Lately I’ve been getting a lot of questions wondering who is Rule 5 eligible in the upcoming year. In the past that question would be asked with the focus on building for the future. This year the questions have been geared more towards trading from the Rule 5 eligible players at the deadline in order to add to the major league team. The idea is that the Pirates will have a lot of players to protect since they’ve got a good system in place, and won’t be able to protect them all, so they might as well trade a few of those players to upgrade the team in the short-term.
Let me clear one thing up. I see too many “The Pirates could trade Gregory Polanco because they’ll have a lot of people to protect for the Rule 5 draft” type comments. That’s not how it works. Someone like Gregory Polanco is never difficult to fit on your 40-man roster. Each year you can find about 3-5 spots that are easily removed from the 40-man to protect your top prospects. The “Rule 5 Roster Crunch” impacts the guys lower on the list, such as Nate Adcock or Brett Lorin. The system would have to be insane with talent to have any risk of losing an impact guy in the Rule 5 draft. So the idea of trading an impact guy really amounts to “trade Gregory Polanco so you can make sure Adalberto Santos is protected”. I think Santos is a decent prospect, but he has the upside of a future utility player, and trading a potential star just to hoard everyone who could possibly be a prospect is a ridiculous strategy.
If you’re talking about trading any of the guys below, you’re talking about smaller deals. Maybe you could get 2-3 of them together and get a Wandy Rodriguez deal. But not just 2-3 random players. You’re probably going to have to give up a Stetson Allie type prospect, plus 1-2 more of the guys I’ve highlighted below. Before we get to the lists, let’s do a rundown of how players are eligible.
Minor League Free Agency - The easiest way to calculate this is to count seven years from when a player signed. If a player was drafted in 2007, they would be eligible for minor league free agency after the 2013 season, with 2007 being the first year of the seven year count.
Rule 5 - Players are eligible for their fourth Rule 5 draft if they were 19 or older the year of their draft, and their fifth Rule 5 draft if they were 18 or younger the year of their draft. The age cutoff is not when the player signs, but the beginning of June of the draft year. The easy way to calculate this is that the 2013 Rule 5 draft will have 2009 prep players and 2010 college players. There are a few exceptions, such as Stetson Allie, who was a 2010 prep player, but also turned 19 in May that year.
International Players - International players can be tricky. A lot of players sign in July, when the minor league season is going on. However, the contracts they are signing start the following year. So a guy signed on July 2nd, 2006 would start all of his counts in 2007. He would be eligible for minor league free agency in 2013, rather than 2012. A guy signed on July 2nd, 2008 wouldn’t start his Rule 5 count that winter. Instead, the first Rule 5 draft that would count against him would be the 2009 draft. So a player signed in the 2008-09 signing period would be eligible for the first time in 2013. That includes Gregory Polanco (signed 3/25/09) but not Alen Hanson (signed 7/15/09).
In all of these cases, players can be protected by being added to the 40-man roster. For minor league free agents, that has to happen by the end of the year. For Rule 5 eligible players, the date is November 20th.
Minor League Free Agents
Whether previously eligible, or first time eligible this year, these are the guys who will be minor league free agents at the end of the year. I’ve bolded the guys who stand out.
Ivan De Jesus
Emmanuel De Leon
I’m not sure if the Pirates could add all of these guys. Some of them could be used as depth or trade bait. Lambo is the top guy out of this group, since he has 21 homers on the year and the Pirates lack a right fielder. He could either be a good 2nd or 3rd piece in a trade, or serve as a Plan C if Travis Snider and Jose Tabata both struggle in the majors.
Kris Johnson is probably the second most interesting name behind Lambo. He has been doing well as a starter lately, and would be an emergency depth option if the Pirates had to go beyond Brandon Cumpton. Or he could serve as a lefty reliever in September. I think Johnson would have more value to the team than in a trade.
Ivan De Jesus has been hitting well, and could be a good backup infielder. However, I can’t see him passing up Josh Harrison and Chase d’Arnaud to make the 40-man roster. I also don’t think he will have much trade value. He’s pretty much a depth option, and the Pirates happen to have some good middle infield depth. I keep getting questions about De Jesus, and it shows how this is a new situation for the Pirates. They’ve got a player who is performing well in Triple-A, but no place to put him. That’s good depth, but with everyone healthy and performing that also means there’s no space for him on the active roster.
Jose Contreras has been pitching well since his return to Triple-A, but he’s pretty much a depth option now, and Duke Welker and Vic Black should both be ahead of him.
From this group, I think they either have to add Lambo and Johnson to the 40-man by the end of the year. Lambo would be the only one who could be used as a trade chip.
The one interesting name on this list in terms of immediate major league help is Hague. He hits lefties well, and could be a sleeper option if the Pirates wanted to go with a platoon at third base with Pedro Alvarez, or get an extra bat off the bench against lefties in September.
First Time Eligible in 2013
Zack Von Rosenberg
I tried to highlight the guys who would draw consideration for the top 50 prospect rankings. None of these guys could provide immediate help. However, when you talk about trading from the Rule 5 group, these are the guys that would have the most value.
Of the above group, Polanco is a must protect. Stetson Allie also has to be up there due to his power outburst this year. I would add Sadler and Rodriguez to my list of guys to protect. I don’t see Curry being a risk to be taken (hamate surgery). I also don’t see Dodson (inconsistent performance), or Ngoepe (overmatched offensively, despite great D) as big risks to be selected. The only other players would be Rojas and Santos. The upside with Santos is a utility player, so it’s not necessary to protect him. Rojas is starting to come around with the bat and could be a must-protect if he keeps this up. Or he could be a good secondary trade option at the deadline if another team believes in him. The Pirates can certainly afford to spare outfielders.
Really the only player I’d absolutely protect and make off-limits is Polanco. The other guys would be good options for trades. You’re not getting a Giancarlo Stanton with that group, but you could get another Wandy Rodriguez type deal with 2-3 of those guys involved.