The Rule 5 Draft is designed to effectively prevent franchises from hoarding too much talent and keeping them mired in their minor league systems. If you’ve got more talent than your 40-man roster can accommodate and said talent has already spent a handful of years in your minor league system sans promotion to the big leagues, well, the Rule 5 Draft allows other franchises to pick those prospects and give them their chance.
Designed to level the playing field, it’s an instrument that’s helped uncover the likes of Shane Victorino, Josh Hamiliton, and others. It takes place annually at the conclusion of the Winter Meetings, which this year will be held December 4th through 7th in Nashville. The deadline to protect prospects from being eligible for the Rule 5 Draft is tonight at 6 PM ET, however, meaning we’ll get a wave of transactions league-wide as teams look to protect their best and brightest future stars, often at the expense of veterans who’d already been on 40-man rosters.
After promoting an amount of prospects roughly similar in population to the town of Des Moine, Iowa during the 2023 MLB season, the Cincinnati Reds have already done most of the heavy lifting when it comes to getting their most prized, eligible prospects onto their roster. That said, there will still be some decisions to be made, with game theory amongst the front offices league-wide in play.
Protecting guys takes up valuable 40-man roster spots, after all, and just because they could be taken in the Rule 5 Draft doesn’t mean they will be taken. Unless you are ridiculously flush with available roster spots - the Reds currently have 37 players on their 40-man roster - protecting someone eligible who’s at a lower level who may not get picked by another team means another, future 40-man transaction later in the winter will be needed for any further additions. Once a player is on a 40-man roster they begin to burn options, too, so starting the clock on a player a year before you have to does have consequences down the line.
It’s a gamble, much like selecting any player in said draft. If a player is picked, they’ve got to be carried on the selecting club’s 26-man active roster all year or be offered back to the original franchise, and it costs $100K to make a selection at all. That means the players selected often are one of two types, either a) a player who the new team thinks is wholly undervalued because they’re just one tweak away from being a regular, or b) a player with one particularly valuable tool that would make them a cheap fit as the 26th man on an active roster for that year (like a backup catcher, speed & defense outfielder, or one-pitch reliever).
The crop of players we’ll be watching with the Reds is not exactly at the same level reputation-wise as their fleet of impressive rookies from ‘23, but there’s some intrigue there. Rece Hinds, the former 2nd round pick whose plate discipline has evolved to better match his immense power, is likely the most obvious guy we’ll see added today, but the late-blooming Jacob Hurtubise is another one who could be added after his solid performance in the Arizona Fall League. College draftees from 2020 and anyone drafted (or signed) in 2019 or earlier are those who are Rule 5 eligible this year, so that means an arm like Christian Roa (2nd round, 2020) could be added, too.
Not only will the transactions of the day give us some insight on which players the Reds value most long-term, it will also likely see a flood of 40-man transactions across the league as teams free up roster spots to make these additions. Considering the non-tender deadline is Friday, players who might be on the chopping block for contracts could be moved today in effectively corresponding moves.