This Friday, November 20 marks an important rostering deadline in MLB, so we’re going to see some activity this week around the game. Most of that movement will be relatively minor and internal to the various organizations, but any time there’s a deadline that requires roster movement, you can see transactions among teams.
The upcoming deadline is date by which organizations must have their 40-man roster set for Rule 5 Draft purposes. For prospects who’ve become eligible for the December 10th Rule 5 Draft, you’ve gotta put them on your 40-man roster by this Friday, November 20 if you want to protect them from selection. Otherwise, once Friday passes, there’s no changing it.
Prospects become eligible for the Rule 5 Draft a certain number of years after they were initially signed (younger prospects become eligible after about five years, older prospects become eligible after about four years). Arizona Phil at TCR keeps a running list of Cubs prospects who are eligible for selection, and among the notable names this year: RHP Cory Abbott, SS Aramis Ademan, C/UTL Cam Balego, LHP Bryan Hudson, 3B Christopher Morel, OF Eddy Julio Martinez, UTL Yonathan Perlaza, RHP Michael Rucker, RHP Jerrick Suiter, and RHP Keegan Thompson. There are loads more, as there are every year.
The Cubs’ 40-man roster stands at 34 – and that includes Brailyn Marquez, who was added late this season and otherwise would’ve been Rule 5 eligible – and that’s to say nothing of several players still on the roster who figure to be non-tendered in the coming weeks. There’s plenty of room to add prospects as necessary, and the Cubs are likely to add one, two, or three.
That said, I’m not sure how many the Cubs will actually look to add this time around. They have a few borderline cases, and certainly a number of guys you’d hate to lose, but it doesn’t seem like there are too many who are legitimate risks to be selected. It tends to be the case that all 30 organizations have borderline guys who could be contributors – we just tend to focus on the Cubs. So if every org has these guys, then it’s rare that they get selected. Instead, picks tend to focus on upside or extreme MLB readiness in a reserve role. In the Cubs’ group of eligible prospects, you could certainly point to Morel as having significant upside, though he’s never played an inning above Low-A. Thompson is probably MLB ready as a deep depth starter, but you have almost no data or scouting on where he’s actually at right now thanks to the pandemic.
That, in turn, raises the biggest question for the rostering deadline: are teams going to play it more risky with their internal decisions, knowing that external clubs have no meaningful way of having scouted these guys? Or are teams going to play it extra safe, knowing that clubs all around baseball might be looking for low-cost player additions? (Query, though, whether spending $100,000 on a fringy Rule 5 pick is actually a low-cost move in this environment …. )
It’s going to be a very interesting week, and I think we’re in for some surprising roster decisions, too, as there will be clubs out there that will have seen a whole lot more of their prospects than we outsiders will have (alternate site and instructional ball). I wouldn’t rule out the possibility – like last year with Manny Rodriguez – that someone is rostered by the Cubs this week that we were absolutely not expecting.
And there could be movement around baseball, too, thanks to this coming deadline.
Among the external moves you could see this week: teams that need to open up 40-man spots for prospects might have to shuffle out other players by way of early releases, waivers, or trades. You could also see minor trades for players that Team A does not want to protect on the 40-man, but that Team B would like to acquire before the Rule 5 Draft in case they aren’t then available. And maybe we see even more of that as teams seek to avoid paying the $100,000 fee in the draft for guys they might as well just acquire this week anyway.