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Who should the Oakland A’s protect from the 2020 Rule 5 draft?

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The protection deadline is Friday

Oakland Athletics v Cincinnati Reds
Greg Deichmann
Photo by Michael Zagaris/Oakland Athletics/Getty Images

The 2019 Rule 5 draft isn’t until Dec. 10, but the protection deadline is Nov. 20, which is Friday. That means teams have the rest of this week to figure out which eligible players they want to add to their 40-man rosters in order to protect them from the draft.

In a nutshell, the Rule 5 draft helps prospects make it to the big leagues. Once a player reaches either four or five seasons of minor league service (depending on their age when signed) they must be added to the 40-man roster or else they will become eligible for the draft. At that point, any other team can select the player. However, the player must either remain on their new team’s 26-man MLB roster for the entire season or be offered back to the original organization. For more details on the process, click here.

While Rule 5 draftees often don’t amount to much, they do occasionally turn into solid players. Mark Canha was a pick in 2014, by the Rockies, and then was immediately flipped to the A’s in a trade but remained under Rule 5 restrictions in Oakland in 2015. Last winter, the A’s picked up infielder Vimael Machin in the same fashion, via pick-and-trade by the Phillies. Nate Freiman is another recent example who at least contributed in the majors.

From Oakland’s perspective, the only prospect they chose to protect last year was pitcher Daulton Jefferies, and they lost outfielder Mark Payton to the Reds — he was later returned to the A’s, then traded back to Cincinnati, where he went 3-for-18 with a double and two walks in eight MLB games.

This winter, the A’s have a couple notable names on tap, as well as some other borderline cases that could require tough decisions. Some of the highlights, in no particular order:

  • RHP Parker Dunshee
  • RHP Brian Howard
  • RHP Miguel Romero
  • RHP Wandisson Charles
  • 3B Jordan Diaz
  • OF Greg Deichmann
  • OF Buddy Reed
  • OF Lazaro Armenteros

There are many more, but those are the most likely to be relevant to the discussion.

At the moment, the A’s have 32 players on their 40-man roster (see bottom of this post). That doesn’t mean they have room for eight prospects, though, as they also have to field an MLB team in 2021 — that’ll mean adding several new players during the offseason, and they’ll all need roster spots. Better to leave a distant prospect unprotected now, than add them too aggressively and then have to DFA them in January and lose them on waivers because the 40-man filled up.

Instead, the likely number of prospects who will be selected is probably a technical term known as “some.” Maybe one, perhaps two, even three or four. Probably not zero.

One extra consideration this year is a free agent market that might possibly be weird due to the revenue-sapping effects of the coronavirus. If teams do spend less than usual, then one way to acquire some cheap extra talent could be the Rule 5 draft, so it will be interesting to see if more clubs make picks than usual — in a normal year, there are around 10-20 picks made, so not every team participates. On top of that, there will still be a 26th spot on active rosters in 2021, making it easier to stash a Rule 5 rookie than it was in 2019 and before.

So, who should the A’s protect this time around?

The first name that everyone can probably agree on is Greg Deichmann. The slugging outfielder hasn’t done much in the regular season box scores, but his bat is highly regarded and he was last seen destroying the Arizona Fall League a year ago. He would have played in Triple-A in 2020, and it’s easy to envision a rebuilding team grabbing him and letting him learn on the job in the majors next summer.

Next up are pitchers Parker Dunshee and Brian Howard. I don’t know that either or both are locks to be protected, but they’re both upper-minors starter prospects with decent chances to at least make the majors. They also both got great reports from fall instructional camp, including upticks in velocity.

With Oakland desperate for pitching depth, and rebuilding teams sure to be sniffing around for cheap arms to try out, it might not be a bad idea to keep this pair in the fold — and hope that someone(s) from the group of Dunshee, Howard, and fellow prospects Daulton Jefferies, James Kaprielian, and Grant Holmes can contribute quickly in 2021 since they’d be using a big chunk of the roster.

In the bullpen, Miguel Romero seems like a good candidate. He managed strong numbers in the daunting elevation of Las Vegas in 2019, and this year he added a new changeup. He’s had success in Triple-A and the A’s need to revamp their pen, so adding him now and trying him next spring would make a lot of sense.

On the other hand, 100+ mph reliever Wandisson Charles wasn’t protected or picked last winter. Nobody in the minors has played a game since then (and he was last seen in Double-A), so perhaps that means he’s still safe. Or maybe someone will go for it this time around.

Outfielder Buddy Reed is a tough call, since he’s yet to play a game in the A’s system. He was acquired last winter, but with no minors in 2020 he hasn’t had a chance to prove himself on the field with his new club. However, he does have a speed-and-defense profile that plays well in Rule 5, where he could be stashed as a pinch-runner and spare glove on the back of a bench.

