Tough Decisions: The Cardinals 2009 Rule 5 Draft – Part 1

Note: This post has been superseded by more current information as of November 28: link to updated Cardinals Rule 5 list.

I am amused when I read about writers praising the St. Louis Cardinals for their aggressive minor league promotions, as if the organization has discovered some new brand of baseball wisdom.

Here’s the reality. They are doing it because they have to.

They need to move their players up through the system more quickly in order to determine which ones are keepers before they start to risk losing them at what could soon be an unprecedented rate for the franchise.

Do I have your attention yet?

There is potential trouble on the horizon, which may first manifest itself in the 2009 Rule 5 Draft this coming December, of all places.

The Rule 5 Draft, which occurs each year at the Winter Meetings, is of only mild interest at best to the average fan. After all, it is sort of a baseball version of a flea market. There could be good merchandise available, but it may take some shopping to find what you want and more likely than not, you may come home empty-handed.

For players that may feel buried in their current organization, Rule 5 can offer the chance for a fresh, new beginning. For clubs, the draft represents an opportunity to mine a diamond in the rough at pennies on the player-development dollar.

Not everyone is in love with Rule 5, however. Those clubs blessed with more top talent than they can protect view the event with some trepidation. After all, for every organization that gains a player via the process, another club takes a loss, saying goodbye to a player in whom they’ve likely invested a lot of time and money in development.

The qualification

Players that have been professionals for four or five years must be added to their club’s 40-man roster or be exposed for possible selection by one the 29 other clubs in the Rule 5 draft.

Organizations have five years of exclusive control of players that signed their first professional contract at 18 years old or younger, but it drops to four years for those that signed at 19 or older. The relevant date for this calculation is when the first contract is signed, not when the player initially takes the field.

The current example – 2005

This line is currently drawn at the 2005 draft, one of the Cardinals’ best in recent years. This is both a blessing and a curse, as will be further explained later.

Five players from the class of 2005 would already have been Rule 5 eligible in December 2008. This is due to their being at least 19 years old when having first signed and having passed four years as a pro.

The group was led by first-rounder, shortstop Tyler Greene and supplemental first-rounder, pitcher Mark McCormick. Trey Hearne, Kenny Maiques and Casey Rowlett were the other players originally drafted in 2005 eligible to have been selected. Greene was added to the 40-man prior to the draft and the other four were not taken.

Other members of the 2005 draft class were excluded from this most recent Rule 5 draft for the final time. That group of high-flying teenage draftees was headlined by top prospects Colby Rasmus, Bryan Anderson, Tyler Herron and Daryl Jones, all selected in the first four rounds that year. Other later-round 2005 drafted exclusions include Shaun Garceau and Tyler Leach, signed at the age of 18 or younger.

Unless protected, all of the 2005-drafted players will be eligible to be taken in the December 2009 Rule 5 Draft – with the exception of one individual. (Don’t you hate all the exceptions?)

Pitcher Blake King was selected as an 18-year-old in 2005 and was a draft-and-follow player. Under a since-abolished rule, clubs could control the rights to certain players up until the next draft. King did not sign his first contract until May 2006, after he turned 19. That gave the organization his services for four years, or through the 2010 season.

Coming up – 2006

If you thought 2005 was bad, wait until you see the college-heavy draft of 2006. Without action, 20 members of that class still in the organization will become Rule 5 eligible this coming fall. Only nine younger players from that draft can remain under Cardinals control for an additional year.

The 20 at-risk include some very prominent names such as Adam Ottavino, Jon Jay (pictured) and P.J. Walters. Does that help you understand why Jay was invited to major league spring training when others were not?

Free agents, too

It isn’t just drafted players that figure into the Rule 5 mix. Free agent signings, including players from the Latin American academies, also come into play.

Jose Martinez, Francisco Samuel and Domnit Bolivar will be among those potentially exposed for the first time this coming winter.

The history

In recent years, the Cardinals have been relatively quiet in terms of Rule 5 activity. Yet this past December, they actually had a player taken in the major league phase of the Rule 5 Draft, their first since Tyler Johnson in 2004.

Reliever Luis Perdomo, who came over to St. Louis last summer in return for Anthony Reyes, was selected by the San Francisco Giants. Perdomo may still end up back with the Cardinals if he is unable to stay on the Giants’ 25-man active roster for the entire 2009 season.

The previous year, the Cards selected Brian Barton from the Cleveland Indians, but did not have any players taken. The outfielder remained with the Cardinals during all of 2008 so is now St. Louis property.

In the major league phase of the 2006 draft, the Cardinals were neither buyers nor sellers. The previous year, they selected, then returned Cubs pitcher Juan Mateo. Johnson was the only Cards major league Rule 5 transaction in 2004.

The population

If the recent past is any indication, things will get interesting as the December 2009 draft nears.

In November 2008, the Cardinals added two players, reliever Matt Scherer and shortstop Greene, to their 40-man roster for Rule 5 protection. The two years prior, they added six and five players, respectively.

Those remaining behind became Rule 5 draft eligible. In 2008, that totaled 16 players, after 18 the year prior and 27 in 2006. However, one must remember that minor leaguers signed as free agents each fall prior to the Rule 5 draft are also unprotected.

Taking that into account, the number of true prospects that were eligible to have been taken in the last three drafts were 13, 16 and 20.

40-man adds R5 avail R5 avail prospects lost
2008 2 16 13 2
2007 6 18 16 0
2006 5 27 20 0
Total 13 61 49 2

Of them, only Perdomo and Cody Haerther left via the Rule 5 draft. In the case of the latter, the Cardinals seemed to purposely leave him at the Double-A level, making it easier for another organization to select and keep the outfielder.

St. Louis Cardinals recent Rule 5 Draft and related results

MLB taken Return MLB lost Return MiLB taken MiLB lost 40 man adds
2008 none Luis Perdomo (SF) TBD Russ Haltiwanger (KC) Cody Haerther (Tor) Matt Scherer
Tyler Greene
2007 Brian Barton (Cle) no none none none Kyle McClellan
Jason Motte
Joe Mather
Mike Parisi
Jarrett Hoffpauir
Mark Worrell
2006 none none Omar Falcon (Pit) none Troy Cate
Jose Contreras (Was) Dennis Dove
Blake Hawksworth
Cody Haerther
Andy Cavazos
2005 Juan Mateo (ChC) yes none Iker Franco (Atl) Tim Hummel (CWS)
Vince Harrison (Bos)
2004 none Tyler Johnson (Oak) yes Matt Demarco (Fla) Tony Granadillo (Bos)
Jose Garcia (Tex) Josh Teekel (Fla)
Justin Knoff (Cin)
2003 Hector Luna (Cle) no none Rayner Laya (Mon) Jesse Roman (SD)
Jackson Paz (Min)
2002 none Blake Williams (Cin) yes

The future

With rosters as of today, the number of Cardinals farmhands that would be Rule 5 eligible this December is an amazing number – 59. This is very close to the total number of Cards players that were eligible in the last three Rule 5 drafts combined!

In the second part of this article, we will look into how they are distributed and consider what the Cardinals might be doing over the next ten months to protect as many as possible.