Today is Saturday. Friday, teams made their final decisions on which players would be exempted from Rule 5 Draft consideration. The Cubs added Nelson Velázquez and Ethan Roberts to their 40-man roster to protect them from being selected.
The Rule 5 Draft is currently scheduled for December 9, but if there’s a lockout, as now seems quite likely... it won’t happen that day.
With the seventh spot in the selection process, there is a non-zero chance the Cubs will select a player they will try to keep all season, without the option of being sent to Triple-A Iowa. (They tried, unsuccessfully, to do that, last year with reliever Gray Fenter.) If the Cubs do make a move, what might be possible? Do we want that to happen? Here is my Rule 5 Draft run-up.
The Rule 5 Draft is an easy way to poach near-MLB-ready talent. The hiccup is, optioning them to Triple-A in their first season is a taboo. The Cubs had mild success in the Rule 5 Draft in December 2012 with Hector Rondon, who drew attention in Winter Ball the weeks between not being retained (by Cleveland) and being selected by the Cubs. Unsurprisingly, Rondon wasn’t especially good in his first season. The Cubs had little better to replace him with, so he stayed, and eventually anchored the bullpen.
The Rondon Scenario is (guessing, here) an 80th percentile result. He was relatively bad, but keep-ably bad, in a season that’s lost, anyway. Relief pitchers are very popular Rule 5 Draft selections. If they’re throwing hard, and for strikes, they might well be worth $100,000 cash for a season or more. If not, they get returned. The Rule 5 Draft is somewhat created for teams with terrible depth.
Last season’s gem was Akil Baddoo, and he went first to the Tigers. With so many of the teams selecting before the Cubs unconcerned about immediate contention, a few names figure to be gone by the Cubs’ selection. If “I prioritize the Cubs winning and contending in 2022” summarizes your stance, two options seem preferable.
Passing is the first option. Regardless which position the Cubs would take with their selection, some non-roster invite would probably hold down the spot better. Jake Marisnick was a Cubs non-roster invite in 2021. So was Patrick Wisdom. Adam Morgan and Shelby Miller were invites. So was Jose Lobatón. If the Cubs select a catcher in the draft, he won’t be as ready-to-produce as Lobatón was. He might be better over the long-haul, but this is about 2021 being a priority.
The other tolerable option for the less-patient observer is to offer the selection to another team in a minor swap. These get misread and overreacted to later, but information is information. If the Cubs decide they aren’t going to make a move, a few teams down the list might want their spot. If you have a paperback book that you’ve read, after buying it for a quarter, and someone offers you $300 cash for it, would you accept? The pick, if the Cubs aren’t using it, could be of value to someone else. That second-hand value could finance a waiver wire pickup later on.
It’s not about the player not being ready yet. Unless you’ve watched and listened to any specific player enough times, you’re probably not certain if he’s “ready yet.” I’m not certain if Brennen Davis will be “ready yet” when the Cubs call him up, and I expect he’ll have a decent MLB career. It’s about whether having a player on the MLB roster that might be “terrible for the level” is acceptable to you. For many, the answer is “No way.”
If you’re looking at 2022 as a step toward 2023 and the next truly competitive Cubs team, selecting a player might make more sense. Between now and whenever the Draft occurs, I’ll work on a list of names that might make sense as the Cubs survey players who will be available.