MLB General

"Rule 5": The Golden Rule

by Matt Wells

Thanks to the All-Star game this past Tuesday, the name of Florida Marlin second baseman Dan Uggla was thrown around a lot.  Uggla joined a list of numerous players over the years to be chosen via the Rule 5 draft.  He became the first Rule 5 draft selection to become an All-Star in his first big-league season.

The success of Uggla, the Rule 5 castoff taken from the Diamondbacks, has had people scratching their heads.  They’re not scratching their heads at Uggla’s success; they’re scratching their heads about the draft rule.

What is the Rule 5 draft?  Read on…
Now, I will essentially copy an explanation of the rule I have gotten from another website, for this explanation is perfect.  I have just changed the order the sentences appear in.

“The Rule 5 draft is held annually at baseball’s winter meetings.  If a team selects a player in this draft, they must pay the team they take him from $50,000 and carry him on their major league active roster for the entire upcoming season, barring time on the disabled list. If at any point in that season they decide they no longer can carry the player on their active roster, they then must either sell him back to his original team for half what they paid for him, or work out some alternate trade arrangement.

Players who have been signed in the amateur draft are protected as part of the signing organization for three seasons if they are 19 or older on June 5th preceding the signing of their first contract, or four seasons if they are 18 or younger. If after that window they are not on the major league team’s 40 man roster as of Nov. 20th, they are then available to be selected by any other team in the Rule 5 Draft.”

In essence, this means that, if a player takes longer to develop than the team would like, another team is free to gamble on that player after the timeframe ends.

The tough part of the Rule 5 draft is that the player must stay with his “new” team for an entire season, without spending any time in the minor leagues.  That is harder than it sounds if you have an inexperienced player on your roster.  Sure, that player may be sitting on the bench; however, he is taking up a roster spot that could be used by another player who is more likely to succeed.

Some teams have gambled on unproven players in Rule 5 drafts of the past.  Many teams have found duds – players who were let go by their former teams for a reason.  They never made it big in the majors, and the gamble did not pay off.

However, some teams have found players who have gone on to lead long, successful careers.  Teams who have let these players go have felt remorseful for giving up hope on a future star.  Just think how the Diamondbacks feel about letting All-Star Dan Uggla go.

Outside of Uggla, who is current news, what Rule 5 players have gone on to lead successful careers for their “new” teams?  Well, let’s find out.  I’ll start with those successful players who are no longer playing the game of baseball (players returning to their original teams are included):

Cecil Cooper: 1B – Boston Red Sox, Milwaukee Brewers

Cooper was drafted by the Red Sox in 1968; however, he was taken by the St. Louis Cardinals in the Rule 5 draft two years later.  As luck would have it, the Cardinals decided not to keep Cooper and he would return to the Red Sox organization.  Cooper would be traded to the Milwaukee Brewers in 1977.

Cecil Cooper would become a 5-time All-Star, would hit .300 or better every season from 1977 to 1983, won two Gold Gloves, and won three Silver Slugger Awards.

George Bell: OF – Toronto Blue Jays, Chicago Cubs, Chicago White Sox

Not many know that Bell was originally drafted by the Philadelphia Phillies in 1978 as an amateur free agent.  Two years later, the Blue Jays would take Bell in the Rule 5 draft, and they would help make Bell one of the most successful players in Blue Jay history.

In 12 big league seasons, 9 of which were spent in Toronto, Bell would hit 265 dingers while driving in 1,002 runs.  Bell would win the AL MVP award in 1987 when he hit .308 with 47 homers and 134 RBI.

John Wetteland: RP – Los Angeles Dodgers, Montreal Expos, New York Yankees, Texas Rangers

Wetteland was drafted by the Dodgers in the 1985 amateur draft, but was claimed by the Detroit Tigers in the Rule 5 draft of 1987.  Luckily for the Dodgers, the Tigers soon returned Wetteland to the west coast.

For the four aforementioned teams, Wetteland would go on to save at least 30 games a season in 8 of his 9 seasons as a closer in the majors.  He would lead the American League in saves in 1996 with 43 while closing out games for the Yankees (Mariano Rivera was a set-up man…remember that?!).  Wetteland would be the World Series MVP that year as the Yankees defeated the Atlanta Braves in the Fall Classic.

As a member of the Rangers, Wetteland would set a team record for saves in a season with 43 (a team record that still stands) and he would become the first Ranger pitcher to record a save in an All-Star game.

Kelly Gruber: IF – Toronto Blue Jays, California Angels

Originally drafted by the Cleveland Indians, the Blue Jays found more gold in the Rule 5 draft when they selected Kelly Gruber.  (Remember that the Jays also grabbed George Bell in the Rule 5 draft.)  By 1987, Gruber would become an everyday player for the Jays.

Gruber’s best season came in 1990, when he hit .274 with 31 HR and 118 RBI.  This was one of the most impressive offensive seasons ever put together by a Blue Jay.

During his career, Gruber would be a two-time All-Star, and he would win a Gold Glove and Silver Slugger award (both in 1990).  In addition, in 1990, Gruber would become the first Blue Jay to ever hit for the cycle.

…And the most famous player (not playing anymore) to be involved in the Rule 5 draft…

Roberto Clemente: OF – Pittsburgh Pirates

Very few may know that Clemente was originally drafted by the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1953.  Unable to insert Clemente into a Dodger outfield that consisted of Duke Snider and Jackie Robinson, the Dodgers had Clemente spend the 1954 season in the minors.  This was a risk; Clemente would be eligible to sign with another team after the year.

The Pittsburgh Pirates jumped on Clemente in the next off-season draft (the predecessor to the Rule 5 draft), taking him with the first pick.  And, oh, what a pick that was.

