A week ago today, the Pittsburgh Pirates made the decision to add Clay Holmes to the 40-man roster to protect him from the Rule 5 draft. At the same time, they also made the decision not to protect other players. Leaving Barrett Barnes off got some attention, but the main focus has been the decision not to protect third baseman Eric Wood. Part of that focus came from the fact that Wood was still playing, taking part in the Arizona Fall League. He wasn’t just playing though, he was one of the best hitters in the league. That leaves us to wonder why Eric Wood wasn’t protected.

We start by how he got to the point that he was even in the conversation to be protected. Wood played for Altoona in 2015 and was slightly over his head in the league. In 101 games, he hit .237/.303/.305, while looking average at best defensively at third base. He was 22 years old though, so it’s a young age for Double-A. Still, even taking age into consideration, this is someone who put up a .739 OPS in the pitcher-friendly Florida State League the season before, so he clearly took a step back.

We cut to 2016, where Wood had his breakout season at the plate. He never had an alarming strikeout rate in his first four seasons of pro ball, but it was an area where he could make an improvement. He struck out 88 times in both 2015 and 2016, with the difference being that he had 91 more plate appearances this year. Wood also set a career high with 52 walks in 2016.

The area of improvement that got the most notice was his power. Wood homered 16 times during the regular season, and added another three in the AFL, which is not a league where you see many home runs. Coming into this season, Wood had 15 career homers over four seasons. He was more of a line drive hitter, who used the entire field and occasionally got a hold of one.

So he added power, while showing more patience at the plate and making more consistent contact. He did it at age 23, which still made him more than a year younger than the average player in the Eastern League this season. Those who saw him a lot and had a base comparison for his defense, noticed he was a much better third baseman. Wood has a strong arm and good hands. He isn’t someone you would consider a Gold Glove candidate at this point, but he is better than average, especially for Double-A. The managers and coaches in the Eastern League took notice of those improvements, naming him the best defensive third baseman in the league.

When you add up the improvements on offense and defense and the fact he did it in Double-A at 23 years old, then had success in the AFL, it would seem like Wood should have been protected from the Rule 5 draft this winter. To his credit, Wood didn’t waste anytime continuing his season by going to the Dominican to play winter ball. While he likes being with the Pirates, if it gives scouts an extra chance to see him and decide to take him in the draft, then the trip down there and the extended season will be well worth it.

Before I get into the reasons that I think the Pirates took the risk of letting him go, I’ll point out that anything could happen in the Rule 5 draft. We saw the Pirates take Gustavo Nunez one year, who had the glove to play in the majors, but five seasons later, his bat still hasn’t got him to the highest level. We also saw the Pirates lose Deolis Guerra last year, in an odd pick, because he was just signed as a minor league free agent right before the draft. If the Angels liked him enough to pick him, why didn’t they like him a couple weeks earlier when he didn’t cost them a guaranteed 25-man spot and an extra $50,000 for the pick?

We also saw the Pirates lose Andy Oliver the year before, then when the Phillies decided they didn’t want him, the Pirates wisely passed on giving them half of their money back ($25,000) to get him back. Basically, anything can happen.

One other thing to note is that the Pirates didn’t necessarily decide to keep one player over Wood, other than the guys they protected this year. I haven’t heard anyone argue that they thought Wood was a better choice to protect over Holmes, plus they added Dovydas Neverauskas and Jose Osuna the week before. Those last two don’t exactly work the same as Holmes, because they would have been free agents if they weren’t added to the 40-man roster. They are taking a chance of losing Eric Wood in the draft, but those other two would have definitely been gone.

You also have the argument of the players who are on the 40-man roster right now, who seem expendable. There will be players cut from the 40-man during the off-season, but they will also add players. If you add Wood now, then that limits the potential moves. A team has a great idea what they need to add, who will leave the roster, and how many spots they want open for the off-season. So while you can come up with players who you think should have been cut so they could protect Wood, just remember that those players will likely leave later in the off-season and have their spot filled by a free agent signing, or a waiver pickup.

