Leaving players unprotected in the Rule 5 draft comes with varying levels of risk, though they usually wind up back in their organizations as teams give up trying to carry them through an entire major league season.
There’s the occasional waiver claim, which is how the Orioles acquired shortstop José Morban on March 28, 2003. The Twins would have offered him back to the Rangers, but the Orioles intervened and utility player Jeff Reboulet was pulled off the field and told that he actually hadn’t made the club.
Someone needed to be cut to make room for Morban, and the Orioles chose one of the most popular guys in the clubhouse. You can imagine how that was received.
I’m paraphrasing here when I say that the conversation went something like this: “Hey Rebs, remember how we told you that you made the club? Well, and you’re gonna laugh ...”
Manager Mike Hargrove basically was stuck with a 24-man roster on a bad team. Morban didn’t play much - he’s listed on Baseball-Reference.com as a “pinch-runner” - spent 2004 with Single-A Frederick and Double-A Bowie and never made it back to the majors.
Anyway, the Orioles returned pitchers Brandon Bailey and Michael Rucker earlier this year. They kept Richie Martin in 2018 and returned Drew Jackson. The Giants selected Steve Johnson in 2009 and returned him. I could go on and on.
The Orioles had three easy decisions last year regarding which players to protect. Ryan Mountcastle, Keegan Akin and Dean Kremer were layups. Ryan McKenna wasn’t as much of a certainty, but he also made the 40-man roster.
Dillon Tate was an obvious choice in 2018 and Branden Kline seemed like a good idea, but he couldn’t avoid the Triple-A shuttle and became a minor league free agent.
Now, about 2016 ...
The Orioles thought they might lose pitchers Joe Gunkel and Jesus Liranzo and put them on the 40-man.
“Joe Gunkel is able to use a three-pitch mix effectively to keep hitters off-balance and has excellent command of his pitches,” executive vice president Dan Duquette said in a statement. “Jesus Liranzo has a power arm, as well as a sinker and slider with strikeout potential. He advanced quickly through our minor league system this past year by limiting walks and hits.”
Liranzo was the more impressive specimen and had a higher ceiling. At age 21, he registered a 1.87 ERA with 66 strikeouts in 53 innings at low Single-A Delmarva and Bowie.
Among the players left unprotected were outfielder Mike Yastrzemski and pitcher Jimmy Yacabonis.
Gunkel and Liranzo never made it to the majors. Gunkel spent 2020 in Japan.
Duquette had three open spots on the 40-man in 2015 and protected pitchers Chris Lee, Parker Bridwell and Andrew Triggs. Bridwell was exposed the previous winter and no one claimed him.
Pitchers Mike Wright and Tyler Wilson were protected in 2014. Reliever Mychal Givens was not.
Pitchers Tim Berry and Eddie Gamboa and catcher Michael Ohlman were protected in 2013.
My point being that it isn’t an exact science.
(Later that month, the Orioles claimed infielder Cord Phelps off waivers from the Indians. I mention this only for the chance to write “Cord Phelps.” And to freely admit that I have almost no recollection of him appearing in three games in 2014.)
The Orioles protected second baseman Jonathan Schoop in 2012, but also pitcher Mike Belfiore. They protected left-hander Zack Britton in 2010, but also first baseman Joe Mahoney and outfielder Matt Angle.
Teams passed on catcher Caleb Joseph and former first-round pick Billy Rowell.
Joseph eventually made it to The Show. Rowell was one of the biggest draft busts in franchise history.
An inexact science, for sure, but teams occasionally get it right.