Rule 5 Draft 101
Every year at the Winter Meetings, one of the last orders of business is the Rule 5 Draft, an event that leaves many of us – even those of us in baseball – scratching our heads and asking once again, “What exactly is the Rule 5 Draft?”
This question became even more relevant for us when we found out that the Royals selected right-hander Joakim Soria with the No. 2 pick of the Rule 5 Draft Thursday morning.
Enter Dean Taylor, the Royals assistant general manager, with an insider’s perspective on interpreting the clause-filled rule.
“This draft is put into place to give players who have not had an opportunity to play at the Major League level a chance to possibly play with another club,” Taylor says. “It’s all about the evaluating and re-evaluating of players based on the needs of each individual club.”
It’s also about keeping teams from hoarding all their talent in their minor league systems, not to mention forcing each club to protect those on the 40-man roster.
On the most basic level, there are three phases of the Rule 5 draft: the Major League segment, Triple-A and Double-A. For the major league phase, a player falls into Rule 5 Draft eligibility if (a) he is on a minor league roster and signed his first contract prior to the 2002 Rule 5 Draft for players who were 18 or younger on June 5th, prior to signing their first contract or (b) prior to the 2003 Rule 5 Draft for players who were 19 or older on June 5th prior to signing their first contract. Clear as mud, right?
Here’s an example. Royals left-hander Andrew Sisco was a past Rule 5 selection for the Royals. He was picked by Kansas City from the Cubs roster in December 2004. Sisco, who went 2-5 with a 3.11 ERA as a rookie in 2005, needed to stay on the big league roster all season or be offered back to Chicago.
This year many teams, including the Royals, benefited from a recent rule change that included the addition of an extra year before a player becomes Rule 5 eligible. The change resulted in the protection of a handful of top Royals prospects – including pitchers Tyler Lumsden and Billy Buckner, and outfielder Chris Lubanski – without adding them to the 40-man roster.
“I have a feeling because of the added year in the eligibility requirements, there will be fewer players available in the major league phase,” Taylor adds the night before the draft. “Fewer guys need to be protected this year.”
A team is only able to pick up any of these eligible selections if it has an opening on the 40-man roster. The night before this year’s draft, the Royals were staring down a full 40-man roster, causing them to release right-hander Runelvys Hernandez in order to open a spot.
For teams with a selection, the Rule 5 Draft isn’t just a wide-open farmer’s market of talented ballplayers. There’s a kicker that forces each team to really consider their draft selection. Each Rule 5 pick must be kept at the major league level the entire following season or be offered back at a bargain price – half of the $50,000 selection price – to his former team.
When it is time for a team to select, Taylor breaks the evaluation down into two categories.
“There are generally two types of players a club is looking for. Sometimes a club is looking for a role player, someone to fill a specific spot such as backup catcher or a left-handed pitcher,” Taylor says, “but, more than not, a club is just hoping to find a diamond in the rough.”
The new question: Did the Royals find a Roberto Clemente (1954) or a Johan Santana (1999) "diamond in the rough" player with this year’s Rule 5 pick?