All that being said, as a third baseman, Wood is in a group of players who don’t get picked often in the Rule 5 draft. Over the last 19 years, only three third basemen have been Rule 5 selections. Generally, Rule 5 picks are players up the middle, with the large majority being right-handed pitchers. That’s one of the reasons that Clay Holmes seemed like a no-brainer to add. Not only was he the best prospect, he’s in the group that is most likely to be picked.

Also being a third baseman, Wood doesn’t have a clear route to the majors with the Pirates. That was part of the reason the Pirates had him playing outfield in the Fall Instructional League this year, then he started playing some first base in the AFL. The added versatility could help his case for being picked in the Rule 5 draft, but we are only talking about two months between both spots, and he still took regular turns at third base. If a team selecting him wanted to add versatility, they could do the same thing during Spring Training. He just has a small head start in learning the positions.

The Pirates have Jung Ho Kang and David Freese at third base for the next three seasons if they pick up the 2019 option on both players. They could also put Max Moroff at third base, who looked strong defensively at the position this season. Because he had a down season, people are down on Moroff. It’s important to remember that he’s younger than Wood and has played a full season in Triple-A already, even getting a cup of coffee with the Pirates.

Moroff has better speed than Wood, already has defensive versatility at more important positions, and he led the International League in walks this season. With Chris Bostick now in the system, who is a second baseman, but has also played some third base, the Pirates could use Moroff regularly at third base this season. He will probably continue to move around for versatility, but the point is that they have that option.

One of the main factors in a decision to protect a player is whether he is ready for the majors. Basically, how easy would it be for him to stick. Another is the potential upside of that player. I see Wood as a solid defensive third baseman, who could hold a starting job if he reaches his ceiling. He wouldn’t be a potential All-Star, but someone who fits in well near the bottom of the order. That’s the ceiling, but he is more likely to be a utility player with some power off the bench. I don’t see him right now as someone who could hold his own in the majors if he was forced into that role in 2017. It’s a big jump from Triple-A to the majors, so going from Double-A to the show is quite a leap. While he had a strong season in 2016, he didn’t dominate the level.

There is one possibility that might hurt the Pirates in the Rule 5 with Wood, though you’ll see it could also help them. The new Collective Bargaining Agreement is due by December 1st. We have heard that there could be a lockout, but with the money coming into baseball at this point, I can’t see it being a long-term issue. There just seems to be some sticking points that need to be resolved. Assuming it all works out, one of those sticking points is adding a 26th man to the roster from Opening Day until rosters expand on September 1st.

If that happens, then it makes it easier to hide a Rule 5 draft pick on your roster. A position player like Wood, who has basically played one position his entire career, is tough to hide at the end of the bench. If you add an extra spot, then it makes it easier. That would also mean that it makes it easier for the Pirates to do the exact same thing, and they have the 13th pick in the Rule 5 draft. With many teams passing on making a pick (which might change with a 26th roster spot) that could mean that they will be able to pick up someone better than Wood in the draft. He was mentioned among 12 top names recently, but that wasn’t a complete list and he might not rank that high among the available players as far as the Pirates are concerned.

Wood clearly stepped up in the prospect ranks this year. He showed improvements on offense and defense, and he had a strong season in Double-A at a young age. He also plays a position that isn’t highly valued in the Rule 5 draft, so that limits the risk the Pirates took by leaving him unprotected. It’s a position that has a roadblock ahead of him in the majors for the next three seasons, and possibly beyond with Ke’Bryan Hayes, Connor Joe and Will Craig behind him. All they would need is one from that group to be ready by 2020, which Hayes being the most likely to stick at the spot.

The Pirates are taking a slight chance by leaving him unprotected, with odds that go up if baseball expands to a 26-man roster. That could also help them select a better player in the draft, with some interesting names on the pitching side available. They could lose Eric Wood in the Rule 5 draft and have just $50,000 to show for it, assuming his sticks on the roster for the entire year. That wouldn’t be getting a fair value for a prospect of his current value. Those chances of losing him seem to be slim though based on the selection history of the draft, so it’s a calculated risk. We will see on December 8th if that decision pays off.

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  1. John…I think the real reason NH didn’t protect Wood was to alleviate everyone you cover on the site. πŸ™‚

  2. I understand the philosophy behind leaving players on the 40 man in the off season that you won’t mind DFAING to add additional talent. But I am not sure it is better than taking the position of maximizing the value in trade on the 40 man. For instance Wood would seem to me to be more valuable than Rogers or Garcia as a trade candidate. Why not DFA one of them now to protect Wood. IF you need space later DFA the other.

