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Red Sox Rule 5 Protection Deadline Preview

The Red Sox have some decisions to make today.

New York Mets Vs. Boston Red Sox At Fenway Park Photo by Jim Davis/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Friday is a big day around baseball, as today marks the final day teams are allowed to add prospects to their 40-man roster in order to protect said players from the Rule 5 Draft. We’ll get into what all that means in a second, but on just a broad, basic level the Red Sox will be making roster changes today. Exactly who is added, who is removed and whether it’s done via trades, waivers or a combination of both remains to be seen. But in an offseason that has been extremely quiet on the player side of things for the Red Sox, today is a day that guarantees at least a little movement on the bottom-half of the 40-man roster, and perhaps more than that as well.

What is the Rule 5 Draft?

We’ll start with the basics. The Rule 5 Draft takes place every year at the tail end of the Winter Meetings and is a way to prevent teams from just hoarding prospects in the minors for as long as they possibly can before they need them in the majors. At its most basic, it is a draft in which teams can select long-time minor leaguers from other organizations who are not on said organization’s 40-man roster. If selected, a player must be kept on their new team’s active roster for the entire following season. If they are removed from the active roster, their original organization has a chance to take them back in their minor-league system. Last year, the Red Sox selected and successfully kept infielder Jonathan Araúz.

Who is eligible for the Rule 5 Draft?

Above I vaguely mentioned “long-time minor leaguers,” but of course there are more hard-and-fast rules regarding eligibility, which are based on age when a player originally signed. If a player signed their first professional contract at the age of 18 or younger (i.e. most high school draftees and international amateur signings) they must be added to the 40-man roster within five years. If a player signed their first professional contract at the age of 19 or older (i.e. most non-high school draftees) they must be added to the 40-man roster within four seasons. If these players are not added in that timeframe, they are eligible to be selected.

Where does the Red Sox 40-man roster stand?

As of this writing early Friday morning, they have 36 players on their 40-man roster, meaning they can add four players before having to make additional moves to add more. Look at that, ma, my math degree is finally paying off!

Who is a near-lock to be protected?

The Red Sox have a large class of prospects to be protected this year, which has been something we’ve alluded to many times since the trade deadline. Nothing is ever a guarantee, but looking at things now there would appear to be six near-locks to be added to the 40-man roster. For all my astute observers out there, you will notice that is a number greater than four. We’ll get to that in a bit. But the six players who will almost certainly be protected are:

  • Bryan Mata, arguably the top pitching prospect in the organization.
  • Jay Groome, arguably the highest upside pitching prospect in the organization.
  • Connor Wong, a near-ready catcher who was acquired in the Mookie Betts trade.
  • Connor Seabold, a near-ready pitcher who was acquired in the Brandon Workman/Heath Hembree trade.
  • Jeisson Rosario, an athletic outfielder who was acquired in the Mitch Moreland trade.
  • Hudson Potts, a power-hitting infielder who was acquired in the Mitch Moreland trade.

Now, again, nothing is set in stone but these are two of the top seven or so prospects in the organization with Mata and Groome, and then four more good, top-20ish prospects who were all recently acquired in trades. It would be hard to see them making these trades and then turning around and leaving those players unprotected. I should mention Ian Cundall of Sox Prospects did cast a little doubt on Rosario after the latter’s performance at Instructs this fall, but for the reasons mentioned above I would still be surprised if he was left unprotected.

Are there other candidates to be protected?

While those six seem like the most likely names to be protected, these things don’t always go according to plan. Last year, for example, Kyle Hart was not really seen as a lock to be protected but made the cut anyway. Similarly, there are a few players to consider beyond those six.

  • Eduard Bazardo, a right-handed reliever who apparently impressed at Instructs according to Cundall’s post linked above.
  • Pedro Castellanos, a first baseman who started to finally show in-game power at the end of 2019.
  • Joan Martinez, a right-handed reliever with good stuff but command issues.

Those would be the three players I think are most likely to be considered beyond the top six, but you can see the full list here and determine if you see other options. Based on the reported performance from Instructs, it certainly seems like Bazardo has hit the top of this list. I was a bit surprised when he wasn’t protected last year, and he may not go unselected two years in a row. Martinez is another interesting name. I don’t think they’ll protect him, but raw relievers with good stuff are the easiest players to select and protect, so keep his name in mind for December when the draft itself comes around.

Eduard Bazardo
Kelly O’Connor; https://sittingstill.smugmug.com/

How will they make room?

This, to me, is the most interesting question for the Red Sox today. Given the players we’ve discussed above, the team will have to clear at least two spots on their 40-man to make room, and potentially three if they want to protect Bazardo as well. The good (maybe not the right word) thing is they have plenty of expendable players. Here are the guys who could potentially be on the chopping block this afternoon, in order of the likelihood I see them getting cut.

  • Matt Hall, a left-handed pitcher who just didn’t get it done in a long relief role.
  • Kyle Hart, a left-handed starting pitcher who was added last year but simply did not look like he had major-league quality stuff in his chances this year.
  • Robert Stock, a right-handed reliever who has intriguing stuff but is going to be 31 next season and couldn’t throw strikes this year.
  • Marcus Wilson, an outfielder who has the kind of power and athleticism you can dream on but is still raw with his contact skills.
  • Yoan Aybar, a left-handed relief prospect who was added last year. He was hurt significantly by circumstance this year as he was too unpolished to get an invite to the Alternate Site given the glut of mediocre but major-league ready pitching, and then couldn’t go to Instructs because he was on the 40-man.
  • C.J. Chatham, an infielder added last year who has seemingly fallen out of favor with the organization after not getting a chance in 2020 despite the constant shuffling at second base. Feels more likely he’d be part of a trade, though, and it’s unclear if that would get done today.
  • Jeffrey Springs, a left-handed reliever who was better than his ERA indicated in 2020 but still was not good enough that he has to be kept.
  • Dustin Pedroia, well, we all know Pedroia. I do suspect something will happen with him this winter that gets him off the 40-man, but it seems like there would be some smoke around that before it happened. I’d be surprised if it happens today, but it’s certainly not impossible.
  • Andrew Benintendi, is not going to be cut. However, there has been plenty of speculation about a possible trade this winter. As with Pedroia, I don’t think it will happen today but it’s at least worth considering the possibility. You can throw other trade candidates such as Michael Chavis or J.D. Martinez in this spot as well.

When exactly is this deadline?

Tonight at 6:00 PM ET.