The Tampa Bay Devil Rays lost Josh Hamilton in the 2006 Rule 5 Draft.
One of the more arcane events of the baseball calendar arrives tomorrow when Major League Baseball holds the annual Rule 5 Draft. It’s an event only a true baseball wonk could love.
The basic idea is to liberate players who’ve been buried in one organization’s minor league system, so they have a chance to play elsewhere. It’s called “Rule 5” because in the Professional Baseball Agreement — the document governing relations between the thirty major league organizations — it’s the fifth section or “rule” after Rule 4, which details the June draft, and before Rule 6, which governs selected players.
You’ve probably heard of the 40-man roster. With the exception of September, major league clubs can only carry 25 players (not counting those who are on the disabled list). The 40-man roster includes up to 15 players who are not on the major league roster, but are protected from claims by another club. Any player not on the 40-man roster as of November 20 may be claimed in the Rule 5 draft, if he’s eligible under certain criteria.
To quote from Baseball America:
The criteria centers on the player’s age on the June 5 preceding the date of his contract. If a player is 19 or older on that date immediately preceding the player’s signing, the player is subject to selection at the fourth selection meeting that follows. It’s five selection meetings for those that are 18 or older that sign on that date.
Clear as mud?
The claimant team must pay the other organization $50,000 and carry the player on its 25-man roster all of the next season. (One way around the rule is to place the player on the disabled list if he’s legitimately injured.) If the claimant doesn’t want him, then he must be offered back to his old team for $25,000; if the old team declines, then the claimant may keep him.
Clear as mud?
Few people know about the Rule 5 Draft, but even fewer know there are minor league phases too. To quote again from Baseball America:
There are Triple-A and Double-A segments of the Rule 5 draft, with price tags of $12,000 and $4,000 respectively. Minor league players not protected on the reserve lists at the Double-A and Class A levels are subject to selection, but almost no future big leaguers emerge from this process. It’s basically a tool for major league teams to fill out affiliates rather than obtain talent.
Clear as mud?
Most players selected in the major league phase don’t amount to much, and several wind up back with their old teams. But a few players are glorious exceptions.
The classic example is Roberto Clemente. Originally signed by the Brooklyn Dodgers, he was drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates in November 1954. The rest is history.
Pitcher Johan Santana was originally signed by the Houston Astros. The Florida Marlins drafted him in December 1999, then immediately traded him to Minnesota for Jared Camp, who’d just been selected by the Twins with the preceding pick. The Marlins sent Santana and cash to the Twins for Camp. Johan spent all of 2000 in the big leagues with Minnesota, posting a 6.49 ERA working mostly out of the bullpen, but four years later he was a 20-game winner.
Outfielder Josh Hamilton was selected #1 overall by Tampa Bay in the June 1999 draft. After multiple suspensions due to his well-chronicled drug problems, the Devil Rays left him off the 40-man roster and he was claimed by the Chicago Cubs in the 2006 Rule 5 draft. The Cubs immediately sold him to the Cincinnati Reds, and in 2007 he re-established his career. The Reds then traded him to the Texas Rangers in December 2007 for pitcher Danny Herrera. Hamilton hit 32 homers for Texas in 2008, but tailed off in 2009 due to injuries.
Perhaps the most bizarre claim was in 1988, when the Braves drafted a player from themselves. They neglected to protect pitcher Ben Rivera, but they had the first pick in the draft so they claimed him.
The most recent quirk came on December 7, when the Yankees sent reliever Brian Bruney to the Nationals for their upcoming first round Rule 5 pick. June amateur draft picks can’t be traded, but apparently that’s not the case with Rule 5.
The two best places on the Internet to follow the Rule 5 draft are MiLB.com and BaseballAmerica.com. Be sure to stick around for the minor league phases; if you’re a Manatees or Nationals minor league fan, some familiar names may go bye-bye. Or not.
Clear as mud?
UPDATE 5:00 PM EST — Here’s a November 21 article by Jonathan Mayo of MilB.com which provides the draft order. Jonathan notes that only teams with less than 40 players currently on their roster may draft, because as discussed above a drafted player must be protected for a year, therefore he must be on the claimant’s 40-man roster.