2011 Rule 5 Draft Liveblog

The Rule 5 Draft is the unofficial end of the Winter Meetings, a snoozefest of fringe prospects and journeymen joining new teams hoping to find a diamond in the rough. But because we love fringe prospects and journeymen here at RAB, I’ll be liveblogging the whole thing.

Just five of the 19 picks in last year’s Rule 5 Draft managed to stick with their new team, with lefty specialist Joe Paterson of the Diamondbacks likely representing the best of the bunch (3.44 FIP in 34 IP). Joel Sherman says the Yankees were going to take Paterson last year, but Arizona beat them too it. They ended up rolling the dice on righty Danny Turpen and lefty Robert Fish instead, but neither player made it through Spring Training. They lost George Kontos (Padres) and Lance Pendleton (Astros), but both were returned before the season started and eventually made their big league debuts later in the summer. Expect more of the same this year.

The Yankees protected five players — IF Corban Joseph, RHP David Phelps, RHP D.J. Mitchell, OF Zoilo Almonte, and IF David Adams — but did not clear any additional roster space in advance of this year’s draft. They have one open 40-man roster spot, so they can select only one player in the Major League portion of the draft. Joel Sherman says they were planning to make a pick as of last night, and I’m hoping for Ryan Flaherty, a left-handed hitting utility guy in the Cubs’ system, but he’s unlikely to get to them. The Hiroyuki Nakajima stuff could also affect their pursuit of bench help. Pat Venditte is the player they’re most likely to lose, just because someone will want to take a look at the left/right thing in camp. I expect him to be offered back at some point.

I apologize in advance for any misspellings, some of these names will be tough. The draft is scheduled to start at 10am ET, so I’ll open up the chat/liveblog a few minutes before that.

email

Yankees make no moves prior to Rule 5 Draft roster deadline

Clubs had until 5pm ET today to set their 40-man rosters for the Rule 5 Draft, but the Yankees apparently did not make any moves. They have one open spot on their 40-man, meaning they will be able to select just one player in the Major League portion of Thursday’s draft. I’m hoping for Ryan Flaherty, but I wouldn’t get my hopes up. The Yankees took two players (Danny Turpen and Robert Fish) last year and one player (Jamie Hoffmann) the year before, but none of the three made it through Spring Training. The Yankees probably won’t make a selection this year, but even if they do, the player is unlikely to have any kind of impact.

The Yankees and Rule 5 Draft Targets

(Photo Credit: The Italian version of Wikipedia)

The Rule 5 Draft is almost like baseball’s island of misfit toys. It takes place during the final day of the winter meetings (so next Thursday), and is designed to help blocked minor leaguers (with so many years of experience) get a chance with another team in the big leagues. It costs $50k to select a player, then you have to keep him on your active 25-man big league roster all season. If you don’t, then you have to offer the player back to his old team. It’s pretty simple, and very rarely does it yield big results (Joakim Soria, Johan Santana, and Josh Hamilton are the most notable Rule 5 success stories).

The Yankees have been pretty active in the Rule 5 Draft in recent years, taking three players (RHP Danny Turpen, LHP Robert Fish, OF Jamie Hoffmann) in the last two drafts. None of those guys made it all the way through Spring Training, but the Yankees did give them a pretty long look in camp. Five years ago they took veteran Josh Phelps, who they carried on the roster as a right-handed bench bat (.311 wOBA) through mid-June. It’s not often a Rule 5 guy manages to stick even that long.

As usual, the Yankees really only have two spots to fit a Rule 5 player, either on the bench or in the bullpen. That’s pretty typical, no club goes into the Rule 5 Draft looking for a star, they’re just looking for useful spare parts. Here’s three guys that are available and make some amount of sense for the Yankees, particularly this guy…

(Photo Credit: www.milb.com)

Ryan Flaherty, UTIL, Cubs

No relation to John Flaherty, Ryan was the 41st overall pick back in the 2008 draft, which Chicago received as compensation for losing Jason Kendall to the Royals. Yeah, the Cubs actually received a high draft pick for losing Kendall. Crazy. Anyway, they drafted Flaherty out of Vanderbilt, where he was overshadowed by Pedro Alvarez and some big power arms. He’s steadily climbed the ladder since turning pro, reaching Triple-A for the first time this past season. The Cubs already have a ton of infield prospects on their 40-man roster, so they left Flaherty exposed to the Rule 5 Draft rather than clog up another spot.

