The immediate thought after last Friday’s deadline for protecting players from the Rule 5 Draft is which players might be poached in December. In 2019, the Cubs lost infielder Vimael Machin (for the duration) and reliever Michael Rucker (until just before the COVID shutdown). The Rule 5 process is heavily scouting-based. If a team has a scout willing to bang the table on behalf of a player, the six-figure fee isn't prohibitive. Normally, if a player is left unprotected, valid reasons exist. Here are a handful of names the Cubs might lose, if briefly, come early December.
Michael Rucker, a righthanded relief pitcher, pitched well for the Orioles in the spring of 2020, allowing no runs in a handful of outings. Rucker (and to an extent, Cubs Rule 5 addition from last cycle, Trevor Megill) is especially tempting because, if selected, he becomes a free agent if he clears waivers again. Even if the Cubs want him back, he might prefer his odds elsewhere.
PJ Higgins is a catcher-third base mash-up, and hits well enough to be a non-wasted at-bat. Had the Cubs had a late catching injury in 2020, he might have been added to the roster. The team treated him in a fashion they would have treated a soon-to-be roster addition. Alas, no.
With Higgins, I'll even link him to a team he might make sense for. Yadier Molina is hunting a two-year deal. He's still a legitimate catcher, but has injury flags. Yadi’s backup is Andrew Knizner, but Knizner has struggled offensively. Adding Higgins would give them a younger player with option seasons galore, and would provide Knizner some low-cost competition. I've seen sillier ideas. Any other team might dig Higgins, as well.
We're in an era where velocity rules. The Cubs added first baseman Jerrick Suiter in last cycle's minor-league phase, from the Pirates, and converted him to pitching. His velocity has spiked to the upper nineties. Pounding a table on upper-nineties velocity is rather easy to believe.
Lefty relievers Ryan Lawlor and Wyatt Short were each rather highly thought of in 2019. In 2020, both worked in rather complete isolation. If someone really liked either 14 months ago, snagging them in December would be reasonable. Neither are considered high-velocity types, but it only takes one team. As usual, it boils to scouting, which has been.more challenging since March.
Any one team might have taken to someone else, but first-time eligible ruled the day. Christopher Morel, Keegan Thompson, and Cory Abbott were all in that category and were protected. A few teams are gambling on the cease of information flow, as there seemed fewer deadline trades this cycle at this stage than last stage. As much as I missed minor league games, so did pro front office scouting departments.