The Jays have used the Rule 5 draft to their advantage in selecting players like Joe Biagini. But could the Rule 5 help them at this year’s trade deadline?
The Rule 5 draft is held every year at the Winter Meetings in December. In brief, any player for whom this is either their fourth or fifth Rule 5 draft (depending on their age when signed) is eligible. Each team can protect 40 players, and any unprotected players can be claimed by other teams.
But how is the December draft relevant in July?
The Jays are in a generally good position for the 2017 Rule 5. Of their top 10 prospects, 7 are ineligible. But some other teams are not so fortunate. Those teams have more than 40 draft-eligible players that they would like to protect. But 40 is the limit, so they are forced to choose between trading the prospects, and getting some value, or potentially losing them for nothing.
Toronto Blue Jays
The example most commonly cited is the Yankees. The Evil Empire has a very strong farm system, and will likely find themselves in a Rule 5 crunch in December. Making matters worse is that some of their prospects are in positions that are likely blocked at the major league level. In the outfield, for example, the Yankees have Aaron Judge, Aaron Hicks, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Brett Gardner at the MLB level, and Clint Frazier and Dustin Fowler knocking hard on the door. It would be hard for them to justify protecting minor league outfielders like Jake Cave (batting .367/.417/.673 at AAA) or Billy McKinney (.351/.396/.670).
The Yanks are not the only team in this predicament. The Cubs have a similar concern, as (to some extent) do many of the other teams with top-10 rated farm systems.
So how does this affect the Jays?
First, the Jays might be able to get better, MLB-ready prospects in a deal (or to access prospects that would otherwise be unavailable) if they accepted prospects who were Rule 5 eligible in 2017. They could then bring the prospects up to the Show for August and September to get a good look at what they have. If a Jake Cave or Chesny Young showed enough in 2017 to make themselves a serious contender for (say) a RF position in 2018, it could give the Jays additional flexibility in the offseason and in 2018.
Second, the Jays could consider a prospect-for-prospect trade where they take back an AAA player who is near-major-league ready (and 2017 Rule 5 eligible) for a younger prospect who is not eligible and would not cost the trading partner a slot on the 40-man.
And third, the Jays might be able to swing a deal for a higher ranked prospect – one that would otherwise have been protected – if by trading the higher-ranked prospect the selling team would free up a slot on the 40-man which could be used to protect a Cave/McKinney-type player.
Of course, this assumes that the Jays would have a slot on the 40-man available in December 2017. But with the impending free agency of Estrada, Liriano, Bautista, Montero, Smith, Barney, etc., it’s possible that the 40-man room will be there.
The Bottom Line
The key to being a successful trader is to use every advantage you have. The very best traders find a way to turn their disadvantages into advantages for this purpose. The Jays are unlikely to contend in 2017 … so they can afford to give young players a chance at the MLB level. They have many free agents this offseason …. which could translate to 40-man room in December. And they have immediate needs in the outfield (and possibly the infield) … which makes MLB-ready assets all the more valuable. Other team’s Rule 5 problems could well translate into Jays’ solutions.