The 25-year-old fits right into the Eric Chavez bench role quite perfectly. He’s not the defender Chavez is (few are), but he makes up for it with versatility. Flaherty has extensive experience at second, third, and short, and he’s also played a few dozen games in the corner outfield spots. He’s also a left-handed hitter, a talented one that posted a .364 wOBA without a huge platoon split (.372 wOBA vs. RHP, .341 vs. LHP) between Double and Triple-A this year. That platoon split is consistent with the rest of his career. Flaherty has some power (career .184 ISO with 31+ doubles and 19+ homers in two of the last three years), draws a fair amount of walks (9.3% career walk rate), and doesn’t strike out all that much (17.8%), even against southpaws. His makeup was also highly regarded back when he was drafted, and the Yankees have prioritized strong makeup in recent years.

Flaherty really does make a ton of sense for the Yankees, offering the kind of versatility and left-handed bat skills that would help balance out Eduardo Nunez and (the hopefully returning) Andruw Jones on the bench. Yankee Stadium could always help him get some more balls over the fence as well. Flaherty makes so much sense for the Yankees that I think they should trade up to make sure they get him*, which is something I don’t think I’ve ever said about a Rule 5 guy. They’ve got a chance to add a real useful (and real cheap) piece to their bench with this guy.

* You can’t trade picks, but Rule 5 Draft guys do get traded as players to be named later. Usually one team will offer another $100k — twice the Rule 5 Draft fee — and in return the second team will pick the guy the first team wants and send him over as the player to be named. The Yankees kinda sorta did this with Brian Bruney and Hoffmann two years ago.

(Norm Hall/Getty Images)

Phillippe Valiquette, LHP, Mariners

Perhaps the most hyped player available in the Rule 5 Draft, Valiquette has been getting some serious buzz after Keith Law mentioned that he’s a lefty capable of running his fastball up to 99 last week. The problem is that he’s had trouble staying healthy (didn’t pitch at all in 2011 because of an elbow problem) and doesn’t have much of a secondary pitch or a feel for pitching. He’s a classic thrower. Despite that big fastball, he’s only struck out 7.2 batters per nine in his career (4.4 BB/9) while working almost exclusively out of the bullpen. Teams will line up for days to take a chance at hard-throwing lefties, but Valiquette is a very long shot. The Yankees have almost no chance to get him without trading up.

Trevor Reckling, LHP, Angels

(Harry How/Getty Images)

Reckling, 22, was considered the Halos’ fourth best prospect by Baseball America just two years ago, four spots ahead of the now crazy good Tyler Skaggs and five spots ahead of Jordan Walden. He’s taken a step backwards since then, and his 2011 season ended in mid-July thanks to a sprained elbow ligament. Reckling did not have surgery, and as far as I know he’ll be ready in time for Spring Training.

The numbers over the last two years are pretty awful, we’re talking a 5.34 ERA with 4.36 BB/9 and 6.21 K/9 in 247.2 IP between Double and Triple-A. Any team that takes a flier on Reckling would be doing so on the scouting report, which includes a low-90’s fastball and a pair of sliders, a sweepy mid-70’s version and a snappier low-80’s version. He’s also got a herky jerky delivery (seen here) that allows him to hide the ball well but probably also contributes to his control problems. After four years of working exclusively as a starter and with his development stalled out, a change of scenery and role could be in order. Whatever team takes Reckling (if anyone does) will probably just tell him to go to the bullpen, shut off his brain, and just air it out for an inning at a time with his two best pitches.

* * *

The Yankees protected five players from the Rule 5 Draft, with the most notable unprotected guy being Pat Venditte. Some team will assuredly select the switch pitcher, even if it’s just to see what he’s got in Spring Training. They’ll likely get him back though, just like they did when the Padres took Ivan Nova back in 2008. New York’s one empty 40-man roster spot figures to go to Freddy Garcia at some point soon, and the deadline for clubs to set their roster prior to the Rule 5 Draft is next Monday. You can’t select a player without having an open spot, so the Yankees are probably going to have to give someone the axe if they want to take Flaherty, which they totally should.

Preparing for the Rule 5 Draft

It snuck up on me a bit this year, but tomorrow is the deadline for teams to set their 40-man roster for this year’s Rule 5 Draft. The deadline is usually sometime in the afternoon, 4-5pm ET, but that’s not terribly important. Anyone left unprotected in the Rule 5 Draft can be selected by another team, and if that player manages to stick on his new team’s big league roster all season in 2012, they officially become that team’s property. Not a ton of players will stick, but there’s always one or two a year.

Generally speaking, high school players drafted in 2007 (or earlier) and college players drafted in 2008 (or earlier) are eligible for the Rule 5 Draft this year. It’s always tough to figure out who is eligible among the international signees since we don’t really know exactly when they signed, but I believe it’s anyone that signed in 2006 (again, or earlier) this year. The Yankees got a jump on things by calling up both Austin Romine and George Kontos in September, both of whom would have been eligible had they not been added to the 40-man roster.

