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Who should the Oakland A's protect in the 2015 Rule 5 draft?

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It is an absolute no-brainer to add 2B Joey Wendle to the 40-man roster by Friday's deadline.
It is an absolute no-brainer to add 2B Joey Wendle to the 40-man roster by Friday's deadline.
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The 2015 Rule 5 draft won't take place until Dec. 10, but an important deadline is coming up soon. By Friday, teams must choose which of their eligible prospects to protect by adding them to the 40-man roster.

If you're not familiar with the Rule 5 draft, it exists to prevent teams from simply hoarding talent in the minors on a long-term basis. If a player has been around for a few years but not made his way up to at least the 40-man roster, then another team can steal him away in the draft. The catch, of course, is that if you draft a player then you have to keep him on your 25-man roster all season long or else offer him back to his old team.

In other words, if you're holding a prospect back and another team thinks he's ready (or ready enough to be stashed on the MLB bench), then they can give him the chance that you're not giving him. There are more details to the process, but that's the important part. The most recent examples in Oakland have been Nate Freiman and Mark Canha, who were plucked away from other clubs and each survived a full rookie season in Oakland.

The next question is, who is eligible? Again, the full answer is somewhat complicated, but here's the quick-and-dirty version: if they were selected out of high school in the 2011 amateur draft, or out of college in the 2012 amateur draft, then they are eligible this year. So are international guys who were signed (as under-19-year-olds) before the end of the 2011 season, but there won't be any new international additions to this list. Once you're eligible, you remain so each year that you're not on a 40-man roster.

Here is a rundown of the notable prospects who are eligible this year. In reality there are many more players than I've included here, but we don't need to know about every single piece of organizational filler. These guys either made our CPL, or they were included in one of my Prospect Watch posts. I've separated them into three groupings based on my personal opinions; we'll have to wait to find out what the team actually does over the next 24 hours. I don't claim these to be predictions, and it's entirely possible (probable?) that I'll be way off.

Players I would protect

Joey Wendle | 2B

Drafted: 2012, out of college (by the Indians); eligible for first time

This one is an easy call. He already spent a full year in Triple-A, and he's going to be in the mix for Oakland's 2B job next spring. He would likely have made the 40-man anyway, and could even make the 25-man out of spring training depending on how things shake out, so just add him now and get it over with. If for some reason he were left exposed, there is virtually no question he would be stolen away in Rule 5. Verdict: Protect him

Colin Walsh | 2B

Drafted: 2010, out of college (by the Cardinals); eligible for third time

Walsh isn't as clear-cut of a case as Wendle. On one hand, not only has he been passed over the last couple years, he was even released by the team that originally drafted him. On the other hand, he had a serious breakout season in 2015 and I have to think that raises his stock. Second base is such a thin position around the league that I can absolutely see some team taking a flyer on a 26-year-old who dominated a pitcher's league last year, even though he's barely tasted Triple-A. There must be a club out there that is desperate for a 2B and willing to take a low-risk gamble on a guy with amazing plate discipline. And, given that Oakland's own 2B position is full of question marks (Can Lawrie stick full-time? Will Wendle pan out? Will Sogard still be here?), it might not be a bad idea to have an extra infielder on the 40-man anyway. Verdict: Protect him

Aaron Kurcz | RHP

Drafted: 2010, out of college (by the Cubs); eligible for third time

He's already pitched for four organizations, and the A's acquired him midseason for naught but an international bonus slot. The demand would seem to be low. But, as with Walsh, his situation has changed. He now has a year of Triple-A under his belt, which could make a team more likely to give him a guaranteed roster spot and bet on his big strikeout potential. Furthermore, he pitched in the Arizona Fall League this year, and while his numbers were pretty bad that doesn't preclude the chance that at least one out of 30 teams saw something in his underlying performance that piqued their interest. It's always nice to have a few extra arms that can taxi back and forth to Triple-A as needed, and Kurcz could slot in as one of those depth pieces, especially with Dan Otero gone. We still have no idea what the 2016 pen might look like, but that's the point -- now is the time to hold on to another MLB-ready arm in case they need him down the road. Verdict: Protect him

Players I'm on the fence about

Tucker Healy | RHP

Drafted: 2012, out of college (by A's); eligible for first time

In September, Bill from A's Farm said the following in a comment on AN: "Last year, when he was still Asst GM with the A's Farhan [Zaidi] told me that lots of clubs asked about Healy in trade talks, so I'm thinking there's probably a pretty good chance he gets protected anyway." Since inspiring that quote from Zaidi, Healy went on to post a wonderful season in Double-A this year. The question is, how low are other teams willing to reach down the minor league ladder to pull a guy for Rule 5?

