Breaking Down Options for a Rule 5 player

Mike McGinnis

Here's a quick guide to the Brewers' choices in handling Rule 5 pick Wei-Chung Wang.

With a healthy Tom Gorzelanny racking up rehab appearances and the eventual return of Jim Henderson (hopefully), the Brewers may have some decisions to make in the front end of the bullpen.

Francisco Rodriguez, Will Smith, and Tyler Thornburg aren't going anywhere. Rob Wooten has become a go-to guy for Roenicke in tough spots against right-handed batters. Zach Duke has been tremendous and cannot be sent on an optional assignment to the minors without clearing waivers - something that becomes increasingly unlikely with each effective outing. Furthermore, he could elect free agency instead of the minor league assignment. Brandon Kintzler has been up-and-down in lieu of a shoulder strain and some well-placed jamshots and grounders and has an option remaining, making him most likely to go should Roenicke & company have no qualms about a bullpen with three left-handers.

And Wei-Chung Wang.

If you still haven't accepted that the Brewers will be keeping the struggling developmental reliever (SDR, like a long reliever [LR], setup man [SU] or closer [CL]) on the roster all season and wish to bark up the tree when transactions start to unroll in the coming days, the following information may be of aid. Many of you are already familiar with most of this, but the hope here is to clear up any possible confusion concerning the comings and goings of a Rule 5 player for those who may be fuzzy on the details.

Possible things that can happen with Wei-Chung Wang:

  • The Brewers keep him on the active roster throughout the season and Rule 5 restrictions expire. He is then a normal member of the 40-man roster with three minor league options and a year of service time.
  • He remains a Brewer and Rule 5 restrictions expire if he spends at least 90 days on the active roster and the rest on the disabled list with a legitimate injury. Friday is Wang's 64th day on the active roster. If the commissioner believes a team is "hiding" a player on the DL, the club may be subject to a penalty at the commissioner's discretion.
  • The Brewers trade a prospect, cash, etc. to Pittsburgh in exchange for Wang, thereby terminating Rule 5 restrictions. He is then free to be optioned to the minor leagues.
  • If the Brewers decide to not keep him and cannot work a trade, he must be placed on outright assignment waivers. Any of the other 29 MLB clubs can claim him for the $25,000 Rule 5 fee. The order of outright waiver claims is in the opposite order of the standings in this manner: worst in NL to best in NL, followed by worst in AL to best in AL. The Rule 5 restrictions still apply to the player, so the claiming team must then keep him on their active roster. The risk here is that a team like the Cubs claims him and they can more easily absorb his struggles with no stake in the pennant race.
  • If he goes unclaimed, he must be offered back to the Pirates for $25,000. If the Pirates buy him back, he is placed back on the minor league reserve list* from which he was drafted - not their major league roster. Obviously, Rule 5 restrictions then terminate.
  • If he is unclaimed and the Pirates do not buy him back, Rule 5 restrictions terminate and he is removed from the Brewers' 40-man roster (because he was outrighted), free to be sent to the minor leagues or released.

It isn't simply a case of offering him back to the Pirates or not. The important points are 1) "hiding" Wang on the DL is clearly unethical and could actually draw the discipline of the commissioner, and 2) every team must pass on claiming Wang for $25k before he can be offered back to the Pirates.

At this point, I would guess he clears waivers. Because of this, the Pirates have all the leverage in any trade talks. The only chance the Brewers have of reversing this is convincing the Pirates that the Cubs (or maybe the Diamondbacks or Astros) will claim him and keep Wang on their roster for the remainder of the season.

The more likely scenario is that the Brewers ride it out and hope his ineffectiveness and the domino-effect workload on the rest of the bullpen doesn't impact their playoff prospects. It has worked so far. He could make things much easier by simply not imploding every time he takes the hill.

*Note for the extra curious: there are minor league reserve lists for each level. They must be set up prior to the Rule 5 Draft (by November 20th) to prevent other teams from drafting players to their own minor league rosters. In the minor league phase of the draft, a club can draft a player on another team's AA reserve list to play for their AAA affiliate for $12,000 as long as their own AAA reserve list is less than the maximum of 39 - just like MLB's 40-man roster, or "reserve list." Same relationship exists between AA and lower levels, with a lowered cost of $4,000, However, most prospects of note are protected on reserve lists which are largely close to full; therefore, the minor league phase has very little relevance.

Credit due to Keith Law and The Cub Reporter.

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