One of the small but necessary parts of the offseason is upon us tonight: The deadline for teams to add players to their 40-man roster to protect them from the Rule 5 draft. The good news is that the Orioles will not have many tough choices to make. The bad news is that this is because they don’t have many prospects.
The Rule 5 draft is what allows teams to pick off fringe prospects who’ve been in the minors for several seasons from other organizations, in hopes of finding useful players. Many teams don’t bother with this at all. Others, like the Orioles, avail themselves of the opportunity. Ryan Flaherty, T.J. McFarland, Jason Garcia, and Joey Rickard all came to the O’s through the Rule 5 draft.
Players become eligible for the Rule 5 draft at different times depending on how old they were when drafted. Players who were 18 or younger become eligible in the fifth Rule 5 draft after they were taken in the amateur draft. Players who were 19 or older become eligible in the fourth Rule 5 draft after they were selected in the amateur draft. These rules also apply to international signees.
What that generally means is that for this year, high school draftees from the 2012 draft and college draftees from the 2013 draft are now eligible for the Rule 5 draft and must be added to the 40-man or exposed to the draft.
The Orioles currently have seven open spots on the 40-man roster, so they have plenty of room to add players if they so choose. There’s not much risk to adding a player now. If they run out of room on the roster later, when they sign free agents - this being the Orioles, it’s more like IF they sign free agents - they can always designate someone who doesn’t matter for assignment, or non-tender someone - like McFarland.
Through the summer, the biggest no-brainer for the Orioles to protect was someone who was already added back in September call-ups: Trey Mancini. None of the rest of the possibilities are nearly so exciting.
If you’re wondering who’s eligible, a post by MASN’s Steve Melewski from earlier in the week runs down the most likely to be considered, although his list is too generous to some non-prospects. With apologies to Glynn Davis, Michael Zouzalik, and Ricardo Andujar, or any of their families, if they are reading this, the Warehouse probably won’t be losing much sleep over whether to add them to the 40-man roster.
Melewski tabs a trio of right-handed relievers as being “likely” to be added by the Orioles: Stefan Crichton, Jesus Liranzo, and Jimmy Yacabonis. The apparent obsession with relievers is a bit puzzling, but I’m not going to do too much second-guessing of the team that unearthed Mychal Givens and Donnie Hart.
Crichton will be 25 next Opening Day. He was a 23rd round pick out of TCU in 2013. His most recent campaign saw him post a 3.73 ERA in Bowie’s bullpen. The standard rule is don’t scout the box scores for minor leaguers, but when that’s all that’s available, it makes the move look weird. Crichton was sent to the Arizona Fall League. He wasn’t good there either.
Liranzo, turning 22 in March, is an O’s reclamation project from the Dominican Republic who started paying dividends this year, the first year where the O’s assigned him to a US-based league. Liranzo mowed through Low-A hitters, striking out 46 batters in 34.1 innings for Delmarva, before being jumped up two levels to Double-A Bowie, where he struck out 20 in 18.2 innings with a 3.38 ERA.
Yacabonis will also be 25 by next Opening Day. That’s old for a guy who just hit Double-A this past season, but the 2013 13th round pick seems to have taken a step forward in 2016, striking out 67 batters in 64.2 innings across High-A and Double-A. Best case scenario here is a Brad Brach-type late bloomer who rewards a team that was patient with him.
The back end of the Orioles bullpen is set for the moment, but it’s always good to be building the next wave so you don’t have to sign free agent relievers. And maybe one of these guys will develop into the kind of arm they can dangle to get a better player at a trade deadline some time.
One player I think the Orioles certainly ought to add, especially with so many open 40-man spots, is Joe Gunkel, a potential future back-end starter. He is the kind of player who might get selected in the draft: Unremarkable Triple-A experience who might eat some innings for cheap and maybe even develop into a rotation option. There’s little downside to putting him on the 40-man.
They might have a harder time deciding whether to protect Maryland native Branden Kline, a right-hander picked in the second round in 2012. Kline had Tommy John surgery last October. Would a team really use a Rule 5 pick on a TJ-recovering starter who’s got fewer than 60 innings pitched above High-A? The Orioles might not want to take the chance.
Before the 2016 season, I was sure that the O’s would be protecting outfielder Mike Yastrzemski at this time. However, it wasn’t a good season for Yastrzemski, who, after being tested at Triple-A at age 25, posted a .221/.312/.369 batting line in 94 games. And so the Orioles drought of developing outfielders continues.
I’d rather see the O’s protect Yastrzemski than Crichton - they could do both - but Dan Duquette’s not likely to ask me what I think, and anyway, it’s not likely that either of these players ends up being significant if they aren’t protected now.
The Orioles haven’t lost anyone who mattered in the Rule 5 draft in recent years. They seem to have a pretty good idea of who they should protect.
If you feel like casting your gaze into the crystal ball to think about a year down the road, here are some players who will be eligible for the Rule 5 draft at this time a year from now: Chance Sisco, Alex Murphy, Tanner Scott, Pat Connaughton. I expect Sisco will get a call-up during the season, so, there won’t be many tough choices this time next year either.