Wednesday night, at 11:59 p.m. ET, to be exact, all 30 teams had to decide which players deserved to be added to their 40-man rosters. Those eligible and left unprotected were thus left exposed to selection in December's Rule 5 Draft.
Players first signed at age 18 must be added to 40-man rosters within five seasons or they become eligible to be drafted by other organizations through the Rule 5 process. Players signed at 19 years or older have to be protected within four seasons. Clubs pay $50,000 to select a player in the Major League phase of the Rule 5 Draft, slated to take place on Thursday, Dec. 12. If that player doesn't stay on the 25-man roster for the full season, he must be offered back to his former team for $25,000.
In other words, an international player or high school Draftee signed in 2009, assuming he was 18 or younger as of June 5 of that year, must be protected. A college player taken in the 2010 Draft is in the same boat. Thus, the Rangers added Luis Sardinas to their 40-man roster. Sardinas, the shortstop prospect ranked No. 2 on their Top 20 list and No. 70 on the Top 100, was signed in July 2009. Likewise, the Red Sox added Anthony Ranaudo, Garin Cecchini and Bryce Brentz to their 40-man roster. Ranaudo (No. 6 on the Red Sox Top 20, No. 79 overall) and Brentz (No. 9 on Boston's Top 20) were college draftees in 2010. Cecchini (No. 7 on team list, No. 80 overall) was a high schooler taken in 2010, but because he turned 19 before June 5, he's eligible now.
Seven of MLB.com's Top 100 prospects were added to 40-man rosters on Wednesday.
In total, there were seven Top 100 prospects who were added to 40-man rosters on Wednesday. In addition to Sardinas, Ranaudo and Cecchini, there was Oscar Taveras (No. 2) of the Cardinals, Gregory Polanco (13) and Alen Hanson (39) of the Pirates, as well as Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez (26). Many others from organizational Top 20s learned of their inclusion in the 40-man club on Wednesday as well.
Adding a player like Taveras or Sardinas was a no-brainer. Other decisions aren't as cut-and-dried, though the final list of Rule 5 eligibles isn't quite as exciting as it used to be. Teams have become better at evaluating and identifying talent, taking advantage of extra time to see how a player progresses. It used to be that teams would only have four seasons (three for the 19-and-over set) to make this call. A lot can happen developmentally in a year and, as a result, fewer hidden gems fall between the cracks and into the Rule 5 Draft.
"It was a challenging process as we worked to find balance between protecting the future while maintaining roster flexibility," Pirates general manager Neal Huntington said after adding four players to the 40-man roster, including top prospects Polanco and Hanson. "Having already added Brandon Cumpton and Andrew Lambo during the season, we debated whether to add more than or less than the four we eventually settled on while evaluating the potential impact of each addition/omission. In the end, we feel good about the guys we have added, but would not be surprised if we were hit in the Rule 5 Draft this December."
There are seven players from the first round of the 2009 Draft who were left unprotected. The Nos. 3 and 5 picks, Donavan Tate and Matt Hobgood, are not on a 40-man roster currently. Bobby Borchering, now with the Astros, Chad James of the Marlins and Jio Mier from the Astros all appear to be first-rime Rule 5 eligible.
The 2010 Draft continued the trend, with college players like Deck McGuire of the Blue Jays, Hayden Simpson of the Cubs and the Twins' Alex Wimmers all former first-rounders left unprotected. The Red Sox's Kolbrin Vitek and Zack Cox, now of the Marlins, were first-round bats who haven't quite panned out yet.
Over the last couple of years, the impact of Rule 5 picks has been somewhat limited. Ryan Flaherty, the No. 4 pick in 2011, has spent two seasons as a utility man with the Orioles. Lucas Luetge, taken one spot ahead of him, has been a useful lefty in the Mariners' bullpen. The 2012 crop had a similar group of relievers and part-timers like Josh Fields and Nate Freiman. They stuck in the big leagues, but none seems like the next Josh Hamilton or Johan Santana.
"The extra time has not only afforded teams more evaluation time, but it also has allowed the natural attrition process to be part of the decision," Indians vice president of scouting operations John Mirabelli said. "Consequently, teams are making much better, more precise roster decisions. Scouting the opposition is important, but knowing your inventory is critical and teams are capitalizing on the extra year."
Even with the extra year, teams will take a chance at times in not protecting a player. The Indians left Jesus Aguilar, now ranked as their No. 17 prospect, unprotected a year ago. The thinking was that because he hadn't played much above Class A and was a first baseman only, he wouldn't get taken.
The Indians were right, but they weren't about to make the same mistake twice. Aguilar drove in 105 runs in the Double-A Eastern League in 2013 and has been on fire in the Venezuelan Winter League (.313/.372/.573), so Cleveland added him to its roster on Tuesday.
Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB.com and writes a blog, B3. Follow @JonathanMayoB3 on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.