Baltimore Orioles fans became reacquainted again in 2012 with the Rule 5 Draft in the person of Ryan Flaherty. In general terms, this allows for a player who has been in the minors for five years, but is not on their franchise’s 40-man roster, to be drafted for the price of $50,000. That player must then be kept on the new team’s 25-man roster for the entire season, or else be offered back to the original franchise for the fee of $25,000.
The rule exists to prevent certain organizations from stockpiling minor leaguers who could actually play elsewhere. It is an opportunity for some players to break free of a situation where they are hopelessly mired in the shadows of a thick depth chart, or who have been under-valued by their parent organization. But even so, the odds are long that this bears success, and the entire scenario makes for a challenge in the new organization – to maintain a player who might not be quite yet ready for the big show.
Flaherty and the 2012 Season
At this point, it is probably fair to say that we can call the Flaherty situation a success. Though he had struggles, he came off the DL to hit .255 through the end of the season. And his playoff homer against the Yankees was the first ever by a Rule 5 Draftee. But there were times also when his presence seemed to make for an even shorter bench. It is already difficult to manage and handle all the mixes and matches that come along in a game with a mere 25-man roster. In some ways, unless a Rule 5 Draftee is really ready to contribute in most any contingency, it is like playing with a 24-man roster.
Ryan is currently playing for the Leones del Escogido in the Dominican League and batting .258. It is not inconceivable that he will be with the Orioles in 2013, though it appears more likely he’ll be with Norfolk. There is a lot more to be written about this 2B situation, but one thing is certain: he’ll not be going back to the Chicago Cubs!
McFarland and the 2013 Season
At the winter meetings, Dan Duquette chose left-hander T.J. McFarland out of the Cleveland Indians organization. With a 2012 campaign of 16 wins between AA and AAA, along with a spanking he put on the Norfolk Tides, the guy looks like a legit big-league candidate. Duquette’s remarks about him particularly emphasize the guy’s ability to pitch down in the zone. Pitching up in the zone is a painful and deadly experience (see Tommy Hunter on this!). And the Orioles have something of a weakness in left-handed pitching – particularly in the bullpen.
But will McFarland be able to make the team out of Spring Training and stick through the end of the season? As good as he sounds, it is difficult to see how this can eventuate. I cannot imagine that he could compete for a starter role, and the bullpen is filled with the great arms that – more than anything else – brought to the Orioles the successes of the 2012 season. Yet at the same time, the Orioles largely went through the past year a pitcher short, as Kevin Gregg was relegated to duties of clean-up and dumb-dumb innings – seldom being entrusted with a close game.
If the Orioles are to truly compete again this year within the Eastern Division, I hate to see Buck Showalter hamstrung and limited for “today” while hanging onto a Rule 5 pick for “tomorrow.” I often find myself wishing that the roster could be expanded to 26 or 27 players – but that is a blog post of its own for another day. And as an additional thought, the entire pitching scenario for the Birds could change significantly if a large trade sends away some of the horses in our stable (or is it birds in our nest?).
The Orioles History with Rule 5 Draftees
How many of you remember that Jose Bautista was an Orioles Rule 5 Draftee in 2003? While there is no guarantee that he would have replicated his Toronto successes if Baltimore had kept him for more than 16 games, it certainly does appear to be a lost opportunity.
Probably the best Orioles Rule 5 selection ever was the 2000 pick of Jay Gibbons from the Toronto organization. I really liked Jay, and along with a special distaste for the Blue Jays, I especially enjoyed his several successful seasons with the Orioles. In his first season of 2001, he batted .236 while clubbing the first 15 of his 121 career homers for the Birds. He would have a 28-home run campaign in 2002 and a 100-rbi season in 2003. But sadly, Jay will be ultimately more remembered not for Rule 5, but for being involved with the alleged breaking of other rules.
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