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MiLB Roster Housekeeping: Rule 5 and More

[Note: I wrote this earlier in the week and the team has already made a couple of the anticipated moves. What follows is the original text]

With the World Series over now the business of the off season will commence. This includes the business of who’s potentially not going to be in your organization next year. Of course front offices will be deciding what players they could keep but don’t want to, none of us can predict how that will shake out, but there’s also the matter of Minor league free agency, and who’s eligible for the Rule 5 draft.

Below I’ll quote you the relevant rule, and take a look at who it applies to. One caveat before I begin: there are players lingering on the current 40 man roster who’ll need to be removed, either via a non-tender or simply being released, because the major league team has a low number of pending free agents (two!) and at least 3 or 4 (depending on whether they tender Devon Travis which seems quite unlikely) who need to be added off the 60 day DL – plus even more slots that need to be opened in order to protect important players for the Rule 5 draft. These players will inevitably be eligible for minor league free agency (at least) and be likely to leave the organization unless re-signed to a minor league deal. For example: if they removed Jason Adam from the roster (not a prediction) he’d be a Free Agent. The exception to this, to my surprise, seems to be Brock Stewart who’s got a year of control left, but would be Rule 5 eligible. This can be slightly complex as you’ll see.

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Here’s the rule regarding minor league free agency (there are other ways to qualify, but for the purposes of this article this is the only rule i am considering because some of the others are a bit tricky – see the full explanation here):

An unsigned minor league player is automatically declared a free-agent at 5 PM (Eastern) on the 5th day after the final game of the World Series (the deadline is October 15th if the World Series is canceled) if the player has spent all or any part of at least seven separate seasons on a minor league roster (including all or parts of any season spent on Optional Assignment to the minors and/or on a minor league Injured List) and/or if the player has been previously released or non-tendered in his career and his present contract (known as a “second contract” even if it’s his third or fourth minor league contract) has expired.

This group of players are those who’ve traditionally been called “Six Year” minor league free agents. I’m not clear why the rule quoted above actually specifies seven except that it may well be an allowance to organizations in that they wouldn’t sacrifice a year of control by starting a player out in the complex league in their draft year. That would essentially be “free” and then the “six year” bit would begin next spring. In any case, the list of these players who played in the Jays’ system at the end of the year is laced with obscure players and some familiar names. I count 18 in all, not counting those who’ve already elected free agency in a previous off-season transaction. Indeed, of the 10 position players listed for the Bisons roster right now, seven are pending free agents and the other three are R5 eligible. Here’s the crop, starting with the familiar players who’ve made some impact for the organization:
Dalton Pompey – *sob*. I know it’s probably for the best (were I he, I think I’d try to replicate Eric Thames’ road through Korea unless i got a very good open door with an MLB org) and yes, he theoretically could be re-signed as any of these players could but, realistically . . .
Danny Barnes – Reliever are basically the prototypical guys to run out of time in an organization.
Matt Dermody – Even less of a history of success than Barnes, plagued by injuries the last few years.
Socrates Brito – off the 40, assigned to the minors, been around for a decade, that math adds up here.
Andy Burns – maybe the most likely of these to re-sign, probably has a future with the team beyond his playing days if he wants it.
Also:
Pitchers – John Axford, Mark Lieter, Jr., Shawn Morimando, Vinne Nittoli, Willy Ortiz
Catchers – Patrick Cantwell, Michael De La Cruz, Albert Mineo, Andres Sotillo, Javier Hernandez, Jesus Lopez
Others – Patrick Kivlehan, Jordan Paterson

To conclude this section, I’ll note for the record that any of these players can be kept by adding them to the 40 man roster (unlikely, see below) or by re-signing them to a new minor league contract as I postulated with Burns

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Now, the qualification for the Rule 5 is somewhat simpler but requires you to get your math right. I’ve seen other lists which do not match what I came up with so possibly someone knows of some exemption I’m not aware of but per this description, there are 22 pitchers and 14 position players eligible (of course only 22 in all played at AA or above which is the pool of players from which a draft pick usually comes, Elvis Luciano notwithstanding). Here’s the part relevant to our concern:

Players are eligible for selection in the Rule 5 draft if they are not on their major league organization’s 40-man roster and:

  • were 18 or younger on the June 5 preceding their signing and this is the fifth Rule 5 draft upcoming; or
  • were 19 or older on the June 5 preceding their signing and this is the fourth Rule 5 draft

So, who fits this description in the Blue Jays’ system? Let me try to put them in tiers (my own judgement here, which is often suspect because the team has a better grasp of whom other teams will see value in than i do – obviously):

