At midnight ET on Friday -- or technically is that Saturday? -- scores of Minor Leaguers got a better sense of what the immediate future looks like for them. Some have the security of having been added to their team's 40-man roster.
Others were left unprotected, and while that might sting a bit, any of those players are now eligible for the big league lottery known as the Rule 5 Draft. Taking place on Dec. 10, at the Winter Meetings in Indianapolis, the Rule 5 Draft is the ultimate needle in a haystack search.
For just $50,000, a team with roster space can take a player not deemed worthy of 40-man roster protection in the hopes he might be the next Johan Santana, Dan Uggla or Josh Hamilton. There's just as much chance, if not greater, that they'll be the next Enrique Cruz, Tyrell Godwin or Jared Camp. A team that takes a player has to keep him on its 25-man Major League roster all season or offer him back to the original team for $25,000.
"It's another avenue to acquire a player," said Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik, who took Reegie Corona from the Yankees in last year's Major League phase of the Rule 5 Draft, but returned him to New York. "There's a minimal amount of players who stick; the percentages are low you'll get a player with an impact. But most teams will dive in and try."
Just who are the players teams will take a shot with? For players who signed when they were 19 or older (e.g. college draftees) four years ago, or players who signed 18 and younger (international signees or high school draftees) five years ago, all are eligible for the Rule 5 Draft if they're not placed on 40-man rosters. For example, any unprotected college draftees from the 2006 Draft or high school Draft picks from the Class of 2005 are up for grabs.
WHERE THE 40-MAN STANDS
Below is the Draft order for the Rule 5 Draft on Dec. 10 and where each team stands with its 40-man roster. A team must have fewer than 40 to make a selection in the Major League phase of the Draft.
Chicago White Sox
All 30 teams were making roster moves over the course of the final day on Friday to protect the players they felt earned it, and also perhaps to make sure they had room to add players if they decide to be active on Dec. 10.
Of course there were a lot of no-brainers. Cleveland's heir apparent to Victor Martinez's vacated spot, Carlos Santana, was a Futures Game participant and the Eastern League Most Valuable Player in his first full season with the Indians. The lynchpin (if perhaps forgotten) part of the Twins' package they got in return for Johan Santana, Deolis Guerra, also earned a spot despite an inconsistent season. The Pirates made sure to protect several of their top prospects, including right-hander Brad Lincoln and outfielders Jose Tabata and Gorkys Hernandez, the last of whom came over this season in the Nate McLouth deal.
An early scan of decisions made it clear that arms were extremely important, even if it came from relatively unpolished pitchers. The Twins put 7-foot-1 Dutch righty Loek Van Mil on their roster, even though he's still a work in progress who's pitched just 7 1/3 innings above Class A ball. Arm strength is the reason why recently converted position players such as Sergio Santos of the White Sox and Kenley Jansen of the Dodgers were added to their respective 40-man rosters. Santos, a former shortstop, started pitching in May, and while his overall numbers don't look like much -- 8.16 ERA in 28 2/3 innings and a .314 batting average against -- he was clocked in the upper-90-mph range throughout his stint in the Arizona Fall League.
Jansen was a defensive-minded catcher who was behind the plate for the Netherlands in the World Baseball Classic. He first got on the mound competitively at the very end of July, but the Dodgers added him to their roster after 11 2/3 California League innings and 4 2/3 more in the AFL. The stats, again, aren't pretty, but the figures that matter most were the 94-97 mph he was throwing in the Fall League.
Not everyone received the good news of being protected. Early Draft picks from 2006 who can be had in the Rule 5 Draft include White Sox first-rounder Kyle McCulloch, the Reds' Sean Watson and the Indians' Steven Wright. From the 2005 Draft, there are some hitters such as John Drennen, the Rangers' John Whittleman and Koby Clemens of the Astros, who led the Minors in RBIs, albeit in the Class A Advanced California League.
For some, it'll be the second go-round the Rule 5 carousel. Lefty Chuck Lofgren was a 2004 draftee by the Indians. Lofgren had -- by his own admission -- a bad 2008 season, when he posted a 5.99 ERA and wasn't taken in the Rule 5 Draft. He bounced back this season, though a rough ending to the year didn't help his overall numbers. At least this time, he knows what lies ahead.
"It helps in the process where you know what to expect in the Rule 5," said Lofgren, who might draw some interest based on his .179 batting average against vs. left-handed hitters throughout the season. "But you also think about getting picked up, trying to figure out what's going on. You don't know until the Draft."
Lofgren, like all Rule 5 eligible players, can look at the upcoming draft as a new opportunity, a chance to stick in the big leagues and prove to another team he was worth the gamble. That's the positive of the situation they are in now, though it doesn't completely eliminate the sting of being left off by their original team.
"Five years in the Minor Leagues, I've never missed a start because of injury," Lofgren said. "I've been healthy my whole career. I felt I put myself back on the map this year. I was disappointed when I wasn't put on the roster. I thought I had put myself in position to be a guy, but they exposed me to the Rule 5, so we'll see what happens there."
Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.