A.J. Preller just couldn’t let the winter meetings pass without stirring things up a bit, so last Thursday he stole the show … in the Rule 5 draft. The Padres acquired four—yes, four—players during the major-league phase of the Rule 5 draft. While that might not strike you as particularly interesting, remember that a Rule 5 pick must stick on San Diego’s roster all season or be returned to his original team. If that still doesn’t strike you as particularly interesting, well, the Rule 5 draft just might not be your thing. And that’s okay—it’s normal, really.
This past March, for a recent example, the Padres picked up Jandel Gustave off waivers from the Royals. Gustave was acquired by Kansas City in last December’s Rule 5 draft, and when he didn’t make the Padres big-league roster out of spring training, he was sent packing back to Houston. That’s what happens with most Rule 5 picks, although there are notable exceptions (like, say, former Padres shortstop Everth Cabrera or the considerably more famous Johan Santana.) Last year’s Rule 5 draft had a number of players stick with their new clubs all season, like first basemen Mark Canha (A’s) and outfielder Delino DeShields Jr. (Rangers).
Here are the four players the Padres picked up (two selected in the draft and two via trade):
Luis Perdomo, RHP
No, not that Luis Perdomo.
Perdomo might be the most likely player to hang around. BP’s Chris Crawford:
Perdomo has the most upside of any player taken today. He’ll touch 97 from a four-seam fastball with movement, and his slider has loads of hard vertical movement.
(BA’s J.J. Cooper echoed similar sentiment.)
Performance-wise, Perdomo doesn’t look great—he’s posted a career 4.10 ERA and 2.87 strikeout-to-walk ratio, and he’s 22 years old and still hasn’t cracked Double-A. Then again, he’s worked almost exclusively as a starter in the minors, and his high velo fastball-slider combo makes him as good a starter-to-reliever conversion candidate as any.
Jabari Blash, OF
Dude’s got some power. Lots of power. But his success last season—32 home runs and a .946 OPS split between Double-A and Triple-A—came as a 25-year-old, and he’s always been on the older side for his leagues. But, shoot, he’s got power and apparently can handle right field with a plus arm. Gimme a flyer.
Josh Martin, RHP
Like Blash, Martin’s older—he turns 26 on December 30. Also like Blash, Martin’s figured out the minor leagues. Last season in Double-A, he struck out 80, walked 19, and surrendered just four home runs in 67 and 1/3 innings, and he posted similar numbers at High-A the previous season. He’s been strictly a reliever, limiting the upside, and it seems like you can find (at least) two or three of these guys at any minor-league stadium across America. The Padres obviously saw something they liked.
Blake Smith, RHP
The eldest player of the bunch, Smith, 28, throws with his right hand and has touched 95 with the heater, so he checks off two boxes on Preller’s relief pitcher wish list. His minor-league numbers aren’t great—frankly, they’re pretty ugly—but he was converted back into a pitcher from the outfield a couple years ago, so there’s a legit excuse. He also struck out 42 in 30 innings last year in Triple-A; maybe he’s trending in the right direction.
Forget the actual players for a second, and this appears to be a sound strategy by the Padres. For one, it’s a cheap strategy. It costs $50,000 to acquire a player through the Rule 5 draft, and if that player is offered back to his original team, the Padres would recoup $25,000. Two of these guys were acquired via trade, so the investment here should run the Padres something like $50,000 to $100,000 (plus the roster spots), which equates to a rounding error for a major-league team—albeit an expensive rounding error that probably gets some front office intern fired, but still, a rounding error.
For little risk, the Padres essentially get to audition four players for a few months. They get an up close view in spring training, where they can tinker with mechanics, adjust an approach, or simply observe a player daily. If the guy shows big-league readiness—or the upside to be worth carrying all season—the Padres can choose to keep him around. If they don’t like what they see, the Padres can send him back where he came from and forget the whole affair ever happened.
With the Padres straddling the line between competing in 2016 and taking a couple steps back, the Rule 5 selections provide additional flexibility. If there’s still hope for 2016, maybe none of them stick. But if the Padres push more toward a genuine rebuild (or if the division gets any more difficult), maybe it’s worth keeping one or two of these guys around. Either way, it’s a low risk strategy that affords the Padres a chance to add intriguing talent into the organization at little cost. Not a bad way to end the winter meetings, even if it didn’t draw any mainstream headlines.