The Yankees currently have six open spots on their 40-man roster, but that doesn’t mean they’ll use all six to protect prospects. Some of those spots will be used for a new starting pitcher or some bench players or another reliever, players that will contribute to the Major League team in 2012. The only two players that will definitely be added to the 40-man by tomorrow are D.J. Mitchell and David Phelps, two starters with a healthy amount of Triple-A innings under their belt. Guys like that are Rule 5 Draft gold, they wouldn’t last more than the first five picks.

The rest of the crop is pretty sketchy. There’s David Adams (can’t stay healthy), Bradley Suttle (hasn’t done anything worthy of being added), and Dan Brewer (hurt last year, was the Triple-A fourth outfielder on Opening Day). I suspect all three will be left unprotected, it’s hard to see any of them sticking on a 25-man roster all year in 2012. Pat Venditte will be an interesting case, he’s got the results and the ambidextrous thing gets him noticed, but there are serious questions about how his very fringy stuff will translate to the show. If the Yankees don’t protect him, which I don’t think they will, then some team will almost assuredly grab him just to see what he’s got in Spring Training. The novelty is too great to pass up.

Among international free agent signees, I do believe that Zoilo Almonte is eligible for the Rule 5 Draft this winter, and I do think the Yankees will add him to the 40-man. The Greg Golson/Justin Maxwell/Chris Dickerson trio is out-of-options, and there’s a non-zero chance the Yankees could lose all three before the end of Spring Training. If that happens, the outfield depth is suddenly Colin Curtis and Melky Mesa. Not good. Almonte, a switch-hitting corner outfielder, had a fine season split between High-A and Double-A this year (.276/.345/.459 with 18 steals and 15 homers).

That’s three players (Mitchell, Phelps, Almonte) I expect to be added to the 40-man roster before tomorrow’s deadline, thought there’s always the possibility of a surprise or two, like Reegie Corona a few years ago. What the hell was that about? Anyway, I don’t see any locks to be selected other than Venditte, there are no Lance Pendleton/middle relief types worth a Spring Training look.

Mailbag: Garcia, Gardner, D-Rob, Pujols, CC

In this week’s edition of the RAB Mailbag, we’re going to focus on some future issues/hypotheticals, not necessarily things going on with the Yankees right now. If you want to send in a question, make sure you use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar.

(AP Photo/David Goldman)

Brandon asks: With Freddy Garcia having a great season he has put himself in position to be a Type-B free agent, do you see the Yankees offering him arbitration?

Garcia currently projects as a Type-B free agent and is pretty safe, I think we’re too deep into the season for him to pitch his way out of that ranking. Although his base salary is just $1.5M, he’s got another $3.6M in incentives in his contract, which are based on the number of starts he makes. For the sake of argument, let’s just say he makes the 30 starts needed to earn all that cash (he’s got 19 starts right now) so his base salary going into a potential arbitration case would be $5.1M.

That’s nothing given Freddy’s performance, and I figure a winning arbitration case would net him a $8-9M or so salary next year. I’d rather give him another low base salary, incentive-laden deal, but I don’t think that salary is so outrageous that they can’t risk an arbitration offer. There’s always a possible handshake agreements as well, like we saw with Javy Vazquez last year. Gun to my head, yeah I think they’ll offer arbitration as long as he stays healthy.

Shaun asks: When is Brett Gardner arb eligible? What do you think he will get first time through? Same question for Robertson. Thanks!

Both guys are arbitration eligible for the first time after this season. I’ll do a more in-depth analysis during the offseason in my hilariously inaccurate Arbitration Case series, but neither guy will make big bucks next year. Brett Gardner’s primary value is his defense, which is still way undervalued in arbitration because no one’s going to bother explaining the advanced metrics to the arbiters. Robertson is just a non-closing reliever, which is about the worst demographic you can be in if you want to make big money as a big leaguer. I figure Gardner is in line for $2.5M or so (about what Michael Bourn got his first time through arbitration), Robertson about $1.5M (a notch below what Joba Chamberlain got, when he had a season as a starter under his belt), but those are just early estimations.

Planks asks: Not feasible for the Yankees considering Teixeira is at 1b for a long time, but if Pujols expresses strong interest in joining the Yankees this offseason, what contract would you offer? What do you think he will get from the Cards?

