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Today is Rule 5 deadline day

... and the Cubs will have some decisions to make regarding protecting players.

Andy Weber during Spring Training 2021
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Normally, the deadline to decide on adding players to the roster in advance of the Rule 5 Draft is November 20. Due to the calendar, the deadline this year is November 19, MLB wanting to keep it on a weekday.

By 5 p.m. CT today, eligible players not added to the roster will be Rule 5 Draft-eligible. Players running the Rule 5 gauntlet at the MLB level face added stipulations to make surviving the season more difficult. Nonetheless, if a team is interested enough in keeping the player around, they can usually do so. Failing that, someone else might try. As a last resort, he gets run through waivers with a likely return to his former club. Here is a look at the process, and some names the Cubs might try to protect.

Before I get to the potential players to be added, the rules are a starting point every year. If plucked in the MLB phase of the Rule 5 Draft, the selected player can’t be directly sent to Triple-A, like most younger players. To poach the talent in this fashion, he has to stay with his new club until two weeks before the season begins. When the Cubs added Ryan Tepera (March 2, 2021), they needed to create a roster spot for him. Rule 5 selection Gray Fenter would be returned to Baltimore in 10 days, but it was too early for him to be returned on March 2. Duane Underwood Jr. was instead designated for assignment, and traded for Shendrick Apostel, who still hasn’t played a game at the full-season level. If a player is highly unlikely to make the roster, selecting him in December blocks off a roster spot for three full months.

On the other hand, it isn’t essential for a player to be “ready” or “useful” to be selected. Teams are often trying to add talent on the cheap, irrespective of if “they are ready”. The best recent example is Brett de Geus, who went last offseason in the Rule 5 Draft to the Texas Rangers. He relieved in 19 games for Texas before they pulled the plug on him. Sent through waivers, he was claimed by the Arizona Diamondbacks, who used him in almost 30 more games. Unsuccessful with both teams, the Diamondbacks now have him free and clear, and can hide him in Triple-A all season, if they want. Teams, as Cubs fans know, are not required to give a full effort in every season.

As teams decide which players to protect, likelihood to get selected and retained top the list of priorities. Some players weren’t ready to play meaningful innings in September, but by February, might be upgraded just enough to contribute once or twice a week in a game. Akil Baddoo was left unprotected by the Twins, and the Tigers are happy to have him long-term for a $100,000 fee.

Players signed at 18 years of age or younger are Rule 5 eligible after four full years in the system. Players 19 or older have three full years. For instance, Brennen Davis (signed at 18 in 2018) isn’t eligible until December 2022. Chase Strumpf (signed out of college in 2019) is similarly eligible in 2022. It often benefits teams in terms of Rule 5 Draft situations to delay calling players up until necessary to keep the Rule 5 list more manageable.

Here are some players the Cubs might want to protect, and why.

Danis Correa: A hard-throwing right-handed reliever, he was really good in A-Ball in 2021. He struggled a bit with the Mesa Solar Sox recently.

Brendon Little: A mid-90s lefty with a developing back-foot slider, he could well develop into a leverage reliever. Eventually. Or not. Little was pulled from further use in the Arizona Fall League due to a “stress reaction” in his elbow. Which cuts back on his 40-man likelihood.

Eduarniel Nunez: Teams tend to like velocity, and Nunez brings 97-99 with regularity. He fanned over a hitter an inning in Advanced-A South Bend, but also walked 33 in 35 innings.

Yonathan Perlaza: Not even a consideration until he went on a tear from mid-July until the end of the season, the former shortstop is getting used to playing right field.

Ethan Roberts: A Cubs fourth-rounder in 2018 from Tennessee Tech, Roberts was solid in Double-A Tennessee and reasonably good in Triple-A Iowa. He’s more of a pitcher, and less of a thrower.

Matt Swarmer: He wasn’t conceivable for this until he had a hot streak late in the season. Unlikely to get selected, the Rule 5 Draft Rules might have cost him a look in September. (It’s easier to leave a 50/50 type in Triple-A than call him up and go through the rigamarole to keep him the next season.)

Nelson Velazquez: His August was better than his July, and he’s only gotten better in the Arizona Fall League.

Andy Weber: A utility infielder for the Mesa Solar Sox, he’s gotten on a hot streak when he’s finally been healthy.

It’s a healthy thing for an organization to have these sorts of decisions. The Cubs may lose someone (listed or not), and internally assessing the pipeline is a major part of keeping the pipeline near peak efficiency. Here is another outlet’s view on 40-man coin-fips across the league.