The Pirates have been buyers in some form or another at the deadline in each of the last seven years. They were solely buyers from 2011-2015, and spent 2016 and 2017 both buying and selling at the deadline.
In all of those years, they typically traded prospects away who were eligible for the upcoming Rule 5 draft. The theory behind this is that they would have to make a decision on those players in the offseason, and wouldn’t be able to protect all of them from the Rule 5 draft, which meant those players were expendable via trade earlier.
If you’re unfamiliar with the Rule 5 process, it’s a draft where teams can take certain players from other organizations if they’ve been unprotected in the minors after X amount of years. That would be 4 years for players drafted and signed 19 and older, and 5 years for players 18 and under. The easy way to remember this is that the 2018 draft will include prep players and most young international signings from 2014, and college players and older international signings from 2015. To protect a player from the draft, they need to be added to the 40-man roster.
I don’t know if the Pirates will be buyers in any form at the deadline this year. But we always look at the Rule 5 eligible guys early to get an idea of what to expect in the coming months. Even if there are no trades, the Rule 5 list gives us some insight as to why the Pirates are making certain promotions or giving certain playing time in the minors for the remainder of the season.
Here is a look at the eligible players, starting with guys who were already eligible.
Michael De La Cruz
Analysis: Alex McRae was on this list, but has already been added to the 40-man roster. One of the most interesting names on this list is Eduardo Vera. The Pirates already promoted Vera to Altoona, where he has struggled with his ERA while still showing good control. He’s also a free agent after the year, so they’d need to either add him to the 40-man roster or re-sign him as a minor league free agent. The latter approach would make him eligible for the draft.
I look at this list and don’t see anyone at risk of being lost in the draft — which would mean not only being drafted, but sticking in the majors all year next year. There are some interesting guys in the upper levels, like Tyler Eppler and Casey Sadler, who could join the Pirates in the final months, but those guys were eligible in previous drafts and weren’t taken, so it’s doubtful that their status has changed much since then.
The list also has a lot of upcoming free agents who would be in the same boat as Vera. If they are re-signed before the Rule 5 draft, then they are eligible. That list includes Vera, Wyatt Mathisen, Eric Wood, Pablo Reyes, Alfredo Reyes, Elvis Escobar, Sadler and Jin-De Jhang.
First Time Eligible in 2018
In Our Pre-Season Top 50
Analysis: Tanner Anderson was on this list, but has already been added to the 40-man roster. From this list, the Pirates are guaranteed to protect Keller, Tucker, Newman, Kramer, Martin and Hearn. They’ll have interesting decisions with Brubaker and Waddell, as it’s difficult to protect too many prospects. I think that Hinsz, Robles, and Hill can go unprotected with no risk.
I’d expect Kramer and Newman up by the end of the year, which means they’ll be protected by the time the offseason decisions come around. If the Pirates are rebuilding, then those two would probably be starters in the majors, which would make it easier to protect more prospects, since you’d have more minor league spots available (there are only 15 spots for minor leaguers on the 40-man).
Yerry De Los Santos
Analysis: Just like the previously eligible list, I don’t see anyone here at risk of being lost in the Rule 5 draft. There have been some interesting moves from this group. Tate Scioneaux has been getting some starts and extended inning outings lately. Sean Keselica has been getting a lot of multi-inning outings. Scooter Hightower was just promoted to Altoona from Bradenton. The Pirates could continue making similar moves over the final two months, getting a better look at guys by promoting them to a higher level. However, with all of the guys who need to be protected from the top 50 list, they might not have much room for anyone else to be protected this offseason.