    • They may not agree with your assessment of talent and trade value, plus they have the luxury of already knowing if teams have interest in acquiring certain players. That helps with knowing the value of players.

      • No doubt they have better info that should help them. But player evaluation and development isn’t like a math problem where there is only one answer. Teams make mis-evaluations all the time, whether in the draft, who they DFA, who they trade. Players can leave one situation where they stunk and go somewhere else where they thrive.

  3. John … Just focusing on the hitters on the 40-man, there’s really no discussion on:
    – The returning 11 – Harrison, Marte, Cutch, Polanco, Kang, Bell, Cervelli, Mercer, Freese, Jaso, and Frazier

    These next four are needed to fill out the roster and as critical back ups:
    * Stewart Fryer/Diaz – Two different insurance policies at C. Fryer or Stewart (if healthy) will make the 25-man and the other will be cut. Which creates the need for Diaz in AAA.Stewart recoveringhad to be kept as they are our only backups at the critical C and SS positions
    * Ngoepe – With S-Rod not resigned, he has to be kept as a back up at the critical SS position

    So the decisions come down to the final 6 spots for Wood and Barnes:
    * Hanson – IF he will make the team for opening day. If not, he’s wasting the spot
    * Moroff – As you stated, he is younger and had a better AA season (in 2015) than Wood did this year
    * Bostick – do we really need another non-descript 2B-man?
    * Rogers – I think he is the type of guy that gets cut if we sign a free agent
    * Osuna/Garcia – of Barnes, Osuna, and Garcia, I would rank them Osuna, Barnes, then Garcia

    So I would probably have removed Garcia and Bostick for Wood and Barnes.

    • I mentioned this the other day to someone else when they mentioned Bostick compared to Wood. Bostick is slightly younger than Wood and had a better season in the Eastern League this year, which earned him a promotion to AAA. Bostick also put up the same numbers in the AFL last year that Wood did this year. He also has more position versatility. So you have age, experience and stats on his side, plus he’s more of a toolsy player.

      Barnes for Garcia I’d have no problem with, though I guess the Pirates could say that Garcia is still over a year younger and things didn’t click for Barnes until mid-season this year. That would be late-season next year for Garcia, who is clearly the better outfielder and has more raw power. I would still go with Barnes.

    • They should do Rogers the favor and expose him to the Rule 5 draft. Dude is going nowhere with the Bucs. I agree with this comment on Bostick. We seemingly have a plethora of utility types.

  4. Don’t forget how we lost Hunter Strickland. He was added to the 40-man to protect him from the rule 5 draft, but later in the spring we needed the roster spot and SF grabbed him for free from waivers and put him in high A. It would have been better not to have added him to the 40-man and risked the rule 5 draft.

  5. Perhaps the Bucs want the $50,000 bucs it will get if Wood is taken in the draft. Craig and Joe will never play third in the majors and I am not sure Hayes will hit enough to make it.

  6. Well, this was predictable….anytime the Pirates FO trades a prospect or exposes one to the Rule 5 draft, I can count on one of these articles that go out of the way to justify the move and to minimize the prospect. It doesn’t work though, because no one can justify protecting Jason Rogers and not protecting Eric Wood, unless you are going to guarantee me that the Pirates are going to trade for or sign a player who is clearly better than Wood. I have serious doubts that is going to happen.

    NH is a terrible GM and this is his way of trying to foolishly safe face with the equally foolish trade that brought Rogers here to begin with. This team is saddled with a terrible GM, and you can see the effects on the roster and farm system – both are weaker today than 2-3 years ago. To compare Moroff to Wood is silly – Wood is a potential power hitter at a position that is abysmally thin in the Pirates system – Hayes is the only legitimate third base option, other than Wood. Moroff is a line drive hitter and middle infielder.

    It is hard to get excited about this team, when I have zero confidence in NH and his front office. The thought of him trading Cutch is a sobering thought – he will surely get fleeced.

