Coming in to the offseason every year, one issue every team faces is who to keep on the 40 man roster prior to the Rule 5 draft? Many appear to think the Cubs are going to face a pretty rough roster crunch this winter for two reasons: (1) the Cubs have a large number of positions they platoon, increasing the number of fringe right handed hitters who can only hit left handed pitching on the active and 40 man rosters; and (2) the Cubs have a few formerly highly touted prospects in the high minors who haven’t shown they can make the jump to the Majors yet, but have 40 man roster spots. But a quick look at the roster shows that the Cubs will turn over at least a quarter of the 48 players currently on the 40 man roster and 60 day DL. Combine that with the lack of quality prospects who need protection from the Rule 5 draft in the upper minors, and the Cubs really shouldn’t have to work hard to protect anyone marginally important.

How the Rule 5 Draft Works

Arizona Phil at the Cubbie Reporter is the master of the Rule 5 draft in the Cubs’ blogosphere, so up front I have to credit him for compiling a lot of this info. For the complete list of all Cubs’ farmhands eligible for the Rule 5 draft and a detailed breakdown of all related rules, you should check out Arizona Phil’s Corner over there. He’s also a great resource during extended spring training.

Here’s how the eligibility for the Rule 5 draft is determined: A minor league player who was 18 or younger on the June 5th immediately prior to signing his first contract is eligible for selection starting with the 5th Rule 5 Draft after he signs, and a minor league player who was 19 years or older on the June 5th immediately prior to signing his first contract becomes eligible for selection starting with the 4th Rule 5 Draft that followed his signing. As a note, this means that most high ranking international prospects only get four years of minor league experience prior to being eligible for the Rule 5 draft, since they don’t play until the season after they sign.

The Current 40 Man Roster

The Cubs currently have 48 players on either the 40 man roster or the 60 day DL. Once the season ends, the 60 day DL ends until the start of the next season, so you cannot stash injured players there for the Rule 5 draft. I’m not going to run through every player, but you can see the complete list on the Cubs’ website. The following, though, are the players who are unlikely to be on the 40 man roster at the time of the Rule 5 draft and why.

Free Agents: Scott Baker (RHP), Kevin Gregg (RHP), Matt Guerrier (RHP), Dioner Navarro (C), Ryan Sweeney (OF)

Near Certain Non-TendersJ.C. Boscan (C), Donnie Murphy (IF), Cody Random (IF), Brian Bogusevic (OF), Cole Gillespie (OF), Darnell McDonald (OF), Thomas Neal (OF)

So before the Cubs will even need to make anything approaching a tough decision, they will be down to 36 players on the 40 man roster. If a few others do get non-tendered, look towards fringy relief pitchers, with Michael Bowden, Zach Putnam and Eduardo Sanchez as the most likely candidates.

Players Who May Need to Be Protected:

Back in the day, players used to be eligible for the Rule 5 draft a year earlier. This would result in some really talented players being occasionally available in the Rule 5 draft. These days, it’s rare that anyone that will make much of a difference will be picked in the Rule 5 draft. For example, the Cubs lost two players fans were a bit annoyed about in the Rule 5 draft prior to the 2012 season in infielder Marwin Gonzalez and utility man Ryan Flaherty. Gonzalez’s career OPS is .591, and Flaherty’s is .633. So if someone is left unprotected, particularly when they played in Double A or Triple A the year before, the odds of them being much of a Major Leaguer are slim.

Player the Cubs Need to Protect: Arismendy Alcantara is the sole member of the “needs to be protected” list. The switch hitting middle infielder has emerged as the fifth best prospect in the system and the Cubs’ likely next second baseman of the future, potentially as early as July 2014. If he wasn’t protected, the Astros would pick him up with the first pick in the Rule 5 draft and be more than happy to keep him on the MLB roster all year. 

Others that Would be at Risk of Being Drafted: Outfielder Jae-Hoon Ha posted solid numbers at Double A this season before struggling upon a promotion to Iowa. He will never hit for power, but is reportedly a very good defender and could be a solid 4th or 5th outfielder type. A team could stash him as a defensive replacement for a year. Left handed pitcher Eric Jokisch just threw a no hitter in Tennessee. As a command and control lefty, he’s never going to be a top prospect, but should be a Major Leaguer with a ceiling as a 4/5 starter. Joksich actually is likely the second highest priority for the Cubs to protect after Alcantara. Dallas Beeler and Dae Eun Rhee could both be drafted as Double A pitchers who have had some success, but neither have had good strikeout numbers in the Southern League. The command and control guys who typically have shots at MLB success still tend to put up at least solid strikeout rates throughout the minors (see Kyle Hendricks). They have also both dealt with injuries over the past year or two. While both are at risk of being taken, I wouldn’t shed any tears over either of them being picked.

Players Whose Names You Will Hear but are too Far Away to be Drafted: You’ll hear a lot about second baseman Gioskar Amaya leading up to the Rule 5 draft, and for a decent reason. He’s arguably one of the Cubs’ top ten prospects, and definitively one of their top fifteen. However, he hasn’t played above low A, and it’s really hard to keep a position player who can’t at least kind of fake it on the active roster all year. On top of that, there’s no reason for the Cubs to think Amaya will be anything more than a level a year type of prospect. That means that if the Cubs add Amaya to the 40 man now, he’ll get one year at Daytona, one year at Tennessee, and one year at Iowa, then be out of options. There’s a very small chance someone might take a flyer on Amaya in the Rule 5 draft, but the odds of them not returning him to the Cubs in spring training are even slimmer.

Shortstop Marco Hernandez falls into the same boat, and isn’t much of a prospect anymore anyways. Right handed pitcher Juan Carlos Paniagua has barely played professional ball as he’s dealt with identity and contract issues.

In short, the Cubs should have no problems protecting their vital prospects without having to DFA anyone of significance currently on their 40 man roster.

Tuesday Night’s Game

I’m going to be honest here: the game is on the west coast and won’t end until well past my bedtime. With that said, I’m going to make an educated guess: Clayton Kershaw dominates the Cubs, Travis Wood pitches well, but either he lets a couple of runs through or the pen does. The Cubs score 1 run or less, the Dodgers score 3 to 4 runs. As of bedtime, though, Travis Wood has shut out the Dodgers through 3 innings while the Cubs pushed across an unearned run against Kershaw.

In other news, former Cub Marlon Byrd was traded along with catcher John Buck to the Pirates for prospects. Early reports have it as an overpay for the Pirates in terms of the prospects going back to the Mets, but the Pirates have been terrible in right field and are desperate to make the postseason this year. They’d have to blow a 9 game lead to not make the playoffs, but a deep playoff run could reinvigorate baseball in a town that is still attending games at only a mediocre rate. As strange as it sounds, in a tight race Marlon Byrd could be the difference between winning the NL Central or facing a play in game.

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Noah Eisner is a Chicago attorney living in the western suburbs with his wife and son (and impending daughter). When he isn’t practicing law or entertaining a toddler, Noah follows Cubs baseball with a focus on the farm system and sabermetric analysis. His Cubs-related ramblings can be followed on Twitter @Noah_Eisner.