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Transaction Catchup and Rule 5 Draft Preview

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MLB: St. Louis Cardinals at Pittsburgh Pirates Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The deadline to file reserve lists (40-man rosters) for Rule 5 draft protection is right around the corner. In this article I will catch you up on recent transactions, summarize the state of the 40-man roster and preview the upcoming Rule 5 draft.

Cards Re-Sign Adam Wainwright to a 1-year Deal

On November 12th, the Cards re-signed RHP Adam Wainwright, their own free agent. The entire details of the contract did not come out until a day later. As far as maximum possible earnings, Wainwright can earn the same amount as a starter in 2020 as he did in 2019—$10 million. The contract is structured a little differently, however. Last year’s base salary was only $2 million, while his 2020 contract calls for a $5 million base. In addition, the incentive clauses are different. Wainwright had to start 30 games last season to reach his maximum $10 million earnings. He exceeded that number by 1 start, making at least 30 starts for the first time since the 2016 season. Under last season’s contract, he would have had to start 15 games to earn as much as $5 million, which will be his base salary for 2020.

It will be easier under his 2020 contract to max out his potential earnings, as he will hit the $10 million figure for only 28 starts this time instead of 30. The 2020 incentive structure calls for $1.5 million payments for his 20th and 25th starts, with an additional $2 million payment for his 28th start. Under last season’s contract, he would have earned $6 million for 20 starts and $8 million for 25 starts. This year, he will get $6.5 million for 20 starts and the same $8 million for 25 starts.

The 2020 contract, just like last year’s, contains an incentive structure to cover the contingency of Wainwright pitching out of the bullpen. This part of the incentive structure has been reported to be the same as last year. He will trigger $500,000 payments starting with his 35th relief appearance and for every 5th relief appearance after that until he hits 60 appearances. If he ends up as a closer for some reason, he gets $500,000 for each of 25 and 30 games finished, and $600,000 for each additional 5 games finished until a maximum of 55 games.

The upshot is that just like last year, he has a chance to earn up to $10 million as a starter. If he’s in the bullpen and makes 60 appearances, he maxes out at $8 million. The incentive structure for that was the same as last year, but because he gets an extra $3 million guaranteed in 2020, he has a chance to earn $3 million more total by pitching in middle relief. What’s interesting under this setup—assuming I am reading everything correctly—is that Wainwright actually has a chance to earn more as the full time closer than he can as a starter. If he’s the closer for some reason, and makes 60 relief appearances with 55 games finished, he stands to earn $12 million. He would have maxed out at $9 million under this structure last year, which was less than his potential earnings as a 30-game starter. But because of the extra $3 million in guaranteed money for 2020, he can actually earn more as the closer.

Of course, if Wainwright ends up makes 60 relief appearances for the Cards next year and finished 55 games, something has gone very wrong with the Cards’ bullpen. Jordan Hicks is expected to return from Tommy John surgery some time after the All-Star break, and if Carlos Martinez can handle rotation duty, the Cards surely have other options like Giovanny Gallegos that they would put in the closer’s job before Wainwright. The Cards expect Wainwright to be a member of the rotation in 2020 and hope he can carry the momentum that he showed at the end of the 2019 forward to next year.

After Wainwright made 33 starts in 2016, every year since then fans have been predicting that the next year would be Wainwright’s last and the question of whether Wainwright would retire has been a major part of the questions asked of him during both the pre-season and the offseason every year since. Wainwright finished last season strong, and if he is healthy and feels good, there is no real risk to signing him to the contract the Cards did.

Wainwright’s signing put the Cards’ 40-man roster at 38 players.

Ozuna Declined Qualifying Offer

The Cards’ having made LF Marcell Ozuna a 1-year $17.8 million Qualifying Offer for the 2020 season on November 4th, Ozuna had 10 days to decide whether to take it. Although there was speculation in some circles that Ozuna would take it and arguments in perhaps the same circles that Ozuna should bet on himself and take it, he did not surprise most of us when he rejected it.

Until this season only 6 players out of 80 players receiving a Qualifying Offer in the history of the Qualifying Offer procedure going back to 2012 had ever accepted it. Two players out of the ten who were offered a QO for the 2020 season—RHP Jake Odorizzi of the Twins and 1B Jose Abreu of the White Sox—accepted the offer, making a total of 8 acceptances out of 90 QOs in MLB history. As Andrew Simon of MLB.com illustrates in this article here, of the 5 players who accepted a QO prior to Hyun-Jin Ryu’s acceptance of a QO for the 2019 season (C Matt Wieters, OF Colby Rasmus, LHP Brett Anderson, 2B Neil Walker and RHP Jeremy Hellickson), only Wieters produced a higher WAR in the season after accepting the QO. And only Wieters landed a multi-year deal in the season following the QO season.

