Understanding the Rule 5 Draft


There are a few terms in baseball that some of us (most?) just seem to browse over during the off season as it rarely seems to have an impact on our favorite team. Terms like non-tender, first year arbitration eligible, pre-arbitration eligible and the Rule 5 draft all fall under that umbrella I believe. Here’s my attempt at making the Rule 5 Draft part of your vocabulary.

Johan Santana

, taken in 1999, is an example of the reward a club may experience from the Rule 5 Draft. Image: Anthony Gruppuso-US PRESSWIRE

The Rule 5 Draft falls on the final day of Major League Baseball’s winter meetings- this year the meetings take place in Nashville, TN from December 3-6th, with the Draft falling on the 6th. Essentially this draft is for minor league players and allows teams to sift through the farm system of other organizations in an attempt to find a diamond in the rough that will be major league ready in a year. It also ensures organizations don’t just stockpile their farm systems and block a player’s movement towards the major leagues. This is where the risk/reward comes into play.

All major league teams have to fill their 40 man roster by November 20th which protects those players from being drafted. For example, the D’backs selected the contracts of Charles Brewer, Chase Anderson, Keon Broxton, Eury De La Rosa and Eric Smith; putting them on their 40 man ensuring they remain with the club. Still, according to the 40 man roster on the Diamondbacks website, the team has three open spots making them eligible to take part in the Rule 5 draft on the 6th.

Players not selected to their respective clubs 40 man rosters then become eligible for the Rule 5 Draft. Kind of. Here are a couple more stipulations:

  • Only clubs without the full 40 guys on their roster may participate in the draft.
  • Teams select in reverse order of that season’s finish, with the American and National leagues alternating the No. 1 pick from year to year.
  • Players who were 18 or younger on June 5 preceding the signing of their first contract must be protected after four minor league seasons.
  • Players 19 and older must be protected after three seasons.

The reason why you don’t hear of much crazy activity during this draft is because of this MAJOR stipulation: each Rule 5 pick must be kept in the major leagues the entire following season or be offered back to his former team for half of the $50,000 selection price.

You can imagine that this makes it extremely difficult to pluck a player from a farm system that wasn’t protected and then be able to use them for an entire MLB season. You would think that if their own team wasn’t protecting them then the chances of them being major league ready is pretty low. Generally speaking there will be 10-15 teams that participate in the draft each year- 2011 saw 12 teams draft including the Diamondbacks selection of RHP Brett Lorin from the Pirates (he never left AA Mobile going 3-10 with a 6.40 ERA). The Pirates now can buy Lorin’s contract back at $25,000 if they want him.

To make it more confusing, there are also options for organization’s to draft players from Double-A or lower to play for their AAA affiliates (for $12,000) and may draft players from Single-A teams or lower to play for their AA affiliates (for $4,000).

So even if Tower’s fills his 40 man through the Rule 5- which I would doubt- it’s hard to get excited about the player(s) he may choose as their impact will likely be minimal at best- at least not that first full season. But there are players that have been involved in the Rule 5 Draft that are household names: Roberto Clemente, Johan Santana, Josh Hamilton, Dan Uggla, and Jose Bautista to name a few.

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