Pittsburgh Pirates: Potential Rule 5 Draft Concerns

The Rule 5 Draft is supposed to take place in early December, but with CBA negotiations coming up, will the Pittsburgh Pirates even have to worry about losing any prospects?

One of the major concerns going into the 2021-2022 offseason for the Pittsburgh Pirates was how they were going to fit all of their prospects that were Rule 5 Draft-eligible on the 40-man roster.

Before November 19th, the Pittsburgh Pirates had over 40 Rule 5 eligible minor leaguers. Now most were your typical organizational depth that wouldn’t be selected and in the event, they did get picked, it wouldn’t be a loss by any means.

After the deadline to finalize 40-man rosters, the Pirates added a few noteworthy prospects. That includes infielder Liover Peguero, a consensus top 100 prospect, as well as three outfield prospects in the form of Travis Swaggerty, a former first-round pick, Canaan Smith-Njigba, who was acquired in the Jameson Taillon swap, and Jack Suwinski, who came over in the Adam Frazier deal. But that meant that a few worthwhile prospects would be left off the 40-man roster and be exposed to the Rule 5 Draft. Namely, first baseman Mason Martin, as well as pitching prospects Tahnaj Thomas and Eddy Yean.

But as we approach December, we have to keep one thing in mind: the collective bargaining agreement. This expires on December 1st. When that expires, transactions will be put on hold until a new CBA is written up. So is the Rule 5 draft even something the Pirates need to worry about?

Right now, if the CBA were to expire, a lockout would likely follow. Transactions, as stated earlier, would become halted. No trades, no signings, and probably no Rule 5 draft, at least for now. The Rule 5 draft usually takes place at the end of the Winter Meetings. Currently, this is scheduled for the 8th. Chances are, it’s going to take more than a month, let alone a week, to get things settled between the Players’ Association and the owners.

Even if we assume that things get cleared up before Spring Training, making negotiations rather quick, would the MLB still allow the Rule 5 draft to occur? My guess will probably be no. In the event that the lockout lasts until May to June, this year’s Rule 5 draft would likely be skipped to the next offseason.

The Rule 5 Draft may potentially be reworked or potentially even eliminated completely. The original purpose of the Rule 5 Draft was to give players a shot at major league playing time they otherwise wouldn’t have had with their previous club, as well as to prevent teams from ‘hoarding’ prospects. After 5 years, a player who was signed at 18-years-old becomes Rule 5 eligible. After 4 years, a player who was signed at 19-years-old or older becomes Rule 5 eligible. With no minor league season in 2020, minor league players didn’t get a regular, full, competitive season to develop.

If the Pittsburgh Pirates didn’t protect Liover Peguero, he would have been Rule 5 eligible. Are they truly hoarding Peguero, or preventing him from getting a shot in the major leagues, who was in his age 20-season, still about 3 years younger than his average competition’s age, and only in High-A-Ball? Is Eddy Yean unfairly not getting a shot in the major leauges, who turned 20 back in late June and played the entire season at Low-A? I’ve previously suggested that maybe the draft should be based on both age and years of experience in the minor leagues so that minor leaguers who aren’t viewed as top prospects get a shot elsewhere. After all, the Rule 5 draft we know today was put together decades ago, specifically in the mid-1960’s, and we’ve seen how much more valuable and different farm system development is today compared to the Rule 5’s original formation. A team shouldn’t have to worry about protecting a 20-22-year-old prospect who barely has any experience above Rookie-Ball.

I wouldn’t be too worried about a team taking a noteworthy prospect in the Rule 5 draft from the Pittsburgh Pirates. The CBA negotiations are going to put things on hold for a while. There’s a pretty good chance that the Rule 5 draft doesn’t even occur. Even if things get resolved rather quickly, it would likely have to be resolved probably with a fair amount of time before Spring Training.