Rule 5 Draft

The Winter Meetings are virtual this year, rather than all of baseball gathering in Dallas as was planned, but some things don’t change. The Rule 5 Draft is taking place on Thursday, as usual, albeit via conference call. Teams close out the Winter Meetings by evaluating and sometimes selecting players who meet certain criteria and who haven’t been granted a spot on a 40-man roster. 

Every year, teams do find big league talent in the Draft, which will take place at noon ET (the conference call will be streamed live on MLB.com). There have been more contributors than stars found, but Major Leaguers are discovered annually. This year, the Pirates will get the first pick, by virtue of having the worst record in baseball in 2020. They’ll be followed by the Rangers, Tigers, Red Sox, and Orioles in the top five.

There are hundreds of eligible players, and teams are going through those lists and scouring past reports to help determine whether they want to make any selections.

The Draft Order

The Rule 5 Draft order is based on the reverse order of the 2020 regular-season standings. A team must have room on its 40-man roster to make a pick.

Players first signed at age 18 must be added to 40-man rosters within five seasons or they become eligible to be drafted by other organizations through the Rule 5 Draft process. Players signed at age 19 or older have to be protected within four seasons. Clubs pay $100,000 to select a player in the Major League phase of the Rule 5 Draft. If that player doesn’t stay on the 25-man roster for the full season, he must be offered back to his former team for $50,000.

There is also a Minor League phase of the Rule 5 Draft, with the costs now $24,000 for a Triple-A pick (anyone not protected on a big league or Triple-A roster is eligible). Players selected in this portion of the Rule 5 Draft aren’t subject to any roster restrictions with their new organizations.

Rule 5 2019

There were 11 players taken in last year’s Major League phase. Six of them got at least a little big league time with the team that acquired them, either in the Draft or in a trade announced immediately at the conclusion of the Draft, while one (Mark Payton) made it up with the team that took him, returned him to his original team and then traded for him later in the summer.

Of the players taken in last year’s Major League Rule 5 phase, only one finished with a positive Wins Above Replacement: Yohan Ramirez (0.5) of the Mariners. Brandon Bailey, who was taken by the Orioles but returned to the Astros, actually finished with a 0.1 WAR when he made it up with Houston. Last year, eight of 14 chosen players were in the big leagues with the team that acquired them.

All-time best picks

Most people know Roberto Clemente was a Rule 5 pick, taken by the Pirates from the Dodgers in 1954. But the rules have changed so much, we tend to make any “all-time” list by looking through a more modern lens. Looking at 1990 through last year, here’s how Rule 5 Draft picks line up in a top five, ranked by career WAR.

1) Johan Santana, LHP, 50.7
2) Shane Victorino, OF, 31.2
3) Josh Hamilton, OF, 28.1
4) Joakim Soria, RHP, 18.6
5) Dan Uggla, 2B, 17.5

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