26 April 2018

Has The Orioles' Rule 5 Draft Fixation Helped?

The Orioles have been rightfully scolded for their Rule 5 strategy in 2018. It never made sense to begin the season with three Rule 5 players on the major league roster in a must-win season. Still, it is possible to add impactful players through the Rule 5 draft, even though the difficulty has increased as front offices have gotten smarter and done a better job evaluating their players and protecting the right ones.

Before Dan Duquette joined the organization, the Orioles did take players in the Rule 5 draft, but not every year. Some of their notable, relatively recent draft picks before Duquette include Jay Gibbons (2000), Jose Bautista (2003), and Alfredo Simon (2006).

With Duquette in the fold, the Orioles have drafted at least one Rule 5 player in the major league phase every season:
  • Ryan Flaherty from the Cubs in 2011.
  • T.J. McFarland from the Indians in 2012.
  • Michael Almanzar from the Red Sox in 2013.
  • Logan Verrett from the Mets in 2014. Also purchased Jason Garcia from the Astros.
  • Joey Rickard from the Rays in 2015.
  • Aneury Tavarez from the Red Sox in 2016. Also drafted Anthony Santander from the Indians. 
  • Nestor Cortes Jr. and Jose Mesa Jr. from the Yankees; Pedro Araujo from the Cubs in 2017.
With five selections in the last two years, the O's have been more bold lately. But out of all the players above, the Orioles kept Flaherty, McFarland, Garcia, Rickard, Santander, and Araujo (so far). Almanzar, Verrett, Tavarez, Cortes, and Mesa were all eventually returned, though the O's were able to trade for Almanzar to keep him in the organization.

In their time with the Orioles up to this point, Flaherty (1.5), McFarland (0.5), Garcia (-0.2), Rickard (-0.1), Santander (-0.4), Araujo (0.1), and Cortes (-0.3) have combined for a collective fWAR of 1.1. One win in seven-plus years! Flaherty is far ahead of the field, though the O's are still hoping to play the long game with Santander and Araujo. (It's also worth noting that Verrett joined the O's in 2017 and briefly posted a -0.2 fWAR.)

The Rule 5 draft makes sense for some teams, in theory. It's a way to add an interesting player or two to a team's roster in order to hopefully keep them around for future years. And it's hard to be too critical of the O's for trying to add some talent to both their roster/farm system since they're always near the bottom in international spending. It's another avenue to explore. Plus, many of these players are the 25th man on the roster or close to it, so the expectations are low.

Still, it's a delicate balance because a team like the Orioles that has been a playoff contender in nearly every year under Buck Showalter usually tries to keep one of these players around while also trying to win. In addition, Rule 5 players limit roster flexibility since they cannot be optioned. Winning is tough enough; it's an extra challenge to do so while keeping someone around who maybe doesn't belong in the majors.

If you want to label the Rule 5 obsession a failure, that's not a stretch. But what matters is it hasn't helped much. The Orioles have really only added one or two minor contributors in Flaherty and (maybe) McFarland. Perhaps Santander and Araujo change things and make everything look better. In Santander's case, it's interesting that the Pirates are trying what the Orioles did with him: acquiring an injured Rule 5 player (in this case, Nick Burdi) and seeing how things progress to hopefully keep him around.

In the future, perhaps the Orioles will spend more internationally and rely less on the Rule 5 draft. For now, that's only wishful thinking.

Photo via Keith Allison. Stats via FanGraphs.


Pip said...

Although I completely agree, I recently considered another perspective on the rule five.
In a way, the rule five draft is a way to take advantage of other teams successful international scouting. They make the initial investment in international players and they take all the risk. Then, players who were unsuccessful are ignored-and the drafting team spent the money to find out-but those who do well but are in a crowded system are left exposed in the draft.
That way it is possible for the Orioles to take advantage of another team's good effort.
It's significant that the Yankees lost so many players in the Rule 5. Most have been returned, but it sure illustrates that a good system will have to leave worthy players exposed.
A team with good judgment can do well.

Matt Kremnitzer said...

I have no real issue with the Rule 5 draft. I do have an issue with essentially needing to take one of these players every year and needing them to pan out. Maybe that's not always the case, but it does seem like it. Still, you make a good point.

Jan Frel said...

Hi -- I think it's worth considering value calculation of these moves against what the Orioles might have compiled in WAR with bringing up their own minors players or signing waiver players. Large enough sample size to assume constants for these values.

Matt Kremnitzer said...

Thanks, Jan. Feel free to contribute that analysis.

W. Blake Gray said...

The opportunity cost on these Rule 5 guys under Duquette has been entirely too high. They take up roster spots and get regular season ABs when minor-league free agents or (PLEASE) international signings could also be replacement level, with greater possible upside.

When the best you can hope for is Ryan Flaherty, you're not aiming high enough.