Every December at Major League Baseball’s Winter Meetings, the Rule 5 draft takes place, allowing teams to select players who are not protected by their current clubs. Successful acquisitions in prior years include Roberto Clemente, Josh Hamilton and Dan Uggla among many others.
The draft, which began over a half century ago, is designed to prevent teams from hoarding players in their minor league system, effectively crippling a player’s ability to play in the major leagues.
The draft order is determined by win-loss records from the prior year, with the last place team drafting first, and the first pick alternating between the American and National League from year to year. Each pick costs the selecting team $50,000.
When a player is not protected by their current club, meaning they are not on their club’s 40-man roster, they are eligible to be selected.
Additional eligibility is based on the player’s age on the June 5 preceding their initial contract signing. Those who were 18 or younger are eligible to be drafted after four seasons while players who were 19 or older are eligible after three seasons.
Once a team selects a player, he must be placed on that team’s 25-man roster and remain in the major leagues for the duration of the following season. He is not eligible to be optioned to the minor leagues. If the player is waived, and clears waivers, he must be offered back to his original team for $25,000.
Only a few Rule 5 selections are made each year. Teams face the dilemma of filling a roster spot with a player who may not be ready for the majors, potentially squeezing their roster and making it harder to pursue trades and free agent signings.
Thirty players who were selected in the Rule 5 draft have gone on to become All-Stars while one alumni, Clemente, is enshrined in the Hall of Fame.
This year’s draft, which is scheduled for December 12, is unlikely to cause any commotion, and only a handful of teams are expected to participate. Will this be the year of the next Clemente? Or Josh Hamilton? Or even bigger? Only time will tell.
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