The 2014 Rule 5 draft will take place during the Winter Meetings in sunny San Diego, December 8-11. There are plenty of articles out there that explain what the Rule 5 draft is and the eligibility requirements for players, so I'll just link to the one Jayne did at What The Heck, Bobby? this past summer.
Unlike unlike the past few years when the Astros were picking first, this year the they will be picking fourth. There will certainly be some interesting names at the fourth pick this year, however, it's not a given that the Astros will draft anyone. The question the Astros have to ask when deciding on whether or not to draft someone in the Rule 5 draft, "Is that player better than someone on the 40-man roster?" Last year the Astros decided not to use their pick and instead acquired Anthony Bass from the San Diego Padres. The Padres ended up getting Patrick Schuster out of the Arizona Diamondbacks system with the Astros first pick. He was returned to the DBacks before the 2014 season began. Bass struggled to stay healthy this year, but has the potential to be a solid pitcher for the Astros. All at the cost of a Rule 5 pick that didn't make it out of Spring Training with the Padres.
With the depth of talent the Astros have acquired over the last few years finally starting to make it's way to the majors, the Astros have a bit of a tight rope to walk in regards to the 40-man roster. Can they protect key pieces of the depth they've acquired over the past few years?
Guys like: Jobduan Morales, Ronald Torreyes, Danry Vasquez, Ganzalo Sanudo and Kyle Weiland are all available in this years Rule 5 draft and all of whom were acquired by the current front office. The challenge comes in the fact that Vincent Velasquez, Michael Feliz, and Delino DeShields are also all available and need to be protected. As of this post the Astros have exactly one spot free on the 40-man roster. Adding to the complication is that the Astros intend to add $20 million in payroll this offseason, which means a few more major league players will need to be added to the 40-man roster.
So what do they do?
There's a good chance that the Astros will be very active in trade discussions this offseason, in an effort to not only improve the major league team, but to also free up some spots for them to be able to protect some players. The Astros utilized this strategy last offseason and at this past trade deadline. They acquired Dexter Fowler for Brandon Barnes and Jordan Lyles last offseason, freeing up one 40-man roster spot in the process. They also managed to free up another spot this past trade deadline when they traded Jarred Cosart and Enrique Hernandez for Jake Marisnick and prospects that aren't Rule 5 eligible. I would expect more of the same this offseason and expect that the Astros make a trade between now and the end of the Winter Meetings.
The List of Rule 5 eligible Astros players
I have to thank Jayne Hansen from What the Heck, Bobby? and talshill on the MLB forums for doing most of the leg work on the list. I've just added and subtracted a few names that were missing. As moves are made between now and the Rule 5 list I will try to keep the list update and as a site we hope to have some more Rule 5 posts as we get closer to that draft.
On the bottom is are two tabs. One for players and one for the current state of the 40-man roster. Guys in bold are guys that we think are of interest and could potentially be taken in the Rule 5 draft.