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Thursday, December 8, 2022

The Pirates Have Already Made Most of Their Rule 5 Decisions, But Still Have a Few Remaining

Every year around the start of July, we do an early preview of the Rule 5 eligible players for the Pirates in the upcoming offseason. The focus of the article — which comes almost five months before teams have to make a decision on those players — is to highlight who might be in line for a promotion or a trade for the remainder of the season.

If you’re unfamiliar with the Rule 5 process, or want to see the list of players who are eligible this year, check out that article.

The Pirates have a habit, whether intentional or not, of dealing from their upcoming Rule 5 class. They don’t exclusively trade from that group, but a lot of upcoming eligible players have been traded every year by them at the deadline.

On the flip side, not every player gets the call to the majors during the season, but the Pirates do end up calling up a lot of their Rule 5 guys. This makes sense, as those guys are typically closer to the majors. The combination of these two things usually means that there aren’t many decisions to be made on November 20th — when teams need to protect their players — because the decisions have already been made.

That has been the case this year, with a lot of trades and promotions that have changed the list. The list has changed so much that I thought it would be a good time for an update about the key players.

Traded Away

The Pirates made two big trades at the deadline, but only sent out one Rule 5 eligible player in those deals. That was Taylor Hearn, who I had as a must-protect guy in the original article.

Already Called Up

Two of the biggest players who needed to be protected this offseason were Kevin Newman and Kevin Kramer. The Pirates have called both of them up already, making the easy decision to add them to the 40-man roster, only making the decision a few months early.

The Pirates have also called up several other players since the last update. Tanner Anderson was called up just before the article ran. Pablo Reyes would have been eligible for minor league free agency at the end of the year, and would have been Rule 5 eligible if he had re-signed a minor league deal. The Pirates ended up calling him up, again making their decision early.

Alex McRae and Casey Sadler were the other players who were called up, with McRae getting the call right before the original article. Sadler has since been DFAd off the roster, and didn’t return in September, which doesn’t speak well of his chances to be added back in November. McRae wasn’t called up in September, and it’s hard to say whether that means anything for the offseason.

Who Is Left?

The obvious guys remaining to protect would be Mitch Keller and Cole Tucker.  Both will be protected on deadline day.

Beyond those two, the Pirates have some interesting decisions with the remaining players. The guys who stand out from the remaining group: JT Brubaker, Jason Martin, Brandon Waddell, Tyler Eppler, and Eduardo Vera.

Brubaker and Martin seem like the best bets to be protected. Martin has power and the ability to play center field, which could provide value off the bench for a team that selected him. Brubaker has been sitting mid-to-upper 90s with his fastball for a few years now, but has added a cutter this year which is leading to strong results.

I could see Brandon Waddell going undrafted. The same with Tyler Eppler, and he’s already gone undrafted before. Both players could serve as a bullpen option right away for another team, although the upside in each case would be a middle reliever.

The most interesting case here is Vera, who is a minor league free agent at the end of the year. The Pirates moved him up to Altoona at mid-season, and he finished the year on a strong note, including his dominant playoff start last night. The Pirates could opt to bring him back on a minor league deal, which would still expose him to the draft. If they don’t want to risk him hitting the open market, or exposing him to the draft, they could add him to the 40-man roster before he hits free agency, which is something they’ve done in the past with a few players after the season.

Creating Space

The 40-man roster is full right now, although there should be some spots opening at the start of the offseason. Jordy Mercer is a free agent, and he would open one spot. The Pirates will need that spot for Chad Kuhl when he comes off the 60-day DL. They also have Nik Turley on the 60-day DL, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s non-tendered, since he’s out of options and missed the entire year this year with a suspension and an injury.

If the Pirates buy out the options for Jung Ho Kang and Josh Harrison, that would create two spots. I could see that happening with both players. As I wrote earlier this week, things don’t look good for Max Moroff’s future on the roster, and that’s another likely subtraction at some point this offseason.

Then you’ve got the fringe roster guys like Jesus Liranzo, Alex McRae, Tanner Anderson, and Ryan Lavarnway, who could all be run through waivers and off the 40-man if they clear.

That gives you at least seven possible spots. However, the Pirates wouldn’t use all of those spots on the Rule 5 guys, as they would need to use 40-man spots on free agents, waiver claims, and other outside additions aimed to help the MLB roster or provide depth from day one of the 2019 season.

The Pirates will add Keller and Tucker. I wouldn’t be surprised if they add one or two more guys from the remaining group, with Brubaker and Martin being the best bets. Vera would be a good guy to bring back on a minor league deal, as I don’t think he would be a risk of being selected and protected all year. I’d be surprised if they added more than four players total, and even that number might be pushing it a bit.

Of course that number would be expected to be low only because they’ve already made a few decisions during the season, with five of the eligible players already on the 40-man roster right now, and one more traded away. Even with all of those moves, there are still a few decisions left to make in November.

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Tim started Pirates Prospects in 2009 from his home in Virginia, which was 40 minutes from where Pedro Alvarez made his pro debut in Lynchburg. That year, the Lynchburg Hillcats won the Carolina League championship, and Pirates Prospects was born from Tim's reporting along the way. The site has grown over the years to include many more writers, and Tim has gone on to become a credentialed MLB reporter, producing Pirates Prospects each year, and will publish his 11th Prospect Guide this offseason. He has also served as the Pittsburgh Pirates correspondent for Baseball America since 2019. Behind the scenes, Tim is an avid music lover, and most of the money he gets paid to run this site goes to vinyl records.

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