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The Giants may not protect anybody from the Rule 5 draft this year

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But then again, they may!

Surprise Saguaros v. Scottsdale Scorpions Photo by Buck Davidson/MLB Photos via Getty Images

Welcome to my annual exercise in futility — a ritual of public humiliation so consistent in its annual wrongness that I can take solace if my predictions haven’t been proven incorrect before the post publishes — predicting who the Giants might protect from the Rule 5 draft at the upcoming Winter meetings. Will I up the ante by predicting a shutout for the Giants’ system this year? Perhaps!

But first, for the uninitiated, how about a clear and simple recap of the groundrules: players are eligible to be selected in the Rule 5 draft if they are 1) not on their team’s 40-man roster as of 8 pm EST tomorrow (Wednesday, 11/20) night and 2) experiencing their fourth Rule 5 draft if they were 19 or older on June 5 of the year they signed their first professional contract or their fifth Rule 5 draft if they were 18 or younger on June 5 of the year... WHAT THE HEY! THIS ISN’T CLEAR AND SIMPLE AT ALL!!! WHO WROTE THESE BYZANTINE OBFUSCATIONS?!?! Man it’s hard to read the CBA!

Ok. Let’s try this again. It’s easiest to work in broad brushstrokes. There are essentially four buckets of players who you have to think about.

1) College players selected four years ago, so from the 2016 draft. That would include:

2) High School players drafted in 2015, which in this case comes down to just:

3) International signees whose player contracts begin in 2015, and this is where we get really wild and woolly! International free agents, oft signed at the tender age of 16, are considered by major league rules to belong in the same developmental bucket as American high school players, despite starting their careers significantly younger and far less game experienced (thus, more raw). As a result these players become eligible for Rule 5 selection when they are still far from finished products. Even if I really wanted to hone in on the best prospects from this group I might include (trust me, this list is NOT exhaustive):

4) The last bucket is simply: players who were eligible in previous years but who were neither added to the 40 man roster, nor taken by another team in the draft. A common subgenre of this bucket is relievers who have missed time to injury, like:

It’s worth remembering that this time last year (and the year before that even) Tyler Rogers would have been included in this fourth bucket.

Now everybody in these three lists has something — some tool, some gift, some athleticism — that might lead them to one day call themselves big leaguers. The Giants have put time and resources into developing them and all certainly have their supporters in the organization.

So then why would the Giants not protect any of them this year?

For the answer to that we must consider:

Farhan Zaidi Game Theory!

The 40 man roster is currently full which means in order to add any of the above to the Giants’ 40 man, we must say goodbye to some Trevor Oaks or Rico Garcia or Burch Smith or another (possibly not the most tearful goodbye ever but still a consideration). In addition, Zaidi may well want to leave himself room to select Rule 5 players from other organizations, which would require an open spot on the 40 man.

So in the case of each player above there’s a complicated Cost-Benefit Analysis that has to be run through. It’s not just: how much do I value this player, but rather, 1) do I value the player above others on the roster; AND 2) how likely do I think it is that this player will be selected by another team in the Rule 5 draft.

We know from the 2019 churn that a favorite strategy of Zaidi’s was to select a player on waivers and almost immediately (or soon thereafter) waive the player again hoping that they skirted through waivers the second time and could be re-assigned to the AAA roster. They managed this trick with Mike Gerber and John Andreoli for instance (remember them? Andreoli was later traded for Opening Day starter Michael Reed!) and less successfully tried to do the same with Hanser Alberto, Jake Barrett, and Tom Murphy.

The thinking involved here is somewhat the same — but with a twist. While teams make waiver wire selections like they’re taking pamphlets shoved at them in the street (only to deposit in the nearest street trashcan), they actually do think some before making a Rule 5 selection. What’s easier than sneaking a player through waivers? Never waiving someone in the first place and making a team pay $50,000 for the price of a looksee.

So then the question Farhan and Co. might be asking themselves is: how likely are any of the above to be selected away? Recent thinking on Rule 5 selections has mostly fallen into two distinct areas:

  • Players who can help immediately — in 2020
  • Pitchers with huge arms who might be able to be hidden in a bullpen.

As for the first question, there is almost nobody who would appear to be a help to a club in 2020. Jalen Miller and Jacob Heyward spent the year in the upper minors and both received assignments to the Arizona Fall League. But with batting averages hovering around .200 and sub-.700 OPS, neither player looks like they could be of immediate help to a club.

Young international OF like Sandro Fabian, Franklin Labour, and Diego Rincones all had solid-to-strong offensive performances in 2019, but at such low levels that they would all look to be still two or more years away from helping anybody. That goes double for 20 year old converted Catcher Kervin Castro, who was an All Star starting pitcher in the short-season Northwest League, but who has thrown just 67 IP in the United States and has yet to see full season action.

The two potential exceptions to the “can they help this year” category are probably Garrett Williams and Caleb Baragar, both of whom bring the incredibly useful skill of throwing left-handed. Williams has been the higher regarded of the two, though his pro career, like his amateur career, has been beset by command issues. Baragar had a breakthrough 2019 which he ended by pitching Sacramento to the National AAA Championship. Neither throws particularly hard but they both have had some success retiring batters in AA or higher. Of course, if the anti-LOOGY rule is passed for the coming year, that would definitely lessen their chances of helping someone’s bullpen in 2020.

In the second category, we essentially have three possibilities: Santos, Marte, and Doval. Both Marte and Doval have lightning quick arms and scrape against triple digits and could conceivably tempt a developing team to experiment, but both have struggled with mechanical consistency and throwing strikes. Marte was hit hard in A+ ball this year so he seems unlikely. The mercurial Doval might be a different story, as he does seem to be exactly the kind of player that a strong development organization could turn into a suddenly productive major league reliever.

The most interesting member of the group, however, and the best prospect we’ve gotten to so far, is Gregory Santos. The 20 year old Santos — acquired from Boston as the second player in the Eduarado Nuñez trade — was a top 10 prospect in the Giants’ system last year, and might be again this season. His 2019, however, was almost entirely wasted due to recurring shoulder troubles. He had two long stints on the IL and made no appearances at all after July 11. From a Game Theory POV, that could be a double edged sword. Clubs might stay away from selecting Santos because he hasn’t shown recent health (and has barely pitched above short season ball), or they might think that his shoulder woes of 2019 would give them the opportunity to play whack-a-mole with the IL, getting him development time through extended “rehab assignments.”

Remember, highly successful major leaguers have been passed over in the Rule 5 draft immediately prior to their major league breakthroughs — Max Muncy and Ramon Laureano are just two such examples from the recent past. The question isn’t whether the player might be a productive part of the team’s future, but rather whether they can STILL be a productive part of the team’s future without being added to the 40 man today, and whether the brain trust is willing to take that gamble.

The most likely outcome, of course, is the most boring one: they’ll decide to protect two players. They’ll see that Gregory Santos’ future is too valuable to risk. Or that, despite a history of very slow 2nd halves, Jalen Miller’s up the middle athleticism is a boon to have even as depth. Even Sandro Fabian — the once and future Top 10 prospect in the system? — might offer up enough potential for a tanking club like Baltimore to try to develop “finishing school” type at the highest level. And then there’s the ultra-typical selection: a useful arm like Baragar’s.

But maybe, just maybe, the game theory says “protect nobody and let it all roll!”

Now let’s start the countdown clicking toward my annual public wrongness.

EDIT: And to start the countdown, it looks like MLB Pipeline is saying that Santos isn’t eligible this year, which would be a big help in protecting his options clock: