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Padres Roster Crunch: Rule 5 Draft edition

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All MLB teams need to set their rosters for the Rule 5 draft this week. The Padres have some decisions to make if they want to protect their own players or poach from other teams.

Milwaukee Brewers v San Diego Padres Photo by Denis Poroy/Getty Images

All MLB teams need to set their 40-man rosters for the Rule 5 draft by Friday, November 18th. They need to look at their more experienced prospects and decide who should be protected and who is worth risking exposure to the draft, and they also need to consider if they are interested in taking on exposed players from other teams like the Padres did so aggressively last year. With 39 players currently on the roster, General Manager AJ Preller has some work to do.

What is the Rule 5 Draft and why does it matter?

The Rule 5 Draft is often overlooked by casual fans, but every once in a while a player like Luis Perdomo comes along. Last year the Padres acquired four players in the MLB portion of the Rule 5 Draft, and Perdomo not only had the staying power to stick on the Padres’ active roster all season, but he closed the year looking like a viable rotation option much sooner than most expected. There’s minimal risk when a team acquires a player this way since the only compensation required is a cash fee paid to the originating team, but that player needs to remain on the active roster the entire season to stay with his new team. Two of the four the Padres chose last year (Josh Martin and Blake Smith) were returned before the season began, and Jabari Blash was eventually acquired for cash considerations after being DFA’d a month into the season. Historically, the Rule 5 Draft has propelled some significant players toward new-found success, most notably Roberto Clemente, Bobby Bonilla, Johan Santana, and Jose Bautista to name a few.

Players are eligible for selection in the Rule 5 Draft if they were signed when they were 19 or older and have played in professional baseball for four years, or were signed at 18 and have played for five years. Players on the active 40-man MLB roster are exempt from selection, thus the flurry of roster moves we may see around the league this week to “protect” prospects who might not necessarily fit into the organization’s big league plans for the coming year. The purpose of the draft is to prevent teams from hoarding prospects and letting them drift in minor league purgatory, thereby theoretically leveling the playing field a little. The converse of the “protection” aspect is that teams need a free space on the 40-man roster to add a player taken in the draft, and then they need to keep him on the active 25-man roster all season to retain that player.

Clearing Space

The Padres are in a position where future development is arguably more important than immediate success. That means that they might be interested in some projects this year just like they were last year, and in Perdomo it certainly paid off. At the same time, there are some minor leaguers who might need to be “protected” if the organization wants to retain their services. To free up space, the Padres have to consider letting some players go. With no players on long-term contracts, any players removed from the active roster would be either traded for minor leaguers or cash or “non-tendered,” meaning that they would not be offered a contract. Using a very un-scientific method, here’s a list of players who could be moved before week’s end:

  • Trade Candidates: C Derek Norris, 3B/2B Yangervis Solarte, 2B/3B/LF Ryan Schimpf, LF Alex Dickerson, LHRP’s Ryan Buchter & Brad Hand
  • Non-Tender Candidates: C Hector Sanchez, 1B/3B Brett Wallace, UT Alexi Amarista, UT Jose Pirela, RF Oswaldo Arcia, RHSP’s Paul Clemens & Erik Johnson, RHRP’s Kevin Quackenbush, Leonel Campos, & Jon Edwards, LHRP’s Keith Hessler & Buddy Baumann.

Take a good hard look at those names. A handful of them are players that we’d be sad to see go, but there’s at least 5-10 players there who could be replaced by internal or external options pretty easily. That affords quite a bit of flexibility to the roster.

Players worth protecting

While there doesn’t seem to be a clear resource to determine which players would be exposed to the Rule 5 draft that I can see, I was able to weed out some players that fit the criteria (please forgive me if I’m wrong on any of them, and correct me if you can). The significant ones IMHO are as follows: Javier Guerra, Franmil Reyes, Franchy Cordero, Yimmi Brasoban, Walker Lockett, Edwin Moreno, Michael Kelly, Bryan Rodriguez, Rafael De Paula, Justin Hancock, Casey McElroy, Rocky Gale, Jamie Romak. I’ll break them down into three categories:

  • Veterans who aren’t prospects anymore: Hancock, McElroy, Gale, Romak. Justin Hancock is a 26 year old reliever who was injured all of 2016. McElroy is a 27yo utility infielder. We know Rocky Gale from his callup in 2015. Jamie Romak is a corner IF/OF who’s seen some MLB time and at 31 is looking for another shot. None of them are likely to draw any interest in the draft.
  • Older fringe prospects who might contribute this year: De Paula, Rodriguez, Kelly, Lockett. All pitchers in a year when fresh arms may be particularly useful. Rafael De Paula came to the Padres in the Chase Headley trade and appears to have been converted to a reliever last season as he made it from AA to AAA late in the season. Bryan Rodriguez was an international signee for the Padres in 2010 and was recently re-signed. He split 2016 between AA and AAA and has started his entire minor league career. Michael Kelly was a supplemental round draft pick by the Padres in 2011 and spent time at all three minor league levels in 2016, performing well for most of the year. Walker Lockett was selected by the Padres in the 4th round in 2012 and made a meteoric rise through the organization in 2016, earning MadFriars’ “Pitcher of the Year” selection. Lockett is the youngest and the fastest riser of the bunch, and Kelly is right behind him, so they may get consideration for addition to the roster due to proximity to MLB readiness.
  • Young guys who are a ways away from MLB but might garner protection: Guerra, Reyes, Cordero, Brasoban. Javier Guerra was viewed as the gem of the Kimbrel trade, but a poor 2016 showed that he needs significant development to become the MLB shortstop that lies within his tool set. Still listed at #7 on MLB.com’s Padres Top Prospect list, Guerra may be targeted by other teams. Franmil Reyes is a 6’5”, 240lb monster of a 21 year old corner outfielder who is still considered raw. Franchy Cordero has had ups and downs as he’s been moved from shortstop to centerfield, but 2016 was a very good year for him. Yimmi Brasoban is a right-handed pitcher who had started through the first three years of professional ball but has been relieving in 2015 and 2106, showing potential closer ability. Carrying any of these players on an MLB roster through the season would be taking on significant risk, but Guerra might be the kind of player a non-contender would consider for future value.

Realistically, it would be a surprise to see any of these players taken except for perhaps Kelly and Lockett. Even so, this could be a few days of non-tenders and roster shuffling to clear space for some dice-rolls like we saw last year. By taking four players, the Padres got an up-close look at some interesting guys for a nominal cost.