A lot of even the most die-hard baseball fans have not heard of the Rule Five Draft or, if they have, they don’t know a lot about it or the impact it can possibly have on their favorite team. Honestly, I learned a lot about it last season because of one ballplayer who did make a difference on the A’s, a player named Nate Freiman.
But let’s first look at what the Rule 5 Draft is and how it works. As stated by MLB.com, a team can select any player who is not already on a 40-man roster and who has played at least four years of professional baseball since signing at age 19 or who has played at least five years of professional baseball since signing at the age of 18.
There are three phases of the draft: Double-A, Triple-A, and Major League. If a player is selected from the minors, money does not exchange hands between the player’s existing organization and his new one. This changes, however, in the Major league phase of the Rule Five draft. In this case, a team must pay $50,000 to the team from which they choose a player. The selected player must be kept on their new team’s 25-man roster for the entire season. The player may not be not be optioned or designated for assignment.
If a selecting team feels the need, they do have the option to waive a Rule Five player. If the player clears waivers but does not sign with another MLB team, he must be optioned back to his original team for $25,000.
A Rule Five player must be active for 90 days. This discourages teams from placing a Rule Five draftee on the disabled list for the majority of the season. Even if the draftee is placed the DL for a number of days, the remainder of the 90 days carries over to the next season. Once a Rule Five player has spent a full 90 days on a MLB team, his status reverts to normal and he may be optioned or designated for assignment.
Yes, this all sounds clinical and confusing at first. But, let’s look at Nate Freiman. Freiman, who was drafted by the San Diego Padres in 2009, spent the first four years of his professional career making waves but he was kept in the minors due to the Padres playing their regular first baseman, Yonder Alonso. Now eligible for the Rule Five draft, Freiman was selected in the second round by the Houston Astros. By March, the Astros had to waive him due to their signing first baseman/designated hitter, Carlos Pena, their acquisition of first baseman/designated hitter, Chris Carter (from Oakland), and their already everyday first baseman, Brett Wallace; there was just no room left for Freiman. He then cleared waivers and was picked up by the Oakland Athletics.
At this point Freiman had not yet started to fulfill his 90 active days, so the A’s had to keep him on their roster those 90 days. Freiman stayed on the A’s the entire year making some important contributions at first base and at the plate. On April 3, he had two hits in three at-bats in his major league debut. It seemed the A’s had found the right-handed-hitting first baseman they had been looking for to complement their current staple at first base, left handed hitter, Brandon Moss. Freiman also was named Rookie of the Month for the month of May after going 13-37 with a .351 batting average.
The most notable moment of 2013 for Freiman and his real introduction to the rest of the major leagues was a walk-off single against New York Yankees’ iconic closer Mariano Rivera. Rivera, pitching in his final season and final game at Oakland’s O.Co Coliseum, came in during the 18th inning of a marathon game to pitch to Freiman. Freiman hit a walk off single to left field scoring catcher John Jaso thus ending what was becoming an almost unbearable hot July day that was beginning to turn into evening! Currently, Freiman has a job with the Athletics platooning regularly with Moss at first base.
Freiman is an example of a Rule Five draftee whose dreams of major league baseball stardom (at least in Oakland) came true because of that rule! Typically a lot of Rule Five players who end up like Freiman might have after being waived by the Astros and not been picked up by a team, if lucky, are optioned back to their original team and most likely end up back in the minor leagues.
Fortunately for Freiman, he delivered exactly what the A’s wanted and, so far, things are looking up for the six-foot-eight first baseman.