The Rule 5 galaxy that delivered Akil Baddoo to Detroit exists, and has existed for generations, to keep MLB teams from stockpiling talent in the minors when a few of those talented players might, in fact, be sufficiently skilled to be working somewhere in the big leagues.
The Rule 5 remains a long-odds, ridiculously inexpensive, game of chance that, on rare occasions, can pay off more mightily than a casino slot-machine’s most generous night.
It works in this fashion:
The 40-man roster is a MLB team’s lockbox where its best young talent is housed and secured. It is a big-league team’s personnel framework.
If a player age 18 or younger has signed with a big-league team, he must be added to that team’s 40-man roster within five years. If the player is 19 or older, there’s a four-year window.
If a player has surpassed the four- or five-year deadline and isn’t on the club’s 40-man manifest, another big-league club can fork over a relatively paltry $100,000 and acquire the player — with one provision that explains why Rule 5 acquisitions aren’t commonplace and why Rule 5 steals are exceedingly rare.
That player must be placed on the next season’s 26-man, everyday big-league roster — April through September. There can be no side trips to the minors. If the team that just poached the player decides it can no longer justify stashing its Rule 5 prodigy in the dugout, clubhouse, or on a roster designed to win baseball games, he must be offered back to the original team for one-half ($50,000) of the original sticker price.
A trade also can be worked out, but the usual practice for a player who didn’t quite survive the Rule 5 thrill-ride is to be returned to his original big-league parentage.
The Tigers, of course, added Victor Reyes three years ago as a Rule 5 prize and still deploy him as part of manager AJ Hinch’s day-to-day considerations. Last year’s Rule 5 foray, reliever Rony Garcia, remains with the Tigers. But he currently faces potentially long-term status on the injured list.
Lynn Henning is a freelance writer and former Detroit News sports reporter.