And So It Begins

Earlier this year the Arizona Diamondbacks were recognized as the best franchise in Major League Baseball. Many media outlets have also proclaimed that the Diamondbacks have the deepest and most talent laden minor league system in baseball. This talent began to be showcased during the latter half of the season as Stephen Drew, Carlos Quentin, Chris Young, and Alberto Callespo joined Conor Jackson at the Major League level and contributed to wins by the team. Having this kind of depth in the minor league system provides some salary flexibility since those with little major league experience typically are less expensive than an establish superstar. It also means that the Diamondbacks have alternatives and options to create a package that may land the team a needed pitcher or hitter. On the surface it would seem there are no downsides to a loaded farm system but that is not necessarily the case.

With many of the minor league players with high potential now reaching AA and AAA, they will need to be protected on the 40 man roster or be subjected to the Rule 5 Draft. What is the Rule 5 Draft you ask? Wow, where to begin on that one. I may have to refer to text by Albert Einstein, Stephen Hawking, and Pee Wee Herman to fully explain this concept.

The Rule 5 Draft gets its name from the section of the Professional Baseball Agreement where it is described. The Major League draft is Rule 4 while the Minor League draft is defined as Rule 5. The purpose of Rule 5 is to eliminate a team from stockpiling young talent at the minor league level when other teams could utilize these players in the Major Leagues. It protects a player from being blocked in the minor leagues when another player plays the same position for the Major League team. On the surface this seems like a valuable and needed clause so that players get an opportunity to advance to the big leagues. What usually happens though is that a team is able to steal a possible top prospect from another franchise due to a numbers game. For a player to be eligible for the Rule 5 Draft, he must have played professional baseball for more than three years (four years if the player is signed before their eighteenth birthday) and not currently on the Major League team’s 40-man roster. Teams are allowed to draft any minor league player eligible for the draft. The draft order is in reverse order based on final standings from the regular season. If a team selects a player in the Rule 5 Draft they must pay the original team $50,000 for the player’s rights. The team also must keep the player on their 25-man Major League roster for the entire season. If the team does not keep the player on their active roster the draftee he must be offered back to the original team for $25,000. After a full season, a player’s status returns to normal and the team drafting them may designate them for assignment and if they clear waivers they may be placed on a minor league roster. There are two phases to the Rule 5 Draft. The first phase is major league teams choosing from minor league rosters. The second phase allows AAA teams to draft players from AA or lower. The same rules apply but the price for drafting a player is $12,000 for AA and $4,000 for A players.

After that brief history you are probably scrolling back up to see what we were even talking about. To save you some time let me get right to the point, as a franchise the Diamondbacks farm system is loaded with talent. A lot of this talent is now reaching a point where they need to be protected from cannibalism by the other teams in the Rule 5 draft. It has already started as the Diamondbacks left off Dan Uggla from their 40-man roster after the 2005 season. The Florida Marlins selected him in the Rule 5 draft and he became an all-star and leading candidate for rookie of the year. This season will be more of the same. Currently the Diamondbacks have 39 players listed on their 40-man roster but this includes Craig Counsell, Miguel Batista, and Luis Gonzalez meaning that there are really 36 filled spots leaving only 4 to be filled by prospects.

You can expect to see several minor deals involving players that you may not be familiar with occur between now and December 4. Some of this is positioning to adjust positions in the minor leagues but many may be a result of getting something for someone who would otherwise be selected in the Rule 5 Draft. The first deal was struck yesterday when infielder Jerry Gil was traded to the Cincinnati Reds for High-A pitcher Abe Woody. Woody was a closer for the Baylor Bears in college and was drafted after his junior year. He has two years of professional baseball meaning he is not eligible for the Rule 5 Draft. Gil on the other hand is eligible but finds himself blocked by Stephen Drew and Orlando Hudson meaning he probably would not make the Diamondbacks team and therefore would probably have been lost at the draft. Other moves of interest were Mike Koplove was given his release to become a free agent in hopes of making a major league team. Right-handed pitcher Jeff Bajenaru was designated for assignment and removed from the 40 man roster freeing up another spot. It is possible that Bajenaru could be selected but as you can see it becomes a numbers game. Talks continue with the agent for Andy Green. Green is seeking his release so that he may sign a contract with a team from Japan or possibly with another team since his playing time is limited due to the youth of the infield that Arizona has under contract. Minor league player of the year Alberto Callaspo, Damion Easley, Green, and Robby Hammock all have the same versatility making it difficult for Green to get much playing time. This is a shame since Green himself was the Pacific Coast League player of the year in 2005.

All this will hopefully help the fans understand some of the moves being made. There are times that trades are made for subtraction purposes as much as addition. Shawn Green going to the New York Mets was partly to gain payroll flexibility but also to open another roster spot that could be used by some of the talent that the Diamondbacks have grown in their farm system. Look for the Diamondbacks to utilize the strength of their farm system to make some deals this off-season rather than wade deeply into the free agent market. Free agents will take roster spots thereby allowing minor league talent to be lost with no return from the development costs that the Diamondbacks have invested in for 3 years with these players. Bringing up young talent is a cost effective move and one that gives the team the best chance to maintain a lower payroll while building a competitive team. It just takes time and effort to make all the puzzle pieces fit together to give you the picture you imagined when you started.

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