Each winter clubs have the option to place player on the Reserve List, which essentially is adding them to the 40-Man Roster, to avoid exposing them to the Rule 5 Draft. The one question that comes up constantly late in the summer and into the offseason is: Which minor leaguers need to be protected?

Here is a quick primer:

Players that signed their first pro contract at 18 years of age or younger must be added to the 40-Man Roster within five years or they’ll be exposed to the Rule 5 Draft. Players that signed at 19 or older must be added within four years.

One thing to remember is that international signees typically get “Future Contracts,” meaning they signed contracts after the signing period opened over the summer, but the contract officially starts the following season.  This means that 2015 does not count as one of those four or five seasons for any of the players signed this summer. For draftees that signed, however, 2015 does indeed count, which is why the move-up of the draft pick signing deadline was so critical and valuable.

The age depictions are critical in the evaluation process when clubs sign players, both domestically, and especially internationally.

This past offseason (2014), the Seattle Mariners added three players to the 40-Man Roster: catcher John Hicks, shortstop Ketel Marte and right-handed reliever Mayckol Guaipe.

Clubs cannot protect players by placing them on the disabled list or restricted list. Those lists are relevant during The Championship Season only. All players on the disabled list or restricted list must be placed back on the Reserve List/40-man Roster by the deadline, generally in late November (generally November 20), leading up to the early-December Rule 5 Draft, which takes place during the annual Winter Meetings.

Until the most recent change in the regulations for the Rule 5 Draft, it was four years for 18 and under, three years for 19 and older. The adjustment was put in place to allow team more time to properly evaluate.

The Rule 5 Draft itself was installed in 1959, but its purpose has changed. At first it was about spreading out talent across the league, and while that still is part of its purpose, it’s more about preventing clubs from hoarding major-league talent in their minor league system. The MLBPA is holding onto the Rule 5 Draft because it is valuable to the players chosen, since the selections are cheap ($50,000) and the player’s have to be kept on the 40-Man Roster the entire ensuing season or be offered back to his original club for $25,000.

There is a minor league portion of the Rule 5 Draft, both a Triple-A and Double-A segment. The cost is $12,000 for the Triple-A phase and $4,000 for the Double-A edition. Any minor leaguers that finished the  previous season at the Double-A level but is not on the 40-Man Reserve List is eligible to be selected in the Triple-A phase. Any player that finished the season in Class-A — any of the full-season leagues — and are not on the 40-Man Reserve List, may be selected in the Double-A phase. The roster rules for selected players is the same in both minor league phases as it is the big-league version. The offer-back price for Triple-A players is $6,000 and for Double-A it is $2,000.

Notable Rule 5 picks include Johan Santana, Josh Hamilton, Joakim Soria, Dan Uggla and Darren O’Day. The number of notables Rule 5 players has decreased greatly since the extra years were added to the allotted evaluation process.

The 2014 Rule 5 Draft (MLB) included outfielder Delino DeShields, Jr. and 1B/OF Mark Canha, as well as right-hander J.R. Graham.  The three have made differing levels of contributions to their clubs, with DeShields playing regularly for a Texas Rangers club that as of the trade deadline was in the thick of the playoff hunt.

In 2013, MLB Rule 5 picks included Thomas Kahnle and Seth Rosin, both right-handed pitchers.

No players were selected in the Double-A phase in 2014, with two being selected in 2013.

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