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The Royals should totally raid the Rule 5 Draft

It’s free!

Chicago White Sox v Kansas City Royals Photo by Brian Davidson/Getty Images

There’s been a lot of discussion, on this site and elsewhere, about the Rule 5 draft. Great writers have sifted through the many individuals available in the draft and suggested which ones are worthy of drafting.

That’s all well and good, but my focus is more philosophical: the Royals, who should be rebuilding, should heavily consider drafting multiple players this year.

For those of you who don’t know what the Rule 5 draft is, this is as good as an explanation as I’ve read from a 1995 article in Baseball America:

The Rule 5 draft has been a staple of the Winter Meetings almost from its beginning and sprung up as a method to prevent teams from stockpiling talent in their minor league systems. Players not on major league rosters would otherwise have little or no chance to find an opportunity to play elsewhere, though that restriction was further eased in the 1980s when minor leaguers got the right to become free agents after six full seasons.

Major league teams must protect players on their 40-man rosters within three or four years of their original signing. Those left unprotected are available to other teams as Rule 5 picks...

...But here's the kicker: To prevent teams from drafting players willy-nilly, each Rule 5 pick must be kept in the major leagues the entire following season or be offered back to his former team for half of the $50,000 selection price.

The tl;dr one sentence description: in the Rule 5 draft, teams can select eligible unprotected minor leaguers from other teams, but can only keep them if they remain on the 25-man roster all year.

There usually aren’t a lot of picks in the Rule 5 draft, for good reason. Most top prospects are either A) already on teams’ 40-man rosters or B) ineligible to select in the first place. Furthermore, selected players must stay on the 25-man roster all year, and that requirement usually nukes the idea of taking guys in the low minors who would be an active detriment to the selecting team’s roster.

So most teams don’t select guys in the Rule 5 draft. Contending teams can’t sacrifice a valuable roster spot all year, and rebuilding teams will want to protect their own prospects (if they have a strong system) above other teams’ prospects. Then there’s the success rate: every once in a while you get Joakim Soria, who turns into a great reliever. But, like most prospects, Rule 5 picks tend to fail.

Really, though, rebuilding teams should be using the Rule 5 draft like there’s no tomorrow. Well, they should be using it like the only thing that matters is tomorrow. In other words, rebuilding teams shouldn’t bother with marginal wins when they know they’ll be bad. Through the Rule 5 draft, you can acquire prospects for free, as long as you’re ok with them probably being bad—and rebuilding teams should be ok with that.

Jonathan Mayo put together a great primer on intriguing prospects available in the Rule 5 draft, and he included a list of former first round picks that are available:

2013 first-rounders available

  • 1. Mark Appel, RHP, Phillies
  • 4. Kohl Stewart, RHP, Twins
  • 7. Trey Ball, LHP, Red Sox
  • 12. D.J. Peterson, 3B, Reds
  • 20. Jonathon Crawford, RHP, Reds
  • 21. Nick Ciuffo, C, Rays
  • 26. Eric Jagielo, 1B, Reds
  • 28. Rob Kaminsky, LHP, Indians
  • 30. Travis Demeritte, 2B, Braves

2014 first-rounders available

  • 11. Max Pentecost, C, Blue Jays
  • 19. Nick Howard, RHP, Reds

Yeah, something has definitely gone wrong with these guys’ development that they are available for the plucking in the Rule 5 draft this year. But all of them still have first round talent, meaning they generally have some good tools or pitches and above average athleticism.

And look! A former #1 overall pick! Available for nothing! That’s the fun of the Rule 5 draft, ladies and gentlemen. All 30 teams can partake in it, though many pass and do not end up drafting anyone. Kansas City picks 18th in the draft next year.

The Royals are going to be bad next year. Frightfully bad. They ought to use every avenue available to grab young talent with upside. They need a new Best Farm System in the History of Whatever for the next great Royals team.

So what if the Royals pick Appel, he’s awful, and the Royals go from 68 to 67 wins as a result? So what?

Kansas City’s 40-man roster currently rests at 39 players, but they can cut it down should they choose. Billy Burns, Paulo Orlando, Sam Gaviglio, Kyle Zimmer, and Brian Flynn are all guys in their mid-to-upper 20s who are either too big injury risks or who offer too limited an upside to be glued to the 40-man. This isn’t even considering borderline cases like Miguel Almonte or Bubba Starling, or even Drew Butera.

If the Royals choose, they can draft two or even three guys and toss them at the brick wall that is the 2018 season. Some may stick. Some may break. But there’s no downside to it, especially because the Royals can return their purchase at any time.

The San Diego Padres are the golden example here. They made three selections in last year’s Rule 5 draft, and they kept all three on the roster the entire year. They’re a rebuilding team, and they knew it. Now they have three more interesting prospects.

Ultimately, a rebuilding team should absolutely partake in the Rule 5 draft, and make multiple selections. It philosophically lines up with what rebuilding teams should do. Hopefully, when the Royals take part in the Rule 5 draft tomorrow, they take that into consideration.