Player drafts are an important part of Major League Baseball. They provide players the opportunity to play in different leagues and cities. For ball clubs, they are a vital tool for building 40-man rosters and enhancing their teams. They are exciting when players draft to high-caliber teams or different organizations barter for the best deals.
The amateur draft is the most well-known in Major League Baseball, but it’s not the only one the organization runs. While less flashy and eye-catching, the Rule 5 Draft is just as important to the game of baseball. It’s aimed at preventing the stockpiling of younger players and top prospects on minor league affiliate teams when other teams would be willing to have them play in the Majors. Keeping good talent moving and giving them opportunities to play in the Majors is necessary to keep baseball competitive and equitable.
How Does the Rule 5 Draft work?
The Rule 5 Draft occurs in the offseason at the annual Winter Meeting of General Managers in December. It has very particular requirements and processes that all Major League teams must follow. The draft allows only clubs without full 40-man rosters to select certain non-40-man roster players from other clubs.
Draft order and selection
The order for the Draft depends on each team’s win-loss record from the prior regular season. It starts with the team with the worst record and proceeds in reverse order up the regular-season standings. For example, the Red Sox and the Yankees–two teams that historically have done fairly well over the past few decades, might appear toward the end of the draft. Likewise, struggling teams like the Pittsburgh Pirates might receive a draft pick closer to the start. The better the team did in the previous season, the lower down on the draft list. Teams do have the option not to select any player with their pick, passing to the next team in order instead.
Teams can select players from Triple-A and Double-A farm teams. Upon selection, the team immediately adds that player to their 40-man roster. The drafting team must then pay the other club $100,000. After selection, the team is subjected to several requirements to remain compliant and maintain their picks.
After the Draft, chosen players must be kept on their new team’s active roster for an entire season. Under no circumstances can the club option or designate the player to the minors. And once drafted, the player must remain in an active roster spot for 90 days. This prevents teams from drafting players and putting them on the injured list for most of the season. It’s important to note these 90 days do not have to be concurrent or constrained to one season; they carry over into multiple seasons if necessary.
While they can’t be optioned or designated, Rule 5 Draft players can be traded. The same requirements and restrictions the trading team is under apply to the draftees new club. Only once the Rule 5 Draft requirements are met can players be traded, optioned, or designated.
At any time, teams can waive their Rule 5 draftees. If this occurs and a player clears waivers by not signing with a new MLB team, they must be offered back to their original team. Draftees will be offered back to their original team at $50,000, half of their original purchasing point.
Practical examples of Rule 5 selections
The 2020 Draft was a big one. Pittsburgh had the first-round pick, taking RHP Jose Soriano from the Los Angeles Angels. The second pick belonged to the Rangers, who picked up relief pitcher Brett de Geus from the Dodgers. The Brewers, Cardinals, Braves, and Yankees all passed on their picks. The only two teams who were not eligible for the year’s draft were the Blue Jays and the Padres.
One notable snag in the 2020 Draft was for the Miami Marlins. The Marlins used their 13th pick to select right-hander Paul Campbell from the Tampa Bay Rays’ Triple-A roster. Miami then turned around and made a deal with the Arizona Diamondbacks for right-hander Zach Pop. From the Orioles’ system originally, Pop went sixth in the Rule 5 Draft by Arizona. In exchange, Miami will be sending a soon-to-be-named player. These picks and trades allow Miami to boost their bullpen–something they really need at the moment.
Picking pitchers in the Rule 5 Draft is also a specialty for the San Francisco Giants. For four straight seasons, they have selected pitchers. While this has been somewhat of an exercise in futility for them, they have again decided to head that direction in the 2020 Draft. With the number 14 pick, the Giants selected RHP Dedniel Nunez from the New York Mets. They also pulled another pitcher and Vince Fernandez for the outfield during the Draft’s minor league phase.
What is the Eligibility for players to get into the Rule 5 Draft?
The eligibility requirements for players to enter the Rule 5 Draft are starkly different than those of the Amateur Draft. Qualifying draftees must already be professional baseball players. And season requirements dictate who is actually eligible.
To meet the Draft requirements, two conditions must be met. First, draftees have to be professional players who were either: a) signed at 19 and have played four years of pro ball, or b) signed at 18 or younger and have played 5 years. These players must also not be on their team’s 40-man roster to be eligible.
These requirements are so particular related to how Major League teams manage and hold on to talent. Without the Draft, clubs’ incentive is to grab and hold on to as many of the most talented players they can find. This inherently creates an unfair advantage, as teams vary in size and resources. Larger and more popular teams would otherwise have all the leverage necessary to hoard talent from others. The Rule 5 Draft seeks to balance these inequalities and give as many clubs as possible a fair shot in the League.
When did the Rule 5 Draft start?
Surprisingly, the Rule 5 Draft has a long history in Major League Baseball. It dates back over 125 years to 1892. Eleven years before the American and National Leagues ever held the inaugural World Series, teams debated how to divvy up talent and maintain baseball’s competitive aspect.
In the early days, the Rule 5 Draft was much different. The Winter Meeting of GMs wasn’t in place at that point, so there wasn’t a dedicated day of the year for drafting. Instead, Major League teams took the period between October 1 and February 1 to make their picks, in no particular order. As well, it was referred to merely as the “Selection of Players.” The term “Rule 5” would not come into the MLB lexicon until 1941.
Teams made picks directly from Minor League teams in the beginning. These Minor League teams operate in independent leagues long before the farm system went into existence. All of this changed when affiliated farm systems got recognition in 1931, however. Costs for draftees during that period were between $500 and $1000, depending on the level of the player’s league.
Between 1947 and the start of the annual amateur Draft in 1965, an adjacent rule was at play in the Major Leagues. Similar in its intent as the Rule 5 Draft, the bonus rule intends to limit signing bonuses and prevent big teams from hoarding talent. If a player received a signing bonus over a certain amount, they had to remain on the big league roster for a certain length of time.
Modern View of the Rule 5 Draft
The modern version and interpretation of the Rule 5 Draft came into being around 1965. This shift coincided with the rise of the amateur Draft and baseball’s expansion to 30 teams. Eligibility criteria changed, as well as selection prices. The last notable change to Rule 5 came in 2006 when a new CBA shrunk the eligibility pool for the Draft.
The Rule 5 Draft has a long and important history in Major League baseball. As a method of balancing inequities in the system and giving players more freedom to play on a major league roster, it should not be taken for granted. Letting talent flourish and balancing all teams’ skills and abilities leads to better baseball for teams, players, and fans.
Conclusion on the Rule 5 Draft
There are a handful of Rule 5 picks in the recent past that stand out, too. The Phillies picked Shane Victorino–a two-time All-Star outfielder–from the Dodgers. The Red Sox picked Marwin Gonzalez from the Chicago Cubs before being traded to the Astros. As part of the Astros club, Gonzalez became a standout utility player. Sometimes teams succeed while other teams lose out on a great player.
The Rule 5 Draft also prevents a team from stockpiling top young talent in the minors if teams are willing to have them on their MLB team. This is good for baseball because it allows players the ability to play in the majors more often. While this draft is not known as the MLB Tradeline, it is still critical for fans to understand!