The MLB offseason has been officially open for a while now, but we’ve seen very little movement in terms of trades or free agency. That’s to be expected as players and their representatives vet and posture while teams do more of the same. There are also a few procedural aspects at play, the most pressing of which is the protection (or not) of eligible prospects from the Rule 5 Draft.
For those of you who need a little primer, this process allows organizations that do not have a full 40-man roster to select specific non-40-man players from other organizations. Players who were signed at age 18 or younger must be added to their club’s 40-man roster within five seasons or else become eligible for the Rule 5 Draft. Those signed at 19 or older must be protected within four seasons.
Just like the Rule 4 Draft, the one everybody is familiar with, the Rule 5 Draft goes in reverse order of standings. One big difference between the two is that not every team makes a selection; some don’t have open roster spots and others may not want to take the risk. Teams that do take a player must pay $100,000 to the club from which he came and that player must remain on his new club’s 26-man roster or IL for the entirety of the next season.
If said player doesn’t last, he is placed on outright waivers and must be offered back to his original team for $50,000 if he clears. In the event that he clears and is not taken back by his old team, he can be outrighted to the minors. This prevents teams from simply stocking up on prospects to stock the upper levels of their minors, which is why you don’t typically see a ton of movement in this process.
The Rule 5 Draft is set for December 6, the last day of the Winter Meetings in Nashville, but teams have to decide by November 14 which players to protect. The Cubs only have three spots and could fill all of them with prospects, but that would mean making even more subsequent moves to clear room for free agents. Or they could swing at least one big trade that would see multiple members of their 40-man swapped in exchange for one player.
The folks over at North Side Bound are obsessed with this stuff, so I’ll direct you over there if you really want to dig into it a little more. For now, let’s just take a quick and dirty look at which of the 69 eligible players the Cubs may or may not protect. The consensus seems to be that catcher Pablo Aliendo and righty Michael Arias will be protected, though cases could be made for Kohl Franklin, Bryce Windham, Jake Slaughter, Porter Hodge, and others.
In the end, I’d say the Cubs protect two players at the most.
One player who certainly won’t be protected is David Bote, who has become a forgotten man as the Cubs opted to move in a different direction at third. His big highlights obscured overall pedestrian production, but he’s got a little thump and has flashed a really good glove. Is that worth $5.5 million to anyone? Jed Hoyer certainly hopes so.
Cam Sanders is someone I thought had a shot at making the bullpen out of spring training, so he could be poached. The others mentioned above are also candidates for selection, and Todd Johnson of NSB mentioned Darius Hill as well. Hill is a really solid hitter and decent outfielder who just doesn’t have a spot in the Cubs organization. If he’s not plucked away, I could see him being involved as a sweetener in a deal this winter.
These moves won’t have any huge impact on what the Cubs or other teams will do in free agency, of course, but they could offer clues while we wait for bigger news.