The Rule 5 deadline might not seem like an important day for many baseball fans, but for young players around the game, it’s one of the biggest days on the calendar.
Every offseason, all 30 teams have until a specified date (Nov. 19 in 2021) to add players to their 40-man rosters in order to protect them from being selected in next month’s Rule 5 Draft.
Players who signed at the age of 18 or younger are not eligible to be taken in the Rule 5 Draft until the end of their fifth year in professional baseball, while players who signed at 19 or older are not eligible until they have played four years as a pro.
For 2020, that meant an international or high school Draft pick signed in 2016 (assuming he was 18 or younger as of June 5 that year) must be protected, as was the case for college players selected in the 2017 Draft.
Any eligible player left unprotected can be selected by another club during the Rule 5 Draft, and as one agent said, “Every player thinks they’re going to be chosen.”
For clubs, the reasons are obvious when it comes to deciding who will get those coveted 40-man roster spots.
But for players, being added to the 40-man roster is about much more then Rule 5 eligibility.
“It gets them on the path to make real money,” one American League executive said.
It also puts them on course to achieve their ultimate dream, which is suiting up for a Major League team. Players can’t be called up to the Majors until they’re placed on the 40-man roster, so earning one of those spots puts them one step closer to The Show.
“It really signifies that you’re on the radar,” a National League executive said.
There are plenty of other benefits for players placed on the 40-man roster. They immediately become members of the MLB Players Association, receiving the same benefits as every Major Leaguer.
You automatically get invited to big league camp
Players on the 40-man roster are also typically invited to Major League camp each spring, giving them an opportunity to display their skills for the team’s coaching staff and front office.
Even if they don’t make the club out of Spring Training, they will have had a chance to leave an impression that could help them earn a promotion if a player is injured or struggles during the season. It also greatly increases the chance for a player to be called up when rosters expand in September.
Players on the 40-man make more money
There are financial advantages, too. Minor League players not on a 40-man roster are paid from April through August, while rostered players earn an extra month of salary in September whether they’re promoted or not.
“Financially, it’s normally a big boost in salary, and you have the opportunity to go to MLB camp and prove yourself,” Yankees reliever Zack Britton said. “Those are probably the biggest benefits and why it’s so important for players.”
Many fans probably hear “40-man roster” and think it’s just inside baseball jargon, but being added to it is really a significant rite of passage for players.
“I was more excited about being put on the 40-man [than being drafted],” said Britton, who was selected by the Orioles in 2006. “I kept refreshing the Orioles' website to see my name get put on the roster. It was cool.”
Your chances of sticking somewhere really increase
Once a player has been placed on the 40-man roster, it increases their chances of landing in a better situation -- whether it’s with their current club or another. If their team needs to make room on the 40-man roster and is required to remove someone, the player removed must be placed through the waiver process, giving the other 29 clubs a chance to claim him. For some players, being claimed by another organization can be a blessing if they believe their path to the Majors is currently being blocked.
“Every player believes there’s a different club that loves them,” the agent said. “If only they could get there.”
In other words, the Rule 5 deadline is more significant to young players around the league than most people realize.