The Rule 5 Draft: What is it?

(Keith Allison / Flickr)

by Patrick Barron

Tomorrow, every team in Major League Baseball will have designated their protected players for the Rule 5 Draft. This happens every year, but what does it mean? What is the Rule 5 Draft, anyway? Let’s find out.

There are two drafts in Major League Baseball. The more well-known is the Rule 4 Draft which takes place in June and is the amateur draft where teams select players from high schools and colleges in the United States. The Rule 5 Draft is the lesser known and much more confusing draft that takes place during the Winter Meetings in December and involves the drafting of players that are already signed to professional clubs.

There are a few rules regarding who is eligible to be drafted. The first is that the player must have signed at age 18 or 19 and be 22 years old. The second rule is that the player must not be on their respective team’s 40-man roster. A team will place any prospects worth keeping on the 40-man to “protect” those players from the Rule 5 draft. Usually this means that the prospects being drafted are low-caliber prospects in whom other teams see potential.

There are two phases to the Rule 5 Draft. The first is the major league phase in which a team drafts minor league players to be placed on the 25-man roster. In exchange, the drafting team pays the other team $100,000 for each player. This phase of the draft is more well-known since the players drafted actually play in the major leagues. In the second phase, Triple-A teams may draft players from Double-A teams. This minor league phase is used primarily for the purpose of filling out minor league rosters.

The biggest catch to a team participating in the Rule 5 draft is that any player drafted in the major league phase must remain on the MLB 25-man roster for the entire season. Thus, Rule 5 draft picks are often players on the cusp of being major league ready. For this reason, most teams do not participate in the Rule 5 draft. Often only rebuilding teams participate since they can afford to sacrifice the 25-man roster spot in order to add to their young, controllable talent pool. If a Rule 5 pick is traded then the new team must also keep the player on their 25-man roster. If the player is demoted, then the player has to pass through waivers and be offered back to the team they were drafted from before going to the minor leagues.

Notable Rule 5 picks include Hall of Famer Roberto Clemente, Jose Bautista, Johan Santana, Josh Hamilton, R.A. Dickey and Bobby Bonilla.

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