Third baseman Jordan Diaz hasn’t even played full-season ball yet, topping out at short-season Low-A Vermont in 2019, but he’s a Top 20 prospect in the organization and he might be too promising to risk. If a rebuilding team deems him valuable enough, they could simply throw away a 2021 roster spot just to steal a prospect. Indeed, Melissa Lockard of The Athletic says the following:

“Díaz falls into that interesting Rule 5 category of legitimate prospect who isn’t ready for the big leagues but probably should be protected in case some team has a roster spot they can burn on a player who hasn’t played an official inning above A-ball. A few years ago, Renato Nuñez was in this category and the A’s wisely protected him.”

Side note: While it may have been wise to protect Nuñez, it did end up backfiring down the road. He joined the roster so early that he ran out of minor league options before reaching the majors, and eventually had to be DFA’d in spring 2018 and was lost for nothing. He went on to hit 31 homers in 2019 for someone else (Baltimore). So, that’s the potential downside of this particular situation.

Finally, there’s outfielder Lazaro Armenteros. Like Diaz he’s a highly touted talent, but Lazarito has already taken several hacks at full-season ball and seen his stock fall dramatically. Even when he has produced, his strikeout rates have been so enormous that they’ve overshadowed any power, patience, or speed he’s flashed. Would a club make the same gamble on Lazarito that we fear they might with Diaz? Would it hurt as much if they did?

Analysis

First, a disclaimer: I am terrible at guessing who will get protected. Every year my Rule 5 predictions are way, way off. Just hopelessly wrong, a real embarrassment. I don’t even know why I still do this section. I could just introduce the candidates like I did above, and leave it at that. But here we go again.

If it were up to me, I’d select Deichmann, Romero, Dunshee, and Howard. Athletics Nation will surely be unanimous about Deichmann, and I think all three pitchers can contribute in 2021 and all would be at high risk of being drafted.

I would risk Diaz, Reed, Lazarito, Charles, and anyone else. There are already nine spots on this roster being used for prospects who have little to no MLB experience, plus four more that I added in the previous paragraph, and at some point there needs to be space on the 40-man for a 26-man active squad (plus some reliable depth). If Diaz absolutely must be kept, then do so with the understanding that somebody like Dustin Fowler, Seth Brown, or Skye Bolt will need to be DFA’d in the next couple months (or used as a toss-in for a larger trade).

What do I predict the A’s will do? Deichmann should make the cut. Beyond that, since I’m always wrong about this, let’s go with the opposite of whatever I just said. That means they protect Diaz, and let’s say just Dunshee (who has more Triple-A experience) but not Howard. They never pick the reliever I expect, so Romero is a no. That leaves Deichmann, Diaz, and Dunshee getting protected: the Killer D’s.

What do you think AN? Here’s a poll to get us started!

Poll

Besides Greg Deichmann, who else should the A’s protect in the 2020 Rule 5 draft?

This poll is closed

  • 5%
    RHP Parker Dunshee
    (9 votes)
  • 0%
    RHP Brian Howard
    (1 vote)
  • 15%
    BOTH Dunshee AND Howard
    (27 votes)
  • 2%
    RHP Miguel Romero
    (4 votes)
  • 8%
    BOTH Romero AND one of Dunshee/Howard
    (14 votes)
  • 27%
    ALL of Dunshee AND Howard AND Romero
    (47 votes)
  • 3%
    3B Jordan Diaz
    (6 votes)
  • 2%
    Diaz AND one pitcher
    (4 votes)
  • 7%
    Diaz AND two pitchers
    (13 votes)
  • 7%
    Diaz AND all three pitchers
    (13 votes)
  • 9%
    Diaz, some pitchers, AND Buddy Reed
    (17 votes)
  • 10%
    Nobody else, just Deichmann
    (19 votes)
174 votes total Vote Now

Here’s the 40-man roster as it stands right now, with 32 members. Those in italics haven’t yet debuted in MLB, and those with asterisks** are eligible for arbitration and still must be tendered contracts for 2021 to remain with the club.

Oakland A's 40-man roster
Pitchers Hitters
Starters

Chris Bassitt (R)**
Jesus Luzardo (L)
Sean Manaea (L)**
Frankie Montas (R)**
A.J. Puk (L)
Paul Blackburn (R)
Daulton Jefferies (R)
James Kaprielian (R)
--Grant Holmes (R)

Relievers

Jake Diekman (L)
Burch Smith (R)**
Lou Trivino (R)**
Jordan Weems (R)
J.B. Wendelken (R)

Yep, that's it

Help Wanted
Catchers

Sean Murphy (R)
Jonah Heim (S)
Austin Allen (L)

Infielders

Matt Chapman (R)**
Matt Olson (L)**
Chad Pinder (R)**
Tony Kemp (L)**
Vimael Machin (L)
Sheldon Neuse (R)
Nate Orf (R)

Outfielders

Mark Canha (R)**
Ramon Laureano (R)
Stephen Piscotty (R)
Khris Davis (R)
Skye Bolt (S)
Seth Brown (L)
Dustin Fowler (L)
--Luis Barrera (L)