    • Totally agree! Between the cheap Nutting and incompetent Huntingdon, the Pirates are doomed to mediocrity. There is no vision. Baseball needs a cap and a floor for spending. Nutting will never hit the floor if it is reasonably determined and sell which would be to Pittsburgh’s fans advantage.

    • Yeah- while I’m not nearly as negative as you, I am somewhat concerned as it seems that whenever its obvious he is trying to move someone, he never gets good value. I don’t think I can ever get past that trade last year….it was that bad.

    • 1st year on the 40-man is $42K if they spend the entire year in the minors. Players on the AAA roster, who are still coming up through the system get $11,000 a year. Second year in AAA and free agents get more, and many minor league free agents make more than $42K a year

        • Yes, but I bet a lot of people would be glad to have that job! Most players who get to that pay scale are usually a year away from making a lot more money, plus a lot of them got a decent (or bigger) bonus when they signed.

          If you’re talking about Wood specifically, he made money in the AFL and winter ball, so that helps out. Plus the food and housing are paid for all of that time.

          • John,
            I know you are the major expert on this, but here is my point.
            1) Most don’t get significant signing bonuses.
            2) The pay differential between top major and minor is too great in my opinion (just my opinion)
            3) Most players who sign never really make much money.
            4) I think its ridiculous that many minor league players would qualify for food stamps – especially if married and had a child. (is that an image the major baseball teams wants to have?)

            • When I said most get nice signing bonuses, I was talking specifically about the players who spend at least a whole season in AAA (the ones who made $11,000). You have to be good to spend a full season in AAA and many of the lower bonus guys never even make it to that level. Those players who spend a full season in AAA are usually on their way to making significantly more the next season, either by making the majors, being added to the 40-man roster, or becoming a minor league free agent. The best minor league free agents will get six figure salaries.

            • They are free to go to work anywhere else they would like. Why should any employer pay more than an employee is willing to work for.

              Long ago I worked in the TV industry and we had tons of young enthusiastic folks lined up and willing to work for free as interns-they were investing a year or two of starvation to get the experience they hoped would lead to a great career.

  7. The talk of a 26 man roster takes me back to a time long ago. I was thinking Charley Finley once carried a designated runner. For some reason I’m thinking 26 man rosters were optional for a few seasons around that time. Right or wrong?

  8. I am sure they have really smart guys who do this kind of analysis – but I see at least four guys they kept on the 40 man who SHOULD have zero chance of making the opening day roster

    I would like to see if his breakout was real and if his power continues to evolve. Not sure any of the above four are worth risking losing Wood

    • Ngoepe actually does have a chance now if they want a backup shortstop on the roster. Currently they have none. Remember that none of the utility guys (i’ll even include kang) can do it. If Mercer is banged up for any period of time, you need him. Fryer…..one injury away from being needed. If they trade Jaso then Rogers has a shot. Garcia……..no chance.

  9. While I like Eric Wood, I saw a comp once that compared him to Brent Morel and would be lucky to be an Andy Laroche (who was a #1 prospect for the Dodgers at one time).

    I don’t think we’ll sweat the losing of Mr Wood (IF we lose him), jmo.

    I posted a quote from Keith Law’s last chat, where someone asked him this very question. KLaw was totally unimpressed with Mr Wood.

    Much ado about nothing?

    • The problem with Morel/LaRoche comps is it doesn’t say when the comp is made. If you’re saying Wood in AA reminds you of Morel and LaRoche in AA, then you don’t mind that, because not every top prospect fails. If they’re saying that’s his ceiling, well I disagree, but I think you want to be compared to those two players at the same point because both put in MLB time and were still major disappointments. That doesn’t mean a comparable player will also fail.

      Law probably hasn’t seen much of Wood, but as we pointed out numerous times, former MLB scout Bernie Pleskoff really liked him. Law also gives short answers for the most part, so him saying Wood may end up as not much, could mean he hangs around the majors for six years as a bench player.

      It’s clear he isn’t a top prospect, no one has ever said he was, but it’s also clear his value to the Pirates is more than the $50,000 rule 5 price tag.

  10. Because the PNC personnel management has little vision and creativity and–I am sure–BN will save/earn some money if another team plucks this kid from the Bucs.

    Remember when they underbid on by a few thousand or even a $100K on Miguel Sano and lost him to the Twins? Nice bat to give up for a few grand.