Clemente would finish his career with exactly 3,000 hits and he would become a 4-time NL batting champion.  He would bat better than .300 thirteen times in his career, and his career average would be .317.  Clemente was also a great fielder, winning 12 gold gloves.   He is one of only four players to have 10 or more Gold Gloves and a .300+ lifetime batting average.

The way his life ended was tragic, but while he was playing the game of baseball, he delighted fans of the game with his hard play and his success.  Clemente is the prime example of the success a team might encounter thanks to the Rule 5 draft.

There are some players in the game today that have also been a part of the Rule 5 draft, proving that even the draft can help teams today:

Dan Uggla: IF – Florida Marlins

As everyone now knows, Uggla has become the first player to ever make the All-Star team in his first season after being a part of the Rule 5 draft.  Uggla was drafted by the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2001, but was claimed by the Marlins for $50,000 this past year.

All Uggla has done this season is hit .307 with 13 HR and 51 RBI… in half of a season.  Uggla is a fixture in the Marlins lineup, and though he didn’t play in the All-Star game, just being there was a thrill for the career minor-leaguer.

Just think…even Clemente didn’t make the All-Star team in his first season after the Pirates took him in the Rule 5 draft.  Uggla has that record all to himself.

Trevor Hoffman: RP – Florida Marlins, San Diego Padres

Hoffman, who is currently second in baseball history in the saves department, was originally drafted by the Cincinnati Reds in 1988.  In 1992, the expansion Florida Marlins took Hoffman in the Rule 5 draft and traded him to the San Diego Padres in June 1993.

The Padres are happy they got something in that trade with the Marlins (they traded Gary Sheffield away in that deal) and there is no doubt that Hoffman will be a Hall of Famer when his career is over.  Just tell Trevor to block out the 2006 All-Star Game.

Scott Podsednik: OF – Seattle Mariners, Milwaukee Brewers, Chicago White Sox

Podsednik was originally drafted by the Texas Rangers; he struggled so mightily that he never rose through the ranks of the Rangers organization.  He was taken by the Mariners in the Rule 5 draft of 2000.

Podsednik never played much in Seattle and he was traded to the Brewers in 2002 for $20,000.  Talk about a “steal.”  He would become a regular in 2003, when he would hit .314, steal 43 bases, and have an OBP of .379.  He would finish second in the Rookie of the Year voting to Marlins pitcher Dontrelle Willis.

Podsednik would steal 70 bases in 2004 and, with the White Sox needing speed, they would acquire him at the end of the season in the trade that sent Carlos Lee to the Brewers.  This trade benefited both teams.

Podsednik made his presence known last year in Chicago, stealing 59 bases during the regular season.  Despite hitting no homers during the campaign, he would hit two in the postseason, including a game-winner off of Astro closer Brad Lidge in Game 2 of the World Series.  This helped the White Sox win their first World Series championship since 1917.

Derrick Turnbow: RP – Anaheim Angels, Milwaukee Brewers

Turnbow was originally drafted by the Philadelphia Phillies in 1997, but would be taken by the Angels in the Rule 5 draft of 1999.  Turnbow would spend three years in Anaheim, compiling a record of 2-0 in 39 appearances.  He would not record any saves in those three years.

The Brewers would pick Turnbow up off waivers after the 2004 season.  This move would pay off, as Turnbow would become the team’s closer for the 2005 season.  He would go 7-1 with 39 saves and, this year, he was a member of the All-Star team.

…And the most successful player (still playing) to be involved in the Rule 5 draft…

Johan Santana: SP – Florida Marlins, Minnesota Twins

The lefty-throwing Santana was originally signed as a non-draft free-agent in 1995 by the Houston Astros.  The Marlins would choose Santana in the Rule 5 draft of 1999 and would soon trade him to the Minnesota Twins.  Big mistake, Marlins.

Santana started out as a reliever, but moved into the Twins starting rotation in 2003.  He would go 8-0 after August that year, finishing up the season with a 12-3 mark.  Yep, Santana was there to stay in that rotation.

In 2004, Santana would have a season (primarily a second half of the season) to remember.  He would set a major league record by going 13-0 (that’s no losses) in the second half and would end up putting together quite an amazing string of starts: in ten straight starts, Santana would allow four or fewer hits.  Santana would finish the season 20-6, and he would lead American League pitchers in strikeouts, ERA, strikeouts per 9 IP, WHIP, batting average allowed, OBP, SLG, and OPS, walking only 54 in 228 innings.  He was the clear-cut winner for the AL Cy Young Award.

Santana, though not as dominant as he was in 2004, would still blow away hitters in 2005.  He would compile a record of 16-7 to go along with his 2.87 ERA.  He would finish third in the Cy Young voting behind Anaheim’s Bartolo Colon and New York’s Mariano Rivera.

So far in 2006, Santana is 9-5 with a 2.95 ERA.  Not too bad for a Rule 5 draft selection, eh?


The Rule 5 draft has indeed produced its share of duds over the years.  With those duds have come those diamonds in the rough.

Thanks to the Rule 5 draft, every team believes that they can find the next Roberto Clemente, Trevor Hoffman, or Johan Santana.  Let’s see if Dan Uggla can keep up his successful season…

If you didn’t know about the Rule 5 draft, you do now.  Even I learned something researching this article.  See, you can learn something new every day!


IMPORTANT SOURCE (so I didn’t plagarize):

By Matt Wells

27 years old. From New Jersey. I'm a fan of all four major sports, though I know most about football and baseball. Favorite teams: Sabres (NHL), Yankees (MLB). General fan of baseball and football, as well.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *