Fans and players alike love Opening Day. But few savored the first day of the season more than Seattle reliever Kanekoa Texeira. The Hawaii native pitched well enough in spring training to win a spot in the Mariners’ bullpen, becoming one of just four players to make an Opening Day roster as a selection in December’s Rule 5 draft, one of the most difficult routes to the major leagues.

Joining Texeira as Rule 5 rookies are outfielder John Raynor of Pittsburgh and right-handed relievers David Herndon of Philadelphia and Carlos Monasterios of the Los Angeles Dodgers. A fifth Rule 5 selection, right-hander Hector Ambriz, is stuck with Cleveland—at least temporarily—as the Indians put him on the disabled list.

The Rule 5 draft has produced notable success stories in recent years. Dan Uggla, Josh Hamilton, Johan Santana, and Joakim Soria all survived the perils of the Rule 5 on the way to becoming All-Stars, but most Rule 5 selections meet the more forgettable fate of being returned to their original organization.

For every Jose Bautista—who built a solid career despite playing for four different clubs as a 23-year-old in 2004—there are the cautionary tales like Miguel Asencio, the 21-year-old Dominican right-hander who walked the bases loaded by throwing 16 consecutive balls in his 2002 major-league debut with Kansas City. Asencio stuck in the majors for the rest of the season, but he never again pitched a full season in the big leagues.

The Fine Print

Based on cost alone, the Rule 5 process is an appealing risk, providing clubs the chance to poach a prospect from another team for just $50,000. For a player buried in an organization with a deep minor-league system, the draft provides an opportunity for a fresh start with a new club.

After either four or five years as a professional, a player must be added to his club’s 40-man roster by November 20 or be exposed to the 29 other clubs in the Rule 5 draft. Under the current collective bargaining agreement, a club has five years to evaluate a player who signs his first pro contract at 18 years old or younger, but only four years to decide on a player who signs at 19 or older. However, if a player signed after the minor-league season has ended, his first year is deemed to be the beginning of the following season.

Like the Rule 4 amateur draft, teams draft in reverse order of their won-loss records in the previous season, and only clubs with less than 40 players on their rosters may take part. To select an eligible player, a drafting club pays $50,000 to the player’s original club—but there’s a catch. The drafting club must keep the player on its 25-man active roster for all of the next season or put him on waivers. If a third club claims the player on waivers, that club must also keep him in the majors all season. If the player clears waivers, he must be offered back to his original club for $25,000. A drafting club may work out a trade with the player’s original club so that the drafting club can keep him and send him to the minor leagues.

The 2010 Class

Texeira, a cousin of Philadelphia’s Shane Victorino, was selected by Seattle from the Yankees, who had acquired him along with Nick Swisher from the White Sox in a November 2008 trade. He posted a gaudy 67-percent ground-ball rate while striking out 88 in 101 innings at Double-A Trenton in 2009, then impressed the Mariners in spring training by striking out 11 and allowing four earned runs in 11 innings.

Now all Texeira has to do is carry over that success to the regular season. He made his debut Tuesday night in Oakland, entering the game in the ninth inning with the score tied at 1. After allowing a one-out single to Mark Ellis and a broken-bat double to Travis Buck, Texeira pitched out of trouble by striking out Rajai Davis and retiring Daric Barton on a fly ball. He couldn’t escape in the 10th inning, though, giving up singles to Kevin Kouzmanoff and Kurt Suzuki before Ellis tagged him with the loss with a walk-off single to right field. Texeira finished with a line of five hits, one run, one walk, and two strikeouts.

It was a less stressful debut for Herndon, a 24-year-old right-hander selected from the Angels in December. He threw a scoreless ninth inning Monday as the Phillies opened the season with an 11-1 victory at Washington. A sinkerball specialist—he posted a 65 percent ground-ball rate in 65 innings at Double-A Arkansas in 2009—Herndon struck out Cristian Guzman and retired Adam Kennedy and Willy Taveras on grounders.

Herndon won his roster spot by allowing just two runs and striking out nine in 12 2/3 spring training innings. He also benefited from the Phillies’ decision to go with a 12-man pitching staff to begin the season in the wake of injuries to relievers Brad Lidge and J.C. Romero.

Two Rule 5 draftees experienced Opening Day as major leaguers at Monday’s Dodgers-Pirates matchup at PNC Park. With his club trailing 8-2, Dodgers manager Joe Torre called on 24-year-old right-hander Carlos Monasterios to pitch the sixth inning. The former Phillies farmhand breezed through the heart of the Pirates’ order, retiring Andrew McCutchen and Garrett Jones on fly balls and Ryan Doumit on a ground ball to third base. Monasterios allowed just three runs in 16 innings in spring training. But with just 6.8 strikeouts per nine in 384 2/3 minor-league innings—only 7 1/3 innings above Class A—he provides little more than inexpensive bullpen depth.