    There are a coterie of fans who believe that BN’s penny pinching is a myth and fall back on excuses to explain some moves the franchise makes.

    But from (not!) signing FA pitchers/position players, their own FAs (S Rod), it all comes down to money driving their choices, despite their fog causing rhetoric tot he contrary.

    BTW has anyone seen or heard from BN either at the end of the season or since?

    • Remember when they underbid on by a few thousand or even a $100K on Miguel Sano and lost him to the Twins?

      Ummm…I think you got the dollar figures just a little wrong here.

      And how in heaven will Bob N save some money if Wood gets picked up?

      • Nothing about that Sano recollection is correct. They offered $2.6M and no one else offered anything more. Sano’s agent wouldn’t take that and then gave a sales pitch to the Twins and took their offer without looking for a counteroffer from the Pirates. The Pirates didn’t want to bid against themselves, so that’s why he went unsigned for awhile. No one else was making offers. I guess it was smart on the agents part by waiting, but wasn’t smart to see if the Pirates were willing to raise their price.

        • Thanks John – I knew there was something smarmy about the Sano deal…

          And I am still glad he is a twin – listed at 260 but looks like he weighs closer to 3 bills – can’t see him being more than a DH down the road.

          Might be the second coming of Big Papi ⚾️

          • Bruce, I saw him attempt to play third base in the EL several years ago, and he was so big he couldn’t bend over properly to field the ball. And that was probably 2014.

    • With all apologies to John and other subscribers, you are an idiot. You don’t have clue # 1 about the Sano signing or much else really. By the way, have you followed Sano’s career path much ?

    • Not sure you’d want either there full-time, but both can play the position. Hanson took to the position fairly quickly last year and made some really nice plays, plus showed range you don’t usually get from third base. Frazier has played 27 innings there in his career. He has the hands for the position, but really doesn’t have a third baseman’s arm

      • That makes sense. Thank you. It just seems that they are more than covered at third until one of Hayes or Craig arrives. They’ve got a significant amount of infield depth in the minors right now. Not a lot of high ceiling players but a lot with a good shot of making it to the majors.

        • I had forgotten him midway through last season when his legs gave out. IMO, he is just impeding the upward mobility of younger, better players who need the PT at the MLB level. There has to be a team in the AL that could use this guy as a DH and emergency C/1B? I would rather see the dreads and smiles elsewhere.

      • Hansen would be fine over there, so i’m not sure why you have the statement “not sure you’d want either there full time” if you are looking strictly at the defensive measures, unless we are worried about his somewhat erratic arm

        • Y2: Hanson has won the Baseball America Award as the Best Defensive 2B in the AAA International League in 2015 and again in 2016, so I think his best position is 2B. However, I think Hurdle made it abundantly clear in September that he has no use for Alen Hanson at any position now or in the future.

          If the Pirates are unable or unwilling to give him an opportunity at 2B, then please trade him so he may be able to find a team that appreciates the attributes he can possibly bring to a team.

          I have heard that AH can be difficult, but good Managers can bring it out of a player one way or another.

          • Hanson’s biggest problem while in AA was with Carlos Garcia, the Manager in Altoona at the time, The fact Garcia was let go after that season and Hanson’s attitude problems seemed to have left with him might tell us something.

          • Emjay- its not hurdle’s choice. “However, I think Hurdle made it abundantly clear in September that he has no use for Alen Hanson at any position now or in the future.”

  11. When was the talk of a strike? I have heard there is the possibility of a lockout, but have heard nothing about a strike. For those that don’t know, there is a big difference between the two.
    As for Wood, I was a bit upset when he wasn’t protected at first, but after thinking about it, he really doesn’t have much value to the Pirates. He would likely just be Major League depth/AAAA type player. He isn’t the center piece of any trade, more of an add on to equal out the value in a larger deal. His newfound versatility might get him selected, but he could just as easily get sent back, because he really isn’t ready for the major leagues.
    Serious question, because I really don’t know. If the Pirates really want to keep Wood, could they work out a deal with another team to select him and then offer him back? Thinking about it now, it would be easier to just add him to the 40 man if they really wanted to keep him. But still, could that be done?

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