The offseason is filled with small, seemingly insignificant deadlines that have a considerable impact on the way major league rosters shake out. One such deadline is the Rule 5 draft.
What is the Rule 5 draft and why does it matter?
Here’s the official explanation, according to MLB: “Players first signed at age 18 or younger must be added to 40-man rosters within five seasons or they become eligible to be drafted by other organizations through the Rule 5 process. Players signed at 19 years or older have to be protected within four seasons.”
For the 2020 offseason, that means the following types of players will need to be protected by the 40-man roster or they could be selected:
1. Prep and international players 18 and younger – signed in 2016.
2. College players 19 or older – drafted in 2017.
This year’s draft will be held on Dec. 10. Normally it’s tacked on to the end of the Winter Meetings but those were canceled over COVID concerns. The deadline to protect Rule 5 eligible players is Nov. 20. That means the Cardinals have some more roster tweaking to do. The club has several players eligible for Rule 5. We’ll focus on six that MLB highlighted from their own Top 30 prospect list:
St. Louis Cardinals (Rankings based on MLB Top 30):
Currently, the Cardinals have 37 players on their 40-man roster. Later this offseason they will gain an additional roster space when Dakota Hudson is moved to the 60-day IL. A second space can be added if John Brebbia, who is recovering from Tommy John, is either designated for assignment or also moved to the 60-day IL. That means the Cardinals could protect three Rule-5 eligible players now and still gain roster flexibility to add free agents or trades down the road.
Who should they protect? Who is likely to be taken if they are exposed? Let’s go through the list.
Herrera is one of the highest-rated players in the Cardinals’ system. He’s one of the best catching prospects in all of baseball. While his skill set is certainly worth writing about, there’s nothing to say here. You should just go read A. E. Shafer’s excellent write-up about him. If the club left him exposed, he would likely be the first player drafted. They won’t. He’ll be added to the 40. The most interesting part of that is it means he could see time in St Louis next season if there are injuries. He might be a few years away in terms of development, but he’s just a few injuries away from wearing the birds on the bat.
Should the club protect him? A no brainer. Yes.
Rondon is not in Herrera’s class as a prospect. Opinions on him swing wildly. A. E. has an excellent write-up about him and ranks him as the club’s #9 prospect. Fangraphs has him well outside their top 34, noting that he’s a “strength-only relief type”. Personally, I’m with A. E. With Rondon due for Rule 5 this season, I thought the club should have given him a look as a depth starter or bullpen option this season when they were desperate for arms. Instead, they chose Oviedo and Elledge and a bunch of throw-away players. If Rondon is left exposed, I believe he’ll get picked. There will be teams willing to try him in the bullpen for a season before letting him return to AAA and finish up as a starter.
Should the club protect him? Yes.
Seijas was added to the roster last November to protect him from the ’19 Rule 5 draft. Despite the club’s desperate need for arms, Seijas was never called upon. The club, desperate for 40-man space, was outrighted to Springfield on August 21. He cleared waivers at a time when other teams faced a similar roster crunch. Now the club has another decision to make about him. Seijas has been a starter and has flashed intriguing potential. With the system short on projectible starters, Seijas fills a needed gap. He can also fall back as a reliever if he’s not able to stick in the rotation. That’s what makes him attractive – to the Cardinals and to another team. 40-man space is at a premium, though. Can the club afford to carry him for another season and not use him? Doubtful.
Should the club protect him? 50/50. I would rather have the roster space.
Rodriguez is an interesting case. The most complete report I found on him was from Kyle Reis over at Birds on the Black, who rated Rodriguez as his #21 prospect. Rodriguez reached AA in 2019 with 47 forgettable PA’s there. Before that, he had an intriguing performance at offense-suppressing Palm Beach. His 115 wRC+ there came with a .276/.321/.407 line. Just as a point of comparison, Tony Cruz hit .279/.316/.427 there about a year younger. Defensively, Rodriguez is solid and is trending upward. I mentioned Tony Cruz. That’s kind of what we are looking at here – a solid defensive catcher who might be able to survive as a backup or short-stint catcher. That’s probably a player that the Cardinals want to keep in their system. But it’s probably also a player that most other organizations already have around. With Herrera needing to be added, Knizner’s role undefined, and the likelihood that the club goes outside the org for a starter (Yadi) or a backup, Rodriguez makes one-too-many catchers on the 40.
Should the club protect him? He’ll make it through.
A. E. has a thorough writeup on Yepez here. It’s better for you to just read his write-up rather than me butchering a summary for you. Yepez looks like a corner infielder – mostly first base – with some chance of providing depth in the outfield. His bat is very intriguing, especially his 147/136 wRC+ in consecutive stops at A and A+. He reached AA in ‘19 and didn’t impress in just 17 games. Still, he maintained his walk rate and ISO. With a low BABIP at AA, he might have just enough encouraging signs offensively and just enough defensive flexibility for a team to decide to take a chance on him. The Cardinals also might add him not only to protect him but to have some more infield options on their 40-man roster, especially if they believe he can hold his own at third. None of that is really an endorsement though. He likely slips through.
Should the club protect him? No.
Ramirez is a fascinating case for the Rule 5 draft. He has some stints of effectiveness in the high minors as a reliever and saw the major leagues this past season. Sure, in that small stint he was tagged for an 82.00 ERA and (my favorite stat of the year) a 133.33 HR/FB rate. But unlike most of the players who will be left exposed to the Rule 5 draft, Ramirez has tape from ’20 and he’s not as bad as his .2 2020 innings make him seem. A team that needssome bullpen depth could take a chance on him and probably get replacement-level production from him for a season. The Cardinals, though, have several other bullpen arms who project better than Ramirez and they have a 40-man crunch. If another team wants him, let them take him.
Should the club protect him? No.