Rule 5 - Protected and Unprotected

The Cardinals have shuffled rosters in preparation for the Rule 5 draft on December 8.

With the Rule 5 draft just two weeks away at the Winter Meetings, the Cardinals are not alone in both setting their rosters as well as scanning other teams' lists in hopes of finding a player or two who can help out at the major or minor league levels in 2006.

 

Let's check the current state of the Cardinals' 40-man. Ten openings were created since the end of the regular season as the following players declared free agency: Matt Morris, Julian Tavarez, Mark Grudzielanek, Reggie Sanders, Larry Walker (retired), Einar Diaz, Cal Eldred, Al Reyes, John Mabry and Abraham Nunez. 

 

Even with the recent additions of catcher Michel Hernandez, third baseman Travis Hanson and shortstop Brendan Ryan, there are only 34 players on the 40-man at this time, leaving the Cardinals with flexibility. (The 34 includes Mike Lincoln, who was on the 60-day disabled list for seemingly forever.)

 

So, the initial conclusion is that the numbers seem to work out ok. The Cardinals shouldn't have to take any risks to complete their 2006 team. End of story, right?


Well, not so fast. There is another consideration. What about the Rule 5 draft? On one hand, that could be a source of players, as with Hector Luna at the major league level two years ago. On the other hand, it can be a source of losses, too.

 

As much as some people complain about the lack of quality of the Cardinals' system, there are youngsters in the minors who could potentially be plucked by another team. As a result, let's take another, closer look at that 40-man.

 

Here are 11 prospects already protected from the Rule 5 draft by their placement on the 40-man roster, but are not on the 25-man active roster: 

Carmen Cali

Tyler Johnson

Chris Narveson

Anthony Reyes

Adam Wainwright

Chris Duncan

Travis Hanson

Brendan Ryan

Rick Ankiel

Reid Gorecki

Skip Schumaker

 

There are also three veterans on the 40-man with between two-plus and six years of service who could be non-tendered by the Cards to avoid the prospect of having to go to arbitration with them.  If these players don't work out deals with the club, their roster spots will be vacated:

Mike Lincoln

Jason Marquis*

Rick Ankiel*

(* The latter two in this group are clearly slated to return in 2006.)

 

In addition, there are at least four minor league veterans on the 40-man who could come in danger of losing their spot:

Mike Mahoney

Bo Hart

Rhett Parrott

Scott Seabol

 

So, if the Cardinals needed to free up four or so more spots on the 40-man beyond the seven openings now, that seemingly could be accomplished without sacrificing the team's future.  Even if the team wanted to bring in or bring back others, perhaps a fading prospect such as John Gall, who turns 28 on Opening Day, would be added to the departures.

 

But, why would extra 40-man roster spots be needed?  The most obvious reason would be if the team was to sign more than seven free agents to major league contracts; either their own or from other teams. 

 

Another contributing factor would be if the Cardinals were to again be active in selecting one or more Major League Rule 5 players from other teams this December.  The Cards surely won't take more than a couple of players at most, but it is worth remembering that any of these Rule 5 selections must immediately be placed on the 40-man roster.

 

Here are the eligibility guidelines for the major league phase of the Rule 5 draft.  Players who are not on the 40-man roster and have more than three years of minor league service (four years if they signed when they were younger than 19 on the June 5 immediately prior to their signing) are eligible to be selected.

 

As a result, teams often load up their Triple-A roster with players who have enough service time to be eligible for the Rule 5 draft, but fall just short of being good enough or ready enough to be on the 40-man, yet could generate interest from other teams. If another team wants one of these players, they have to keep him in the majors (or on the disabled list) the entire season.

 

The Cardinals are no exception to leveraging this roster management practice. As a result, the Memphis "roster" in terms of Rule 5 protection, at least, is loaded with 31 players. And remember, this does not include those 11 players above who are on the 40-man, but not the 25-man. Some of the 31 have not yet appeared above Palm Beach or even Quad Cities, so actually projecting them for Memphis in 2006 would be quite a stretch.

 

While there are certainly good players in the Cardinals system who could be taken, there are no obvious mistakes or omissions, at least in this writer's assessment. In fact, I completed my version of the Cardinals' Top 40 Prospects List just last night and compared them to the Rule 5 rosters. Only seven players on the mid-to-bottom of my list are Rule 5 eligible, none of whom seem to be near major league-ready.

 

That is also an indication that an increasing number of the Cardinals' top prospects are at the lower levels of the system, where their relative lack of professional experience preclude them from Rule 5 consideration. This is a positive reflection on the recent drafts and for the future.

 

Some examples of the Cardinals' Rule 5 eligible players follow. Complete and "guaranteed to be accurate" player lists of all Cardinals' organization Rule 5 selectable players are available to subscribers by clicking here.

 

Examples of Major League Rule 5 eligibles:

Jordan Pals, Blake Hawksworth, Mark Michael, Juan Lucena, John Nelson.

 

Examples of Triple-A Rule 5 eligibles:

Alan Benes, Kyle McClellan, Dan Moylan, Matt Pagnozzi, Andy Schutzenhofer.

 

In conclusion, the Cardinals' 40-man roster and Rule 5 eligible lists look to be in good shape and as a result, no unpleasant roster-driven surprises should be expected any time soon.

 

Brian Walton can be reached via email at brwalton@earthlink.net.

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