Well if he expressed a strong interest in coming to New York, I would assume he’d be amiable to a discount. The thing about Albert Pujols is that he’s having a down year by his standards, “just” a .370 wOBA when his career average is .431. That’s a significant drop-off, plus he is 31 (will be 32 by Opening Day 2012) and has had on-and-off elbow trouble for a few years. It’s going to take a huge commitment to sign him, so you have to at least consider the possibility that this year isn’t a fluke and the sign of decline. I don’t think that’s the case, but the possibly can’t be ignored.

Yankee Stadium is way more hitter friendly than Busch Stadium, though Pujols is one of those guys were park factors don’t matter too much. He’s a great hitter anywhere and has the power to hit the ball out of any park. Does six years and $183M sound reasonable? That’s $27M per season with a $5M signing bonus and a $10M buyout of a seventh year option worth whatever amount ($30M? $35M?). I’m sure Pujols and his agent are thinking Alex Rodriguez money, but the Yankees know the pitfalls of a contract that huge first hand. I’m sure St. Louis would top that offer with a smile on their face, but I wouldn’t offer more in my amateur opinion.

(AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

Sam asks: Should CC be getting MVP consideration? Where would be be without the big guy?

I’m not one of those guys think that pitchers should be ineligible for the MVP just because they “have their own award” in the Cy Young, and in fact nothing in the MVP voting criteria explicitly says to omit pitchers. I’m also not one of those guys that thinks there’s a difference between “most valuable” and “best.” The best player in the league should win the MVP because he’s the most valuable to his team. Whether or not the team is in contention is irrelevant to me, Jose Bautista shouldn’t be punished because his teammates stink, which is something completely out of his control. Anyway, that’s my two cents.

I don’t like to look at WAR for MVP voting because a) I don’t love it for pitchers (especially relievers), and b) I don’t like the way a one-year sample of defensive numbers are used, so the fact that Sabathia is so high on the WAR leaderboard means little to me. Position players play every day and overall I think an elite position player contributes more to his team than an elite starting pitcher. Sabathia certainly deserves some MVP consideration, but I don’t think I’d have him among the ten names on my ballot. Among pitchers alone, I’d definitely have Justin Verlander ahead of him, and I’d probably have Jered Weaver ahead of him too. CC’s been phenomenal, no doubt about it, but I think some others are more deserving.

Jimmy asks: It’s been very quiet so far this season, but how long before the CC opt out debate becomes a huge story?

There’s not much of a debate, he’s going to opt-out because it’s the smart thing to do. It’ll be a huge story after the season once he actually says the magic words, but it shouldn’t be much of a surprise. Everyone knows it’s coming and the Yankees will deal with it then. Nothing else they can do, and there’s no sense worrying about it.

Tyler asks: Which minor leaguers are Rule 5 eligible after this season? Who do you think will be added to the 40-man?

College players drafted in 2008 and high school players drafted in 2007 are the newly eligible players this year (I have no idea about international free agents), so that includes three important players for the Yankees: Austin Romine, D.J. Mitchell, and David Phelps. All three are no-brainers, they have to be protected. I’m not the biggest Mitchell fan, but he definitely has value and there’s no reason to give him away. George Kontos (a 2006 draftee) is probably worth protecting this time around as well.

David Adams is on the fence, but I think he’s worth protecting as long as his recovery from the foot/ankle injury continues to go well. True middle infielders that can hit are exactly the kinds of guys you keep. The interesting case will be Pat Venditte, though I think the Yankees will leave him off the 40-man roster and some team will grab him for a Spring Training look-see.

Johnny asks: Dante Jr. has been insanely hot with the bat lately. However, do you discount his stats because the GCL hardly has any 2011 draftees playing yet? The level of competition right now is way below where it will be in 2-3 weeks right? Or is it safe to get excited about Dante Jr?

The further you get away from the big leagues, the less the stats matter. Baseball history is littered with guys that tore up the GCL but didn’t hit anywhere else (check out Tony Blanco’s GCL numbers). That said, you’d much rather see a kid tear that league up than struggle, just for piece of mind. If Dante Bichette Jr. started his career hitting like, .200/.250/.350 with 75 strikeouts and ten walks in 50 games, then yeah that’s a reason to worry. Strong performance means less that poor performance, if that makes sense.

Full season leagues are the first big test, that’s when you can really begin to pay attention to performance. It’s the first time these kids are playing every single day for months on end, grinding through long bus trips and crummy hotels and nagging injuries. It’s a tough transition and you’d be surprised at how many players can’t handle it. Great GCL numbers are nice to see, but ultimately they shouldn’t change anyone’s opinion. I won’t rank Bichette any higher on my next prospect list because of what he’s done over the last few weeks. The scouting report always comes first.