The 2021 edition of the Rule 5 Draft has been officially canceled, according to The Athletic’s Zach Buchanan (via Twitter). Originally set to take place in December at the end of the Winter Meetings, the R5 was one of the many staples of the baseball calendar postponed by the lockout, and reports surfaced last week that just about all front office personnel around baseball were in favor of simply canceling this year’s draft.
A rescheduled Rule 5 draft would’ve added yet another notable event to a four-week stretch that will be busier than any other in baseball history from a transactional standpoint. Between free agents, trades, arbitration hearings, and the countless other pieces of business that front offices need to address by the new April 7 Opening Day (and likely beyond), the Rule 5 Draft was deemed expendable.
The MLB Players Association would’ve had to agree to the R5’s cancellation, and while the union surely wasn’t pleased about even a one-year break in a mechanism that provides more big league opportunity and big league paychecks to players, it could be that the Rule 5 was seen as a relatively minor point within the many larger items of debate between the union and the owners. Also, since minor league players aren’t officially part of the MLBPA, it could be that the union was simply more focused on the priorities of its actual members.
As it stands, 2021 will mark the first season since 1891 that the Rule 5 Draft (in one form or another) didn’t take place, interrupting one of baseball’s more quietly longstanding traditions. It will be good news for teams like the Guardians, Pirates, Rays, and other clubs who had a surplus of eligible minor league talent that couldn’t all be fit onto the 40-man roster, since now those prospect-heavy teams will get to keep those players rather than risk losing any in a Rule 5 Draft.
However, it could lead to a loaded field of eligible prospects for the 2022 R5, which is presumably still set to take place in December on the last day of the Winter Meetings. A new group of minor leaguers will gain eligibility and join any leftover prospects from this year’s class that still might be left off a 40-man roster, giving teams with more options than usual to choose from come December.
As a refresher, a player selected in a Rule 5 Draft must remain on his new team’s 26-man active roster for an entire season in order for the new team to gain full rights to the player’s services. If the player doesn’t spend the entire season on the active roster or the new team simply decides to part ways with the player, he must be first offered back to his original team for a $50K price. (A team selecting a R5 player must pay a $100K fee.)