It should be, it seems, a simple matter for clubs to set their rosters to prevent losing players they wish to retain next month in the Rule 5 Draft at the Winter Meetings.
As Royals general manager Dayton Moore noted: “The main thing you want to do is to protect the players who you think have a chance to help you in the future.”
Yep, simple enough.
The devil is in the details, which each club must iron out before the deadline at 11 p.m. Central time Wednesday. Prospects eligible for the draft must be protected — i.e. added to the 40-man roster — before that time to prevent their possible selection.
Protection comes often at the expense of players already on the roster. Prospects become draft eligible after four or five pro seasons: Four years for players who are 19 or older when they sign their first pro contract; five years for those younger than 19.
After Wednesday, clubs can continue to add major-league free agents to their roster, even if it requires a corresponding space-clearing move but are prohibited from adding any player from their minor-league system.
Setting the roster often created a personnel crunch for the Royals in recent years as they stockpiled prospects in their rebuilding project.
For example: They designated seven players for assignment last year just before the deadline to clear space for five newly eligible prospects and the free-agent signings of pitcher Jeremy Guthrie and catcher Brett Hayes.
That shouldn’t be the case this year.
The Royals have two openings on their 40-man roster — though that could change if they sign a free agent or make a trade before Wednesday’s deadline. Further, there are no absolutely can’t-risk names on this year’s list of newly eligible prospects.
(Right-handed pitcher Yordano Ventura would have been in that can’t-risk category had he not been promoted for three late-September starts — after the Royals shut down lefty Danny Duffy because of a strained left forearm.)
The top names under discussion for protection are believed to be reliever Michael Mariot, infielder Christian Colon, third baseman Cheslor Cuthbert and outfielders Brett Eibner, Lane Adams and Brian Fletcher.
The Royals want to keep them all, and others, but that doesn’t mean they’ll necessarily protect them all by adding them to the 40-man roster.
The key in determining whom to protect (as well as whom to select next month in the draft) often comes down to one thing: Is the player in question sufficiently advanced to remain in the majors for the entire ensuing season?
Players selected in the draft, which occurs Dec. 12 at the Winter Meetings in Orlando, Fla., must be offered back to their former club (at half of the $50,000 selection price), before they can be sent to the minors.
A Rule 5-drafted player can be sent to another club in trade or through a waiver claim, but he still must remain the entire following season in the majors or be offered back to his former club.
Here’s where the in-house evaluations come into play: A pitcher viewed as having upside can often be buried as a mop-up reliever for one year — the restriction only covers one year — before being sent to the minors for more seasoning.
The Royals did this in 2011 after selecting Nate Adcock from Pittsburgh.Royals’ 40-man roster (38 players; two openings)
Noel Arguelles, Francisley Bueno, Maikel Cleto, Louis Coleman, Tim Collins, Aaron Crow, Wade Davis, Danny Duffy, Chris Dwyer, Donnie Joseph, Jeremy Guthrie, Kelvin Herrera, Luke Hochevar, Greg Holland, John Lamb, Justin Marks, Felipe Paulino, James Shields, Will Smith, Everett Teaford and Yordano Ventura.
Brett Hayes, George Kottaras and Salvy Perez.
Emilio Bonifacio, Billy Butler, Pedro Ciriaco, Alcides Escobar, Irving Falu, Chris Getz, Johnny Giavotella, Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas.
Outfielders (5): Lorenzo Cain, Jarrod Dyson, Alex Gordon, David Lough and Justin Maxwell.