If a club other than the Cards signs Ozuna, the Cards will get an additional draft choice after Competitive Balance Round B in the upcoming June 2020 draft. You can expect such a pick to be in the late 70s in order. Any team that signs Ozuna would be subject to forfeiting a draft pick, and you can check my previous article here to see the forfeiture structure.

With LHP Will Smith of the Giants rejecting the Giants’ QO and signing a 3-year, $40 million deal with the Braves even before the deadline to accept the QO expired, there are 6 players left on the market that have a Qualifying Offer attached: LHP Madison Bumgarner, RHP Gerrit Cole, 3B Josh Donaldson, 3B Anthony Rendon, RHP Stephen Strasburg and RHP Zack Wheeler. The Cards are known to be in the market for a starting pitcher and there have been discussions about adding a third baseman. While it is doubtful that the Cards are in the market for the best of this group, if by chance the club ends up signing one of these players, it will forfeit its second-highest available draft choice in the June 2020 draft and $500,000 in International Signing Bonus Pool money.

The only 40-man roster ramification as a result of Ozuna’s declining the QO is that the Cards have an additional 40-man roster spot to play with, as if he had accepted the QO, the Cards would have had to add him back to the 40-man roster immediately.

November 20th—Deadline to File Reserve Lists

On November 20th, all clubs must submit their reserve lists to the MLB Commissioner’s office. What does this mean? The major league reserve list is the official name for the 40-man roster. Each minor league affiliate of every club also has a reserve list, which are set at 38 for AAA clubs, 37 for AA clubs and 35 for every other club of Class A or lower classification. All clubs must file both their 40-man rosters (major league reserve lists) as well as all of their reserve lists for all of their minor league clubs on November 20th.

Still, you may ask, what’s the point of the filings and what significance do they have? The most important thing to understand is that on November 20th, minor league reserve lists are frozen from that point—subject to a few narrow exceptions—until the Rule 5 draft is concluded. The Rule 5 draft is always the last order of business at the MLB Winter Meetings, and is scheduled to take place this year on December 12th. Clubs may make outright assignments of players from the major league 40-man roster to a minor league reserve list as long as it’s done before 5:00 EST on the third day prior to the Rule 5 draft. Major or Minor League free agents may be added. Clubs may also release players for the purpose of permitting that player to sign a bona fide contract as a foreign professional.

But critically, minor league players eligible for selection in the upcoming Rule 5 draft may not be added to the 40-man roster, traded to another organization or moved from one minor league reserve list to another from the allotted time on November 20th until the Rule 5 draft is over. This presents a few significant decisions for the Cardinals.

First, they must decide by November 20th which of their prospects to add to the 40-man roster to protect them from the Rule 5 draft. Right now, the Cards’ 40-man roster has 38 players on it. If the Cards make no further transactions between now and November 20th, that will leave room to protect only 2 prospects. Players added to the 40-man roster are protected from the Rule 5 draft, which has both a major league portion and a minor league portion. In the major league phase, clubs can draft an unprotected player for $100,000 but are prohibited from optioning that player to the minor leagues without first placing that player on outright assignment waivers and then offering that player back to his original club for $50,000. The player can be placed on the disabled list, but if he is not on the active roster for at least 90 days, the Rule 5 restrictions carry over to the next season until the player has spent at least 90 days on the active roster. Basically a drafted player has to stick on the drafting club’s active roster the whole season or risk being lost.

The Cards also have to decide which of its minor league players to place on its 38-man AAA Memphis reserve list on November 20th. Why does this matter? Because of the minor league phase of the Rule 5 draft. If a draft-eligible player is placed on the AAA reserve list, the only way that player can be lost is in the major league portion of the draft, which, as I described, forces a potential suitor to make a tough decision. If, however, a draft-eligible player is placed on a reserve list of a AA classification club or lower, then that player may be taken in the minor league portion of the Rule 5 draft for only $24,000. Players drafted in the minor league potion have no restrictions attached to them. Clubs drafting them can send them anywhere in their system without offering them back to their original clubs or giving other teams a chance to take them.

