As reflected in MLBTR’s handy list of key offseason dates, November 20th is the deadline for teams to protect otherwise-eligible prospects from this year’s Rule 5 draft. Teams must add such players to their 40-man rosters by 8pm ET tomorrow or risk losing them to competitors when selections are made on December 12th.
Eligibility is determined by reference to the age and timing of entry to the professional ranks. A player that signed at 18 years of age or younger and has five seasons of pro ball is Rule 5 eligible if he is not added to the 40-man roster in advance of the deadline. Players that signed at 19 or older and have four seasons of professional experience are also eligible to be selected if they’re not added to the 40-man roster tomorrow. (In other words, college draftees out of the 2016 class, high school draftees out of the 2015 class and most international amateurs signed in the 2015-16 international period are eligible this year if not protected.)
Teams that make selections in the draft will gain conditional control over the chosen players. To be kept permanently, a player must stay on the MLB roster for an entire season, with at least ninety days spent on the active roster. It’s plausible to imagine that the addition of a 26th active roster spot this year will facilitate the utilization of the Rule 5 process.
Full coverage of the Rule 5 landscape will necessarily await tomorrow’s decisions. The need to make tough calls will prompt some action around the game, though it remains to be seen whether that’ll be the usual run of moves on the margins or if a blockbuster or two could be swung. Baseball America’s J.J. Cooper is as usual champing at the bit, so he has released a prediction of some interesting players that are relatively likely to be left unprotected.
As you might imagine, it’s easier to account for protection of prospects for teams with extra 40-man roster space. But it’s not as simple as having an opening. You also must be able to maintain a player in that spot throughout the winter and into the season. Adding a player that wouldn’t have been selected (or wouldn’t have lasted on an active roster) therefore carries its own risk: if you end up needing the roster space, you might have to expose such a player to outright waivers in the middle of the season. It’s worth noting, too, that some teams have already added players that they wish to protect.
There are tons of factors that go into these decisions, but roster space does still matter. Here are the number of open 40-man spots for each MLB team, as things stand this morning (per MLB.com’s roster pages):
8: Cubs, Twins
7: Braves, Brewers, Tigers, White Sox
6: Astros, Red Sox
5: Mariners, Diamondbacks, Marlins, Orioles, Phillies, Reds
4: Rangers, Rockies, Yankees
3: Dodgers, Mets, Rays
2: Angels, Cardinals, Indians
0: Athletics, Blue Jays, Padres, Giants, Royals
Elements of this post are adapted in part from a prior post by MLBTR’s Steve Adams.