The Rule 5 Draft gets a fair amount of attention during the Winter Meetings, particularly as a last day event with the word “draft” in it that the casual fan can pay a bit of attention to. In effect, though, the Rule 5 Draft lacks, and for at least a decade has lacked, any real importance, outside of one player, for nearly a decade.

 How Does the Rule 5 Draft Work?

When a team acquires an amateur player, either through the draft or as an international amateur signee, the team owns the exclusive rights to the player for four years if the player is 19 or over on the date he is acquired, and for five years if the player is 18 or under, without having to place the player on the 40 man roster. We previously discussed the 40 man roster, but as a short recap, the 40 man roster is designed to allow a team to retain the rights of players who are not on its active, 25 man roster.

After those four or five years, the team must place the player on its 40 man roster, or he is available to other teams in the Rule 5 Draft. The Rule 5 Draft’s order is determined in the same way as the Rule 4 Draft, which is the amateur draft that occurs each June: worst record the prior season goes first, World Series champ goes last. To pick a player, a team must have an open spot on its 40 man roster prior to the Rule 5 Draft. Once a team does not pick a player in a round of the Rule 5 Draft, it is not allowed to pick again. The draft ends when a round occurs in which no team makes a pick. The Rule 5 Draft, as a matter of course, never goes beyond three rounds or so.

There is a significant catch to a player picked up in the Rule 5 Draft: he must remain on the active roster of the team that picks him for the entire next season, or be offered back to his prior team. This often means carrying dead weight on an active roster because a player is only exposed to the Rule 5 Draft if his prior team not only does not think the player is not yet ready to contribute to an active roster, but also is not worth protecting on the 40 man roster.

There is a significant caveat to this, as a player picked in the Rule 5 Draft can spend significant portions of time on the disabled list without being offered back to his prior team. According to the rule, a player must be active on the 25 man roster (in other words, not on the disabled list) for at least 90 days to not be offered back to his prior team. As a result, after a couple of months you will often see a player picked up in the Rule 5 Draft develop a mysterious injury and be quick placed on the 60 day disabled list, which opens up not only a spot on the active roster, but also a spot on the 40 man roster.

What Is the Purpose of the Rule 5 Draft?

The idea behind the Rule 5 Draft is that it prevents teams from stashing prospects in its minor league system when they could be on a Major League roster for another organization. A player who may not be worth placing on a minor league roster on one team due to a positional glut may be be worthy of an active roster spot on another team that is thin at the same position.

Why the Rule 5 Draft Does Not Do What It Is Intended To

Until the 2006 collective bargaining agreement, the cut offs for when a player had to be put on a 40 man roster or be exposed to the Rule 5 Draft were a year earlier. So teams had to make some really tough choices with talented players, with the most famous recent(ish) example being Johan Santana in 1999. Now, it’s much rarer. Indeed, only one player since the Rule 5 Draft changes has made a big impact with the team that selected him in the Rule 5 Draft, and that was Josh Hamilton. Hamilton was a special exception for a whole host of reasons, as a former number 1 pick whose team felt they could no longer keep him around due to bad history.

The 2013 Rule 5 Draft and the Cubs

The Cubs will not be active in the Rule 5 Draft because they do not have a pick in the draft. Two years ago, the Cubs selected Phillies’ pitching prospect Lendy Castillo in the Rule 5 Draft, and proceeded to do the DL dance with him. This is technically disallowed, although as Sean Powell noted on Friday, every team does it. But as Ruben Amaro does not really understand how to properly value player personnel, he wanted an extra Rule 5 pick and filed a grievance against the Cubs, which was granted.

The Cubs are unlikely to have anyone of significance drafted. The only available players would largely be fringy relievers who you would never miss. The only really talented player who is unprotected is second baseman Gioskar Amaya, but Amaya has not played above Low A and it is highly, highly unlikely that a team could stash a position player with that level of experience on its active roster as required by the CBA.

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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.