Raynor, 26, has yet to make his debut. He won a job as Pittsburgh’s fifth outfielder despite a 1-for-20 spring at the plate. The 2007 South Atlantic League MVP in the Low-A ranks jumped to Double-A Carolina in 2008, where he posted an impressive .312/.402/.489 slash line. But he struggled at Triple-A New Orleans in 2009, falling back to .257/.327/.360. His value for the Pirates will lie primarily in his speed and range in the outfield and the ability to give center fielder Andrew McCutchen an occasional day off.

The Indians are still evaluating Ambriz, a 25-year-old selected from Arizona. Moved to the bullpen by Cleveland, he threw just two innings in spring training before experiencing soreness in his right elbow. Placing Ambriz on the DL not only gives him time to recover, but it could provide the Indians a window to negotiate a deal with Arizona so he could be sent to the minors.

However, the Indians are not going to be able to simply stow Ambriz away on the disabled list all season. If, because of injury, a player selected in the Rule 5 draft spends less than 90 days on the active major-league roster, he must also remain on the major-league roster the next season until he earns 90 days of service. Otherwise, he must be put on waivers and offered back to his original club.

Two other Rule 5 selections provide a look at just how complicated the process can become. Arizona brought pitcher Zach Kroenke to spring training after selecting him from the Yankees. The left-hander allowed six runs in eight appearances, and the Diamondbacks determined he would not make the 25-man active roster. Arizona placed Kroenke on waivers and, after he cleared, offered him back to the Yankees. However, Kroenke also had been a Rule 5 selection last year, selected by Florida but returned to the Yankees. That gave Kroenke the right to become a free agent rather than accepting an assignment back to New York. When Kroenke expressed his intention to become a free agent, the Yankees declined to take him back. At that point, Kroenke’s status as a Rule 5 selection ended, and Arizona was able to option him to the minor leagues. He remains on the Diamondbacks’ 40-man roster.

The Cubs faced a similar situation with right-hander Mike Parisi, who was selected from St. Louis. The Cubs decided he would not make the 25-man roster out of spring training. After clearing waivers, Parisi was offered back to St. Louis. But because the Cardinals had assigned him outright to the minor leagues after the 2008 season, Parisi had the right to elect free agency rather than return to St. Louis. The Cardinals declined to pay the $25,000 fee to take him back, allowing Parisi to stay with the Cubs on a minor-league deal.

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You wrote: "If, because of injury, a player selected in the Rule 5 draft spends less than 90 days on the active major-league roster, he must also remain on the major-league roster the next season until he earns 90 days of service. Otherwise, he must be put on waivers and offered back to his original club." I don't recall reading that before. What's the source for this rule and is the source publicly available? How long has that rule been in place?
"Rule 5" is one of the Major League Rules, an agreement among the clubs governing transactions between teams, drafts, post-season play, territorial rights and various other issues. For whatever reason, MLB tends to guard the ML Rules like a state secret, and I don't believe they're available to the public. But the 90-day requirement has come up in the reporting on a few players. I seem to vaguely recall seeing it when Josh Hamilton was selected.
Also, Adam Stern with the Red Sox in '05 and '06.
Enjoyed this article immensely. I look forward to more Contractual Matters articles.
Victorino himself is a Rule 5 All-Star. In fact, he survived two selections: he didn't stick with the Padres and was returned to Los Angeles, but two years later he went to the Phils and caught on.
Did not realize Victorino was picked in the rule 5 twice. Victorino was actually offered back to the Dodgers but the Dodgers declined. Maybe you could clarify Jeff, but since Victorino was not a consecutive rule 5 pick and had never been outrighted to the minors he could not have elected for free agency if the Dodgers took him back? That would be the only reason I could forgive the decision by the Dodgers to decline him.
You're right. Victorino had not been outrighted previously, so he did not have the right to become a free agent when the Phils offered him back to the Dodgers in 2005. To be fair to LA, any other club could have claimed Victorino on waivers before he was offered back to the Dodgers - either in 2003 or 2005.
Thanks for this article. I'm always fascinated by the Rule 5 selections since I think there must be some degree gamesmanship between rivals. Are interdivisional rivals more likely to select a Rule 5 player from one another in the hopes of taking away that "prospect." A friend and I just had a discussion yesterday about some of the notable/most-successful Rule 5 players we could remember. Our list was short. Without knowing the answer, I posed the question: Who is the all-time career hits leader among Rule 5 players? Career wins leaders? Etc. Again, I don't know the answer, so I'd be interested if anyone in BP community can enlighten me. (I didn't realize Johan Santana was a Rule 5 player, so I'm guessing he's atop most of the pitching categories.)
I'm 99.999% sure that Roberto Clemente is the all-time hits leader, and probably the leader in most other offensive categories as well.
Yay!!! Keep on keepin on with articles like these that translate the legalese of many baseball rules into things we as fans can truly understand.