Cards Rule 5 and September Call-Up Trade-Offs

The decisions on which players might be added to the Cardinals in September and which could be protected from the Rule 5 draft in December are different decisions with a different sense of urgency.

There has been considerable discussion on our Message Board this past week about which St. Louis Cardinals players will be Rule 5-eligible this coming off-season and how that might affect which players are added to the Major League club on September 1, when the active roster can be expanded from 25 to as many as 40 players.

The simple answer is that I don't see the two as being connected.

We will start with Rule 5.

To be protected from December's Rule 5 draft, an eligible player must have been added to the organization's 40-man roster following the fourth season since he originally signed, or fifth if the player was 18 years old or younger when first signed.

Those two dates are one year longer than the previous deadlines that had been in effect. The decision to effectively give ownership one more year of control of minor leaguers was a concession made by the players to the owners during the collective bargaining negotiations last fall, which culminated in a new agreement covering 2007 through 2011.

This aspect went into effect immediately. The change meant that the draft class of 2004 did not become eligible to be taken in the Rule 5 draft last December as the previous agreement would have allowed them.

For the Cardinals, that included players such as starting pitcher and former first-rounder Chris Lambert as well as starter Mike Parisi, infielder Jarrett Hoffpauir and relievers Mark Worrell and Mike Sillman. The rule change allowed the Cardinals another year to evaluate these players' progress before having to make a decision whether or not to protect them.

Now, that time has just about run out. The entire 2004 class will become Rule 5 eligible unless added to the 40-man this fall. I say that because the Cards drafted very, very few teenagers that year and I don't believe they signed any of them.

In addition, there are at least two top players from the 2003 draft, Stuart Pomeranz and Brandon Yarbrough, who were each 18 years old when first signed. Those two will also become Rule 5-eligible for the first time this year if not protected.

The rest of the 2003 class, including since-released fourth-round pick, pitcher Mark Michael and catcher-turned hurler Jason Motte, could have been taken in the December, 2006 Rule 5 draft.

Same with late-blooming outfielder Joe Mather, who was originally drafted back in 2001. In fact, in Mather's case, as a six-year minor leaguer, he can become a free agent if he isn't added to the 40-man this fall.

Here is a link to the article about the Cardinals players that were eligible to have been taken in the 2006 Rule 5 draft: "Cardinals Rule 5 Eligibles" – November 21, 2006

Last year, of the 27 Cardinals players eligible to be selected, they lost none. The two they took, catcher Omar Falcon and infielder Jose Contreras, both in the minor league phase of the draft, were not difference-makers. Contreras is hitting just .227 in limited action with Palm Beach and Falcon was sent back to the Pirates organization after two dozen games with Quad Cities.

Link: "Cards Add Two Minor Leaguers via Rule 5" – December 7, 2006

However, this year, the Cardinals decisions may be more difficult, one of the downsides of an improving farm system. Following is a recap of my list of the top dozen players who either need to be added to the 40-man by November 20 or risk being lost. Nine of them are potentially first-time Rule-5ers.

Top Dozen 2007 Cardinals Rule 5 At-Risk Players

Player Position Drafted  Round Age signed 1st Rule 5
Jarrett Hoffpauir Second base 2004 6th 21 yes
Joe Mather Outfield/1B 2001 3rd 19 no
Jason Motte RH Reliever 2003 19th (as C) 21 no
Stuart Pomeranz RH Starter 2003 2nd 18 yes
Mark Worrell RH Reliever 2004 12th 21 yes
Eric Haberer RH Starter 2004 3rd 21 yes
Mike Sillman RH Reliever 2004 21st 22 yes
Mike Parisi RH Starter 2004 9th 21 yes
Brandon Yarbrough Catcher 2003 5th 18 yes
Chris Lambert RH Starter 2004 1st 21 yes
Juan Lucena Infielder 2002 free agent 18 no
Mike Ferris First base 2004 2nd 21 yes

In my view, the top four seem to be very strong candidates to be added to the 40-man. Not coincidentally, all four are headed to the showcase Arizona Fall League, along with Mitchell Boggs, Chris Perez and Colby Rasmus. Surely the organization would not send players to Arizona if they expected to try to sneak them through Rule 5 right afterward.

But, how are the Cardinals going to make room for the four? The reality is that they don't have to yet. They can deal with the kids in November as they have more immediate roster management challenges in September first.

With the inevitable removals from the 40-man roster coming this fall, it is still currently almost full at 39 players following the removal of third baseman Travis Hanson. As a result, right now there appears to be more deserving players than potential roster spots to put them.

Prior to this fall, one has to remember that all the expected veteran September call-ups are not yet on the 40-man roster. In addition, players who had been put on the 60-day disabled list do not count against the 40. The call-up of these players should take late-season preference over any youngsters who also are not yet part of the 40-man.

Specifically, in order to make room for what looks to be four September givens - pitcher Mark Mulder (currently on the 60-day DL and in rehab), infielder Miguel Cairo (in Memphis) plus catcher Kelly Stinnett and utilityman Scott Spiezio (both on the restricted list), three more players beyond Hanson would need to be dropped from the 40-man in the next week or two.

Expanding the aperture a bit, relievers Brian Falkenborg and Mike Venafro are other possible recalls that would also require 40-man spots to return to the Major Leagues. Though unimpressive in his initial action with Memphis, the veteran lefty Venafro is still an interesting dark horse given the inconsistencies of incumbent left-handers Randy Flores and Tyler Johnson.

Candidates to be dropped might include outfielder John Rodriguez, catcher Brian Esposito and pitchers Randy Keisler and Kelvin Jimenez. Another possible maneuver that might work for September would be to recall Rodriguez and reliever Dennis Dove, both injured, then freeing up two 40-man spots by putting both players on the 60-day disabled list.

In summary, I am not assuming all of this will happen next month, but here is one way it could all come about.

40-Man Roster 

 

September Scenario

39

Current total

4

Mulder, Cairo, Stinnett, Spiezio added

-3

Esposito, Keisler, Jimenez removed

40

Total

2

Falkenborg, Venafro added

-2

Rodriguez, Dove to 60-day DL

40

Total

This scenario would leave no room to add up-and-comers not yet on the 40-man like Hoffpauir and Mather in September before the additional off-season moves. Later in the fall, Major League free agency will open up more roster spots. But for now, the roster and the Cardinals bench in September already appears as if it will be most crowded.

After all, we haven't even talked about the players already on the 40-man who could also return in September, including rehabbing pitcher Mike Maroth, relievers Brad Thompson and Andy Cavazos plus outfielder Skip Schumaker. While they wouldn't require 40-man relief, they would take more and more space on an already-filling final-month bench.

Relieving the jam is one challenge on which the Cardinals front office will be working between now and November. Having invested so much in the development of their young players, they certainly would not want to lose any of them just when they begin to fully realize their potential.

Just don't expect to see any of the Rule 5-eligibles in St. Louis in September, as there is simply no room at the inn.



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

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