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Players in at least some danger of being selected:
Zach Jackson – serious control issues but some serious stuff, very temptingto any team that thinks they can solve the riddle
Jackson McClelland – triple digit heat, still needs refinement but I can’t imagine he’s not protected.
Travis Bergen – Lefty selected last year by the Giants and returned, had enough successful innings that you would have to think the Jays would want him around given, particularly, Mayza’s absence.
Kirby Snead – also a lefty with a track record of good results and a helluva slider. Same logic applies.
Santiago Espinal – highly flexible infielder and sometimes outfielder. Not exactly a premium hitter but likely better than, say, Richard Urenea (who, by the way, is out of options if I recall correctly so the team will have to decide if he’s good enough to be their regular reserve major league infielder)
Forrest Wall – I’m kinda light on this guy, he’s not bad, maybe better than Jonathan Davis, but not a steal for any drafting team either. But others are higher on him than I so…?
Thomas Hatch – wasn’t widely praised as a steal when the Jays traded for him this summer but he found another gear around mid-season and had a pretty dominate second half in AA. I think he’s a keeper just based on stats.
Dany Jimenez – I mean, you have to take statistically dominant minor league relievers with a grain of salt but this guy dominated Dunedin and then got better in AA and got not a lot of praise from his coaches. If the Jays simply don’t have this much room I’ll be mildly shocked if he’s not selected.

AA/AAA but Highly unlikely to be chosen:
Roemon Fields – Fast CF with well-regarded glove, can’t hit much.  Was also available last year, everyone passed. Likely will again.
Bryan Baker – like Jackson and McClelland, a hard thrower with some control issues, doesn’t get the buzz they do though. Also Connor Fisk and Tyler Saucedo, all from the Bisons’ bullpen.
Joshua Palacios – good CF, with speed and contact, who played in AA. Mid-range prospect not unlike Davis in a lot of ways. Just doesn’t really fit the profile of players typically selected.
Nash Knight and Christian Williams – AA infielders, Knight has some versatility but neither one looks like they have MLB ability.
Jake Fishman, Danny Young, Corey Copping, Curtis Taylor, William Ouellette – middling AA relievers, statistically Fishman (who’s a lefty) but up ratios that would make you look a second time but unless the pros see something you wouldn’t know from a distance, nothing to speak of here in terms of worrying about a loss. There’s also starter Jon Harris who lost almost the whole year to injury but wasn’t much good before that, and starter Andrew Sopko who pitched well at AA and got waxed in Buffalo.

Lower in the system are another 13 names, some of which you’d recognize (injury plagues SP Justin Maese, fast gloveman CF Reggie Pruitt, defensive wiz SS Kevin Vicuna for example) but all of them have one or more serious flaws even at this level and it would be impossible to conceive of any being selected – or the team missing them if they were.

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On another note, of course, their will be a somewhat random trickle of other org players who will retire, be released, and the like all through the winter but very seldom (last year’s retirement of Max Pentecost notwithstanding) will such an event be newsmaking.

All this of course presents a somewhat more difficult process for the team than in some other years. The lack of major league free agents creates a serious roster crunch. It’s a given that the two open spots will go to two of Borucki, Gurriel, and Shoemaker. I think it’s fairly reasonable to conclude that Luke Malie will not survive the winter on the 40 man roster (though they would happily re-sign him to a minor league contract if he fails to find work elsewhere) so let’s presume he’s given his release to take care of the third member of this cohort.

Now as turning attention to those Rule 5 eligible players, six of the better players I highlighted are pitchers, five of them relievers – and as it happens, the most obvious group of major leaguers to cut from are veteran relievers. The thinking being that players like Ryan Dull and Buddy Boshers are basically fungible talent and their will surely be players of similar talent available freely next March and indeed, Dull has already been shown the door to make room for the team to claim Anthony Bass off waivers from the Mariners. Thing is though, even though Bass had a wildly more successful year than Dull, it’s a distinct outlier in an otherwise very pedestrian career and he simply take’s Dull’s place in the group of guys most likely to come off the roster first. I think those two, Boshers and Bass, and Stewart, coming off the roster is pretty predictable but after that the choices get harder.

ETA (11/4): When I wrote this, I’d totally forgotten that Breyvic Valera was still on the roster. With Boshers and Stewart now removed, Valera is now the most obvious next guy out the door in my opinion. Probably by the end of today.

Let’s postulate that those three are replaced by McClelland, Bergen, and Snead. I’ll further grant that they take a chance on losing Wall and Jackson. That leaves 2-3 spots (depending on what they think of Jimenez) still to be found somewhere. Barring trades, these choices won’t be easy. Jonathan Davis seems like an easy cut, let’s waive him to protect Espinal. After that you have to ask “do I want to keep Hatch and Jimenez safe, or do I want to keep all three of Jason Adam, Sam Gaviglio, and Derek Law?

All this is just speculation on my part, and I have no inside info. For all I know they absolutely love Jason Adam – or maybe they see great things that I’m not seeing in Zack Jackson. Clearly they like Davis more than I do, but do they like him more than Wall? Or on a more basic level, do they have good reason to be confident that some of these guys i consider at risk – say Hatch – are all but certain not to be drafted for whatever reason.

I’m afraid I’ve already told you more than I actually know, but at least now you know the overall context. We’ll see what happens.