Last year, the Twins took reliever and Livermore native J.R. Graham; he had spent less time in Double-A and posted worse numbers there than Healy did, but he was also a recent Top 100 prospect as a starter so perhaps that explains Minnesota's interest. The Astros took reliever Jason Garcia out of Single-A and shipped him to the Orioles, who kept him all year despite not being very good. In other words, there is recent precedent for teams taking shots on Double-A relievers and actually following through by keeping them all year. Between that precedent, and Bill's tip from Zaidi, I am leaning toward protecting him ... but I'm changing my mind about every five minutes right now. Verdict: Protect him if possible, but he might be safe if he's exposed

Kris Hall | RHP

Drafted: 2012, out of college (by A's); eligible for first time

I want so badly for this guy to make it in Oakland. Like with Healy, I could argue either way in terms of protection. Furthermore, the other teams all got a long look at him in the AFL this year, and his performance there was decent. But he's only pitched one game in Triple-A (and got rocked), and he struggled massively with his control even in Double-A this year. There may yet be a good reliever in there, but I'm willing to bet that no one will commit a full MLB season to him just yet. I'm exposing him not because I don't care about him, but because I think he can make it through without being chosen. My final consideration is this: as a high-K reliever struggling to get his walks under control and trying to prove himself at the upper levels, he's basically Daniel Coulombe ... except Coulombe is left-handed, is a year ahead of Hall in terms of development, and has already reached MLB. I would most likely be DFA'ing Coulombe to protect Hall, so why not just keep Coulombe? Verdict: Take the risk and do not protect him

Players I am not worried about

Jose Torres | LHP

Signed: 2010, as an under-19 (by A's); eligible for second time

Torres is listed as Oakland's No. 23 prospect on MLB.com, so he's not to be taken lightly. However, he just graduated from Single-A Beloit to High-A Stockton at the very end of the year, and he's getting rocked in the Venezuelan League this winter. That doesn't mean I'm souring on him, but rather that he'd be a real reach for a full-season MLB roster spot. Sure, the Astros/Orioles reached even deeper to get Jason Garcia, but think about it this way: If you add Torres now, you start burning option years while he works his way through High-A Stockton. Will he find his way up to Oakland as a permanent contributor before he runs out of options, or will you wish you could taxi him in 2019 when he might be a 25-year-old rookie? And what about the roster flexibility you give up by burning a 40-man spot on a guy virtually guaranteed to spend 2016 in the minors -- there's already one such spot held by Raul Alcantara, and the A's pen is so fluid right now that roster space will be at a premium. Verdict: Take the risk and do not protect him

Bruce Maxwell | C

Drafted: 2012, out of college (by A's); eligible for first time

Maxwell had a down year in Double-A. He's still listed as Oakland's No. 28 prospect on MLB.com, but I expect he'll fall off the list sooner than later. It's tough to gauge catchers when you only have minor league batting lines, since so much of their value lies in tough-to-measure defense, but catcher is the absolute last position you should be trying out unheralded rookies anyway. I cannot fathom another team drafting him at this time. Verdict: Do not protect him

Chad Oberacker | CF

Drafted: 2011, out of college (by A's); eligible for second time

He had a solid year in Double-A (at age 26), and he's getting his reps in this winter in the Venezuelan League. Center field is a thin position in the system, and as things currently stand I expect him to be the CF depth at Triple-A this year, but I think he's safe in this draft. Even if he does get picked, it won't be the end of the world. Verdict: Do not protect him

