Following the 2015 season, it was clear where the Padres stood. A.J. Preller’s wild experiment had turned out to be a resounding failure, and it was clear something new had to be tried. Although the team still had some big contracts on the books, Preller made a concerted effort to add new big league talent that was unwanted on other rosters.
Enter the Rule 5 draft. For those who don’t know, the Rule 5 draft is held every year at the close of the league’s annual Winter Meetings. In this draft, each team gets the opportunity to select players from other organizations who are not protected on the forty-man roster. Some other rules apply, including those governing which players are eligible to be selected, but the process is used to allow players to receive big league opportunities they would possibly not receive within their current organization. The draft itself is a win-win; teams get to take a chance on players that other organizations might not see in the same light, and players get a better chance at cracking a big league roster.
At the 2015 Winter Meetings, the Padres took full advantage of the Rule 5 draft, selecting an unprecedented four players, which included the selections of Josh Martin and Blake Smith, and the acquisitions of Luis Perdomo and Jabari Blash via trade. Given that the selecting team must keep the drafted player on their big league roster for the entirety of the next season, it is uncommon for a team to select more than one or two players in the draft. With four players, A.J. Preller was seemingly attempting to exploit some sort of market inefficiency.
In terms of results, the Padres cannot be too disappointed with how the draft turned out. In Perdomo, the Padres found a potential starter of the future, as the young right-hander overcame a poor start to the season to become one of the Padres’ most promising pitchers. Beyond that, the Padres also found a long-term project in Jabari Blash, although he was not kept on the big league roster, so he was sent back to his original team, the Seattle Mariners, before being reacquired by the Padres soon after. Although both Smith and Martin ended up being sent back to their respective teams prior to Opening Day, the fact that the Padres found two relatively successful players in the draft is no small feat.
Going into the 2016 Rule 5 draft, the Padres appear poised to once again exploit that advantage. On Friday afternoon, it was announced that the Padres had non-tendered not only Alexi Amarista, Jon Edwards, Erik Johnson, Jose Pirela, and Hector Sanchez, but also former ace Tyson Ross. While the first five names made sense as non-tender candidates, Ross was the one who was a bit surprising. Going into 2017, Ross was in his final year of team control and was projected to have an arbitration salary just shy of $10 million. It was clear the Padres weren’t willing to pay that amount for a player who missed the entirety of the 2016 season with shoulder issues. The Padres may still try to re-sign Ross for a lower salary, but that remains to be seen. Here is an EVT preview of the rule-5 draft as we attempt to predict whom the Padres are interested in.
In addition to those players being non-tendered, it was also announced on Friday that the Padres moved last year’s starting catcher, Derek Norris, to the Washington Nationals in return for the Nationals 23rd ranked prospect, Pedro Avila. With these six players being non-tendered, and Norris being traded, the Padres currently have only 33 players on their 40-man roster, leaving seven more spots left to be filled before Opening Day. Now, obviously the Padres may want to use these spots for free agent signings, but having so many open spots allows the Padres a lot of flexibility this off-season. At least some of that flexibility can, and perhaps should, be used in the Rule 5 draft once again.
With the success the Padres had in the Rule 5 draft just last year, it makes sense for A.J. Preller and company to want to dip into that well one more time. Perdomo was one of the only bright spots for the Padres in 2016, and going into what will probably be another trying year, the Padres need all the bright spots they can get. The Rule 5 draft is a low-risk, high-reward proposition, just the kind of move the Padres need to be making. Every move has future implications, and if the Padres can hit on the right players, that future only gets brighter.