Between now and November 20th, you might see the Cards clear some additional space to be able to protect more than 2 players. It is also possible that the Cards could clear a spot to allow it to make a selection in the Rule 5 draft. The Cards might clear a spot or two on December 2nd by non-tendering a couple of players, but if not, the club will be barred from making a Rule 5 selection if the 40-man roster is full.

List of Organization Players Eligible for Selection

The criteria for Rule 5 draft eligibility has changed over time. The current rules specify that any minor league player who was 19 years of age or older on the June 5th immediately preceding the signing of his first contract is eligible for selection in the fourth Rule 5 draft following his first qualified season. Players who were 18 years of age of younger on the June 5th immediately preceding the signing of the first contract are eligible for selection in the fifth Rule 5 draft following his first qualified season. In addition, anyone who has ever been outrighted to the minor leagues in his career is eligible, and so is anyone who has either been released or had his contract with a club voided and then is re-signed by that club within 1 year.

The only situation where the above criteria gets tricky is when a player signs his first contract after the conclusion of the season of the minor league club to which he is first assigned is over. In that case, the season after the player’s signing is considered to be the player’s first qualified season for purposes of the Rule 5 draft.

Also keep in mind that in an earlier piece here, I identified 11 players who were eligible to be declared automatic minor league free agents on November 4th. The Cardinals only lost 3 of those players and have apparently re-signed the other 8 players to minor-league successor contracts. These 8 players are still eligible for selection in the Rule 5 draft, because minor-league deals do not protect them.

With the above criteria in mind, I have identified 48 players in the Cardinal organization who are eligible for selection in either the major league or minor league phase of the Rule 5 draft. I have listed them below, in alphabetical order, by last level played.

AAA Memphis (15)

RHP Bryan Dobzanski, RHP Chris Ellis, C Jose Godoy, RHP Derian Gonzalez, RHP Kevin Herget, RHP Connor Jones, IF Jose Alexander Martinez, RHP Ryan Meisinger, RHP Andrew Morales, 1B John Nogowski, C Brian O’Keefe, RHP Roel Ramirez, IF Max Schrock, RHP Anthony Shew, RHP Jake Woodford

AA Springfield (9)

SS Rayder Ascanio, OF Conner Capel, Chris Chinea, RHP John Fasola, 1B Yariel Gonzalez, 3B Elehuris Montero, RHP Mitchell Osnowitz, RHP Ronnie Williams, 1B Yuan Yepez

A-Advanced Palm Beach (9)

LHP Diego Cordero, OF Bryce Denton, OF Andres Luna, C Dennis Ortega, LHP Ian Oxnevad, OF Nick Plummer, RHP Ramon Santos, RHP Alvaro Seijas, RHP Ben Yokley

A Peoria (7)

RHP Franyel Casadilla, 1B/OF Leandro Cedeno, RHP Noel De Jesus, 2B Imeldo Diaz, 3B Edwin Figuera, C Alexis Wilson, OF Wadye Ynfante

Short-Season A State College (6)

LHP Fabian Blanco, SS Moises Castillo, OF Stanley Espinal, 1B Dariel Gomez, RHP Junior Gonzalez, LHP Jacob Schlesener

Rookie Johnson City (1)

LHP Enrique Perez

Rookie Gulf Coast League (1)

RHP Francis Ventura

*Note that there would have been an additional 3 players on my list—IF Raffy Ozuna and OF William Jimenez of Johnson City and RHP Anthony Trompiz of the GCL Cardinals. But according to Brian Walton’s Roster Matrix, which you can find here, those three players were released on November 14th. That information was not otherwise available, as it was not reported on either the minor league pages of those players or the transaction pages for the various leagues.

Conclusion

I do not know what the likelihood is that the Cardinals will lose any of its players in the major league portion of the Rule 5 draft. Perhaps it is zero, although the addition of one player to the active roster of clubs next year might entice a club to try to stash an extra bench player. Nonetheless, the two names most often bandied about for protection are Jake Woodford and Elehuris Montero. The Cards’ 40-man roster is currently at 38, so there is room right now to protect those two and only those two. The Cards have some decisions to make in the next few days. Will the Cards indeed protect those two? Will they clear additional space on the 40-man roster to have the ability to protect more players? Are the Cards interested in wading into the major league phase of the Rule 5 draft themselves?

Weirdly enough, the more difficult decision for the Cards may be the question of which of these players will be placed on the AAA Memphis 38-man reserve list. Placing players on that list would force a club to draft them in the major league portion of the draft. If a player is left off of that list, that reflects an opinion that the club is not overly concerned with that player being lost forever in the minor league phase of the draft.