The fallout from the Major League Baseball player lockout could have far-reaching implications for the trade and free agent markets, potentially slowing them down because teams have restricted scouting of minor leaguers currently in spring training camps in due to uncertainty over the draft Rule 5, officials from nine teams told ESPN.
Several teams have inquired with the league about waiving the Rule 5 draft for this season, sources said. During the draft, teams can select players not on the 40-player roster and pay $100,000 for their rights, but must keep them on their major league 26-player roster for the entire season. No decision has been made on the major league portion of the Rule 5 draft this season, sources say, but with minor league spring training underway and games set to start as early as March 12, opacity of the situation has left executives wondering how the league plans to handle the messy affair.
During their discussions of a new collective bargaining agreement, MLB and the MLB Players Association have yet to discuss draft Rule 5, sources told ESPN. Because he is collectively bargained, the union and the league would have to agree to strike him out for one season. MLB and MLBPA declined to comment when contacted by ESPN.
Afraid of losing players if the Rule 5 draft stands, 16 organizations have sent letters to all teams banning scouts from their compounds, sources say. Sources say only five teams allow scouts from other organizations to scout their minor league players: the Cincinnati Reds, Milwaukee Brewers, Oakland A’s, Tampa Bay Rays and Seattle Mariners, which joined the group on Friday. The five have formed a reciprocal agreement, in which they can explore each other’s perspectives. Other organizations have not formalized a policy or defined a split plan. The St. Louis Cardinals, for example, will open their doors to the public and media on March 7, but not to scouts until March 17, when games begin.
The implications of decisions to ban scouts, sources say, could go much further: Most teams also cannot assess players who could be trade targets after the lockdown ends. The trading market is expected to be lively as the gaming transactional ledger reopens under a new collective bargaining agreement. But doing so without having scouted the players would introduce unnecessary risk, especially for teams looking to rebuild through trades, sources said.
In recent seasons, executives have pointed to a stagnant trade market as the reason for slow movement in free agency. With star A’s first baseman Matt Olson, third baseman Matt Chapman and starting pitchers Chris Bassitt, Sean Manaea and Frankie Montas, the Reds’ buys are starting to pitch before lockdown and others on the move, A clogged trade market due to teams needing a fresh look at potential acquisitions could have a deleterious effect on parts of the free agent market, sources said.
Canceling proposed Rule 5, five general managers told ESPN this week, would prompt teams to lift restrictions on testing and ease complications caused by the lockdown. The MLB Players Association must approve any changes to Rule 5.
Fear that other organizations would collect new information about the outlook that has improved over the winter and apply it to draft Rule 5 initially fueled the halt in testing, sources said. Although Rule 5 picks generally don’t impact players – they are picked from a pool of those who have spent five years in an organization if they signed at 18 or earlier, or four years to 19 or more – the cost effectiveness of the acquisition makes it particularly important for reconstruction teams.
Of the 17 major league Rule 5 picks last season, six stayed with their teams for a full season: Detroit outfielder Akil Baddoo, Boston reliever Garrett Whitlock, Colorado reliever Jordan Sheffield, of Miami Paul Campbell, Cleveland reliever Trevor Stephan and Baltimore reliever Tyler Wells. If a team removes a Rule 5 player from their big league roster during the season, they must offer him to the team they were picked from for $50,000, but if they line him up all the time , it can send it back to the minor. leagues the following year.
The lockout, sources said, changed the standard calculation for Draft Rule 5, which usually takes place at winter meetings in December. Teams must use a 40-man roster spot for a Rule 5 pick, which in standard years carries a penalty: less roster flexibility in the offseason.
Because of the lockout, GMs said, teams want the added opportunity to scout players. While player acquisitions in 2022 consider a number of factors, including analysis, the use of scouts to help note any changes over the winter – such as a player’s physical condition or a jump in fastball speed – would be new for a Rule 5 draft.
Skipping it for a year, a possibility first raised by The Athletic, would in theory also benefit the union. With hundreds of free agents slated to hit the open market, jobs could be scarce. By agreeing to remove the draft from Rule 5, teams could instead use the 26-man spots on free agents.
The advantage for generally chosen players – who are not among the 1,200 members of the syndicate – is twofold. The chance to make the major league roster is the main opportunity, but those who are sent back to their old teams do so with a significant raise, which players who have been on a 40-man roster receive, compared to at the standard minor league salary.
Another issue removing rule 5 for a season could be alleviated: providing clarification on which players will be named later. Several teams have PTBNLs from last year’s trades to choose from, and while they usually have to be selected within six months, the lockdown prevents any movement on a team’s 40-man roster.
The Baltimore Orioles are expected to pick first in the Rule 5 draft, followed by the Arizona Diamondbacks, Texas Rangers, Pittsburgh Pirates and Washington Nationals. The minor league portion of the draft was held in December because the lockout does not prevent the movement of players who are not on the teams’ 40-man rosters.