Monday, December 05, 2005

From The Rule That Brought You Tony Blanco

Baseball's Winter Meetings start today. The highlight for minor league junkies and transaction-obsessed weenies is the Rule-5 draft, held on 12/8.

The rules governing it seem more complicated than they really are. Basically, any player who has played three professional seasons must be protected on the 40-man roster. (Certain young players have four seasons before they need to be protected.) Players who don't make the 40-man are exposed to the draft. Each team can select a player from another team in exchange for $50,000. The catch is, as we saw last year with Tony Blanco, the selecting team must keep that player on the active 25-man roster for the entire season.

These players can't be sent to the minors without first offering them back to the original club. That club can reclaim the player for $25,000 and stash him in the minors. If the other team declines to take him back, the player would be exposed to waivers before going to the drafting team's minors, and any selecting club would also be bound by the active-roster requirement.

Traditionally, teams have played games with the player, putting them on the disabled list for paper cuts or hypochondria -- anything they can do to get the player off the roster.

Teams can trade for the rights to the player, however. The Nationals did just that last year. After selecting Tyrell Godwin from the Blue Jays, they traded LHP Aaron Wideman for permanent rights to Godwin, and were able to stash him in the minors for the season. It's suspected that an acrimonious relationship with the Cincinnati management prevented Bowden from doing the same with Tony Blanco.

Selecting a player can be a useful way to find some depth, especially if you're a team going nowhere like the Royals. The player, however, typically loses a year of development. And if you're a contending team, playing a man short can be quite difficult. The Nationals have one other Rule-5 draftee, Luis Ayala. In his pre-shredded elbow days, Ayala was taken from Arizona, the team we typically pillage for good pitchers. (See also: Patterson, John). The most celebrated recent Rule-5 draftee is undoubtedly 2004 AL Cy Young winner Johann Santana, whom Minnesota stole from the Astros.

The Nationals have exposed two players of note.

Josh Whitesell (stats) is a first baseman who slugged the bejeesus out of the ball for Potomac, hitting .293/ .416 /.524 with 18 home runs and 32 doubles. He walked a decent 74 times but struck out 125. That's excellent power potential, and, despite the strikeouts, a decent batting eye. Earlier this year, the Washington Times featured a profile on Josh.

Rogearvin Bernadina (stats) is a Jim-Bowden-type toolsy outfielder. He played his third season in Single-A Savannah, and still couldn't hit his way out of the ol' paper bag: .233/ .356/ .369. He knows how to draw a walk, but he has little control of the strike zone, striking out almost 100 times despite not having much power. His game is based on speed. He's stolen 71 bases in the minors while having been caught just 14 times. But he'll need to hit better than .233 if he is to have any future.
Neither is likely to be selected. Some team could take Whitesell as left-handed bats are always smiled upon thanks to the wonders of the platoon advantage, but the difficulties of having an unproven cornerman on a team's bench will probably preclude that.

As far as the Nationals interests, I'm not sure that they have any. When we looked at the roster last week, there weren't many open slots. More importantly, there weren't any on the offensive side of the ball. Bowden could select a relief prospect, but with Rasner and Bray there are already some internal options as the 11th or 12th man on the pitching staff.

Baseball America has a feature on the draft, focusing on the best players available. A LHP such as Josh Muecke of the Astros or Chris Cooper of the Indians would probably be where Bowden would go, if he's going to select a player.

If you're jonesing for more information, our friends at Blue Jay Way have an exhaustive profile of the draft, focusing on the best player or two available for each team. Here's part 1. And here's part 2. And our friends at Baseball Primer have a discussion thread on the draft.


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