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Finally Some Rule 5 Clarification

November 12, 2008
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There has been some confusion over the last few days about the eligibility of some of the Indians minor leaguers for the Rule 5 Draft who signed future contracts. The players in question are as follows:

Jerad Head (INF/OF)
Frank Herrmann (RHP)
Hector Rondon (RHP)
Carlos Santana (C)
Carlton Smith (RHP)
Isaias Velasquez (INF)
Neil Wagner (RHP)

I have verified that 2005 Draft picks and UDFA signings Wagner and Herrmann did in fact sign 2006 contracts, and Smith and Head most likely did as well since they did not play in their signing year. Players signed during the International Signing Period (July 2-August 31) in 2004 include Rondon, Santana, and Velasquez. Players signed during the International Signing Period are ineligible to play that same year, so their first professional season comes the next season (in this case 2005) which is when their contract starts.

Unfortunately, none of this matters anymore. The contract start date used to matter prior to the new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) signed in October 2006. Prior to the new CBA, a player signed during the International Signing Period or a late draft pick signing whose contract was effective the following season meant the clock did not start to “count” for Rule 5 eligibility purposes until the effective year of the contract. Apparently, the new CBA abolished this loophole as a consolation for adding the additional year of protection (3 years to 4 years for 19 year old signees, 4 years to 5 years for 18 and younger signees).

From an e-mail reply I got from MLB on the rule change:

“We have changed MLR 5(c)(1) so that this period begins to run with the applicable season in which the Player signs his first Major League or Minor League Contract, as opposed to the first effective season of the Player’s first contract.”

What this means is that even though these players do not play in the year they are signed and the contract may be effective the following season, the “count” officially starts as of the day they sign the contract. Since the new CBA was adopted, no one gets a future contract anymore and those that had them prior to the new CBA were not grandfathered in. This is why Herrmann, Rondon, Smith, Wagner, Santana, Head and Velasquez are in fact Rule 5 eligible this season.

The past 48 to 72 hours I have burned through many sources on the subject. Not one of my sources, be it an agent, scout, front office person, player… one had a clear understanding of the future contract rule. Half the people I spoke to said they believe the rule was abolished (which from my research seems correct), while the other half said they believe it is still in play.

That said, in addition to the e-mail received from MLB, I researched this on my own and actually found the answer myself hours before MLB confirmed my findings. The answer was right under my nose, and was there all the time. Last year, I was lucky that the Indians gave me their official 2007 Rule 5 eligibility listing. There are three things in that listing that answered all the questions in this case.

Exhibit-A: Brian Barton

Brian Barton was signed as an undrafted free agent on August 13, 2004 and his contract was effective the 2005 season. That said, he was still Rule 5 eligible after the 2007 meaning the 2004 season was included in the “count” for Rule 5 eligibility (2004, 2005, 2006, 2007). This was clear evidence that the future contract rule for draft picks and UDFAs was in fact abolished with the October 2006 CBA, and is why Frank Herrmann and Neil Wagner are eligible, and also that Carlton Smith and Jerad Head are as well.

Exhibit-B: Cirilo Cumberbatch

Last year, Cirilo Cumberbatch was up for Rule 5 protection and was on the 2007 eligibles list. Cumberbatch signed at age 16 on July 4, 2003 during the International Signing Period. Since he was up for Rule 5 protection already in 2007, it means the 2003 season was included in the “count” even though he did not play that season (2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007). Again, clear evidence that with the October 2006 CBA the future contract rule for players signed during the International Signing Period was in fact abolished and that Hector Rondon, Carlos Santana, and Isaias Velasquez are all eligible this year.

Exhibit-C: Julio Bolivar

He was not listed on the 2007 Rule 5 eligibles list, so who is Julio Bolivar and why is he so important you ask? The fact he is NOT listed was the key. Bolivar was signed at age 16 on November 17, 2003 and was since released earlier this year, but the release is not important. What is important is that he was not on the eligibles list even though he signed the same year as Cirilo Cumberbatch and at the same age. The difference is, Cumberbatch signed during the International Signing Period, and Bolivar did not as he signed after it. By signing after it, Bolivar’s “count” did not start until 2004 and the 2003 season was not included so he was not Rule 5 eligible (2004, 2005, 2006, 2007). What this means is players who signed from September to December 2004 such as Kelvin De La Cruz, Jansey Infante, Juan Aponte, and Angel Rodriguez are not Rule 5 eligible this year.

Hopefully this clears up any confusion, and I apologize for some of the inaccuracies originally reported. When I found them or was questioned or made aware of them I made sure to research and find the answers. This is a painful process in determining Rule 5 eligibility, especially since the Indians and MLB will not provide an official listing until a week or so before the draft (I got lucky with it last year). This was a learning process for sure, and something that I think going forward clears things up in determining eligibility for future Rule 5 Drafts.

If anything new comes down the pipeline from MLB or anyone else, I will report it. Until then, the
2008 Rule 5 eligibles I have listed I am very certain is accurate.

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