Brett Vertigan | CF

Drafted: 2012, out of college (by A's); eligible for first time

He's basically one step down from Oberacker. They both floundered a bit earlier in their careers and have now started to develop. Vertigan had a solid year, but only in High-A, so he's even less likely to get picked than Oberacker. If either of them had the seasons they just had at the levels they played at, but were two years younger than they really are, then I could see a better chance of someone picking them. As it is, they're safe. Verdict: Do not protect him

Not on the list yet

Here are some notable names who are not on the list in 2015. The guys I've specifically named will all be eligible in 2016:

- Matt Olson, who was a high school draftee in 2012

- Sandber Pimentel*, who was signed in Nov. 2011 and thus didn't start his Rule 5 clock until 2012

- Franklin Barreto and Yairo Munoz, who each signed in 2012

- Any player taken in the amateur draft in 2013 or later

* Note that we had previously listed Pimentel as eligible, but after scouring the rules Jeremy and I have determined that he appears to be safe for one more year.

Who to drop?

Of course, it's not just as simple as deciding whom to protect. You also have to cut (or trade) someone else to make space. It's never impossible for Billy Beane to make an 11th-hour move (like a Jesse Chavez trade?), but at this point it looks like this is the roster we're working with for Friday. Who do you cut in order to protect 3-4 prospects?

1. Arnold Leon -- Dangit. I still have hope for Leon, but he's out of options and I think it's almost guaranteed that he'll be squeezed out of the bullpen picture by Opening Day. May as well put him through waivers now while everyone else is trying to clear space too, and see if you can keep him as future depth.

2. Felix Doubront -- He's gonna get non-tendered anyway, right? Right? Oh, please say yes. Anyway, don't delay the inevitable; DFA him now while the roster spot is needed.

3. Ike Davis -- Same as Doubront. He's most likely gone anyway, so just get it over with and use the roster spot.

4. Daniel Coulombe -- I have no idea what the A's think about him. Are they banking on high-strikeout upside, or is he just a warm body filling a spot whom they haven't had a need to DFA yet? He still has two option years left, so he could be one of the 2016 taxi relievers. The way I'd look at it is that, if they A's like him, then he's an MLB-ready guy who takes precedence over the likes of Healy and Hall. If he's just a left arm with a pulse, then cut him and protect one of the Rule 5 guys.

5. Jarrod Parker and/or A.J. Griffin? -- If you DFA'd one or both of them right now, would another team claim them on waivers? I honestly don't know.

There's also Fernando Abad, Evan Scribner, Craig Gentry, and Sam Fuld as arbitration-eligible players who could be traded. I don't have to have any of them on the 2016 roster, but I'm not ready to throw them away for nothing just yet by DFA'ing them. A trade would make room for a Rule 5 guy while recouping some value for one of those solid role players.

Also consider that, if the A's want to make a selection of their own in the Rule 5 draft (as they are wont to do), then they'll need to keep a 40-man spot open on Friday*. So, if you're planning to make a pick, then you need to cut one extra player beyond the number of prospects you're trying to protect so that you finish with a 39-man roster. Oakland also hasn't yet added newly signed Rich Hill to the roster, and I assume they're waiting until next week to get that done since there doesn't seem to be a hard deadline to officially announce the deal or make a corresponding move. I'm not 100% sure about this part, but I don't think that empty roster spot has to stay empty after the Friday deadline, so if the A's leave one open to allow themselves to make a Rule 5 pickup then presumably they can just add Hill to that spot on Monday. Then they can worry about opening up a new spot when the actual draft takes place in a few weeks.

* Correction: This might not be true. Baseball America's Rule 5 primer reports, "Teams must file their 40-man rosters by Nov. 20, and only those not at the full allotment of 40 may select players." But I think I misinterpreted the wording, and that it is combining two separate statements into one sentence. I now think that what it means to say is, "Team must file rosters by Nov. 20. And then teams must have an open roster spot on Dec. 10 to make a pick."

Stay tuned, as the next 24 hours should bring quite a few roster moves as we get answers to some of these questions. Once this deadline has passed, we'll have a much clearer picture of what the team has to work with as we start the offseason.

Extra links:

Full list of all teams' top-30 prospects who are eligible for Rule 5 (and which ones have already been protected)

- The full, official, Rule 5 draft rules (page 55 of the document, found on page 69 of the PDF)

Oakland's current 40-man roster