base skills and a good tendency for stolen bases.

We’ll know by Friday exactly who the Nationals will protect from the Rule 5 Draft, but as I mentioned, the actual Draft itself doesn’t take place until the Winter Meetings in December. We may see numerous changes to the roster makeup between now and then, which could both determine whether the Nationals take a chance and draft another team’s player or how devastating losing one of the other eligible players may actually be.