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When, Why And What Is The Rule 5 Draft?



Rule 5 SEE ALSO: Rule 5 Archive

SEE ALSO: 40-man roster addition analysis

When is the Rule 5 draft?

Dec. 8, 2016 at 9 a.m. local time (Eastern Time this year since the baseball winter meetings are behind held outside of Washington, D.C.). The Rule 5 draft is always the last significant item of the winter meetings. Scouts and front office officials will sometimes even bring their luggage to the ballroom where the draft is being hosted. They pick their players and then head straight to the airport to fly home.

The draft will be streamed by MLB.com. If you want extensive analysis before, during and after the draft, stay at BaseballAmerica.com. These kind of events are what we live for.

Who is available in the Rule 5 draft?

With a few exceptions, any player who was younger than 19 on June 4 of their signing year is eligible to be picked if they are not on a 40-man roster after their fifth pro year. Any player who was 19 or older on June 4 of their signing year is eligible after their fourth pro season. In practical terms, that means that most high school/international signees from 2012 and college draftees from 2013 are eligible for the first time this year if left off the 40-man roster. The rule used to be three years for college players and four years for high school/international players, but it was changed before the 2007 Rule 5 draft.

There are exceptions to those rules. If a player signs after the initial team he is assigned to has already ended its season, that year does not count toward Rule 5 eligibility (see the example of Luiz Gohara). Since a draft signing deadline is now in place for drafted players, this largely applies to international players who sign in mid-August or later. Also, any player whose initial contract is renegotiated becomes eligible that year (and every subsequent year) for the Rule 5 draft if not added to the 40-man roster. A notable recent example of this rule was Cubs outfielder Matt Szczur. After Chicago paid him an additional $1.4 million on top of his initial $100,000 signing bonus to induce him to give up football, Chicago had to put him on the 40-man roster after the 2011 season to protect him from the Rule 5 draft.

What are the eligibility rules for the Rule 5 draft?

Any player who is picked in the major league portion of the Rule 5 draft costs the selecting team $100,000. That $100,000 payment cost has doubled this year after it had not been changed in decades. It's still a bargain in a world of $500,000+ minimum salaries.

For that $100,000, the picked player becomes a member of his new organization. But for the new organization to keep him, he must be kept on the major league 25-man roster for the entirety of the 2017 season. If not, he must be placed on waivers, giving any other team the opportunity to assume the responsibility for keeping the player on their major league 25-man roster. If the player passes unclaimed through waivers, he is then offered back to his original team. The original team can get the player back by paying $50,000 (half the original $100,000) to the team that picked the player in the Rule 5 draft. The original team can also refuse the return of the player (and keep the entire $100,000 they were paid at the time of the Rule 5 draft). In that case, the player becomes a normal member of the organization that picked him in the Rule 5 draft, eligible to be optioned to the minors like any other player.

In many cases, if a player is offered back, the two teams (the team that picked him and the team that lost him in the Rule 5 draft) will end up working out a trade.The team that picked the player will offer cash or a prospect to be able to keep the rights to the Rule 5 player they picked while earning the right to send him to the minors. Just last year, that’s how the Padres retained outfielder Jabari Blash after picking him in the Rule 5 draft.

What happens if a Rule 5 pick is injured? Could a team keep a player by putting him on the disabled list the entire year?

No one ever roots for an injury, but for teams who pick a Rule 5 player, an injury does sometimes make it easier for the player to “stick.” Players have to have spent 90 days on the active big league roster to fulfill Rule 5 eligibility requirements. It’s easy to carry anyone on the expanded rosters of September, which means a player can fulfill more than a third of the active roster requirement at a time when a team isn’t really penalized for carrying a player who can’t really contribute.

To give a prime example, the Braves picked righthander Daniel Winkler from the Rockies in the December 2014 Rule 5 draft. At the time, Winkler was still early in his rehabilitation from Tommy John surgery. So Atlanta brought him to spring training and let him rehab. When the season began, he was placed on the disabled list. He sat on the DL all year, but when September arrived and rosters expanded, Winkler was activated on Sept. 10. He was far enough along in his rehab to throw two very ineffective appearances, but he mainly sat and watched in Braves bullpen.

Sitting and watching still meant that when the season was over he had 25 days on the active roster. That was not enough to fulfill Rule 5 eligibility requirements so when the 2016 season began, Winkler still needed to be on the active roster for 65 more days before he could be optioned to the minors.

Winkler looked excellent in the Braves bullpen during the first week of the season. But then he fractured his elbow and had to go back on the disabled list with a season-ending injury on April 11.

By rough count, that means that Winkler still needs 58 days on the active roster before he’s free from Rule 5 requirements. So when the 2017 season begins, the Braves’ 2014 Rule 5 pick is still tied to the Rockies in some way. If the Braves try to send him to the minors in the first two months of the season, they’ll have to offer him back to the Rockies, nearly two and a half years after the Braves drafted him.

Injuries can also be a way for inexperienced Rule 5 picks some time in the minors to aid in their development. When the Brewers plucked lefthander Wei-Chang Wang out of the Gulf Coast League in the 2013 Rule 5 draft, they knew he would be overmatched by big league hitters.

He was. And so he sat buried as the “don’t use” option in the Brewers bullpen, pitching three to four times a month from April to mid-July. He posted a 10.80 ERA.

But a well-timed injury sent him to the disabled list in July. When he returned, the Brewers were able to send him to a minor league rehab assignment of up to 30 days. He pitched in the Rookie-level Arizona League, low Class A Wisconsin and high Class A Brevard County before returning to his non-use in the Brewers’ big league bullpen in September. For the year, Wang had 17 big league innings over four months and 27 innings in the minors in one month.

So what’s the minor league Rule 5 draft about?

After the teams finish the major league portion of the Rule 5 draft, they move on the minor league portion. At this point, there are no further eligibility rules. Any player picked in the minor league Rule 5 draft immediately becomes a member of his new organization without having to be stashed on any particular roster—a player taken in the Rule 5 draft can end up playing next year in low Class A.

Any picks in the minor league phase cost $24,000. 

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If a player is picked in any portion of the Rule 5 draft, the picking team takes over the player’s contract as well. So you will find some faded former big leaguers (with long-term deals) left on Double-A or lower rosters in the longshot hope that some other team will pick the player and take over the remainder of the contract—those players never get picked.

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