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Where the Red Sox stand heading into the Rule 5 Protection Deadline

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They have a lot of room and some interesting candidates to be protected.

Altoona Curve v Portland Sea Dogs Photo by Zachary Roy/Getty Images

Wednesday night is the deadline for teams to submit their 40-man rosters ahead of December’s Rule 5 Draft. Obviously, changes can still be made to the roster in terms of players being added from outside the organization in free agency and trades. However, if eligible minor-league players are not added to the roster by 8:00 PM ET on Wednesday they will be able to be selected in the Rule 5 Draft. Here’s a quick breakdown of all you need to know just over a day away from the deadline.

What is the Rule 5 Draft?

This seems like a pretty good place to start, eh? The Rule 5 Draft is held on the final day of the Winter Meetings every year. The general purpose of it is to make sure teams don’t just hoard prospects indefinitely until they are needed on the major-league roster. Players who were signed at age 18 or younger (i.e. high school and international signees, for the most part) are eligible after five years of professional ball while players signed at age 19 or older (i.e. college players, for the most part) are eligible after four years of professional ball. Teams may draft any players who fit that criteria and are not on 40-man rosters. If a player is drafted, he must be kept on the active (26-man) roster or on the injured list for the entire season. If he is removed from the active roster, his original team has the option to take him back into their minor-league system.

How many players are currently on the Red Sox’ 40-man roster?

This is the first important piece of information for a team to consider leading into this deadline. Often, as the Red Sox have gone through in recent years, teams only have a couple of slots for eligible players, leading to some tough decisions. That is not an issue for the Red Sox this season. As we speak, they have only 34 players on their roster. On top of that, they have as many as nine players (Heath Hembree, Brian Johnson, Trevor Kelley, Denyi Reyes, Hector Velázquez, Ryan Weber, Sandy León, Tzu-Wei Lin and Sam Travis) who are candidates to be designated for assignment or non-tendered, whether it be for a lack of options or a lack of performance. To put it another way, there will not be a crunch this year, and they have a lot of flexibility.

MiLB: OCT 18 Arizona Fall League Photo by Joshua Sarner/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Who is Rule 5 eligible this year?

The best source for this, as one could probably expect, is at Sox Prospects. They have the list of eligible prospects here.

Who will they protect?

This is the most interesting question, of course. I’ve broken things into the following four tiers: Locks, Likely, Possibly and Longshots. I wouldn’t have included that last category but Denyi Reyes was protected last year, so.

Locks

Bobby Dalbec

Dalbec is absolutely going to be added to the 40-man roster this week. The corner infield made it up to Triple-A last year while cutting his strikeout rate in both Double-A and Triple-A. The power is outstanding and the defense is good, and he has a real chance to be up and helping the major-league team by midseason.

C.J. Chatham

Chatham is not nearly as exciting as Dalbec, but he’s just about major-league ready and plays up the middle. The Red Sox have been adding to his versatility a bit by having him play a lot of second base and trying to get him a little time in the infield as well. I don’t see him as more than a bench piece, but he could be just that in 2020 and eventually be a very good one, too.

Likely

Eduard Bazardo

Bazardo is not the biggest name in the system, but he opened some eyes in his first season as a reliever in 2019. He’s a bit undersized, but the stuff is legitimate and he should be a realistic major-league option midway through next season if all goes well.

Marcus Wilson

Wilson was right on the borderline of lock for me, a distinction that probably doesn’t matter all that much. He struggled when he first got to the Red Sox system last year, but the outfielder turned it around quickly and continued his success through his time in the Arizona Fall League.

Possibly

Josh Ockimey

I thought Ockimey was likely to be protected last year, but he was both left unprotected and then went undrafted. It’s more difficult to hide a position player on an active roster for a full season than a pitcher, particularly one who has major platoon splits and no defensive versatility. It is worth noting that with rosters expanding to 26 players in 2020, it could be easier for players like Ockimey to be taken in this format.

Yoan Aybar

Aybar is a really, really interesting case. A former outfielder, he is still new to pitching and still rough around the edges. That said, he has big stuff and showed it off for scouts in Arizona, albeit with the control issues too. He’d be no sure thing to get taken in the draft, but as a lefty with big stuff he is the type of player who teams will often take chances on as it’s easy to hide a player like this in garbage time roles for an entire season.

Longshots

Kyle Hart and Daniel McGrath

I’m grouping these two together because they overlap a lot in the reason they’d be protected. The Red Sox need starting pitching depth, and they may not want to risk losing one or both of their best low-ceiling starters in Triple-A. I don’t think they’d be selected and would be a little surprised if they were protected, but it’s possible.

Chad De La Guerra

De La Guerra is always an interesting name to me. The organization loved him two years ago, but then he had a flop of a season before quietly coming back to form in 2019. Again, I would bet against him being a factor in this draft, but I also think the 26th man might make a bigger difference here than we’ve given credit for.

Prediction

I think the Red Sox will ultimately protect five players in Dalbec, Chatham, Bazardo, Wilson and Aybar.

Anything else?

Well, there is some real potential for the Red Sox to be very active in the next day or two. As we mentioned above, they already have six open 40-man spots as well as plenty of other ways to make room if need be. This could be a way to take advantage of some teams with roster crunches. If the opportunity presents itself they have a real opportunity to swing a trade in which they send out a younger minor-league player for a more proven prospect who needs Rule 5 protection.

On top of that, they could actually make a selection they intend to keep in this year’s Rule 5 Draft. It hasn’t really been the team’s MO to make this kind of move in the recent past, but they could very well have the roster room to take someone this year. Most likely they’d be looking at some bullpen help but grabbing an infielder — likely one from the right side of the field — could be a possibility as well.