Three weeks before baseball’s Winter Meetings get rolling at Las Vegas, the Tigers made a roster move Monday designed to protect any over-poaching during next month’s Rule 5 draft.
Hours before an 8 p.m. deadline, the Tigers added minor-league starter Franklin Perez to their 40-man roster. He was the principal, non-protected farm prospect who otherwise could have been exposed during the Rule 5 sweepstakes, which annually is a Winter Meetings final act.
Perez, who next month turns 21, came to the Tigers 15 months ago during a deadline trade that sent Justin Verlander to Houston. He has spent five seasons in professional baseball and, if not added to the 40-man roster for 2019, would have been available for a Rule 5 grab.
Perez was hurt during most of 2018 after LAT muscle and shoulder inflammation all but wiped out his first year with the Tigers. But he is fully recovered and the Tigers expect him to be among their top farm talents in 2019.
Players must be 19 when they were signed and have at least four seasons in the minors, without 40-man roster status, to be eligible for Rule 5 selection. Players who were signed at a younger age must be in the minors for at least five seasons.
The Tigers had not, at mid-day, made any further additions to a roster that now sits at 39 players.
That left the door open for other Tigers talent to potentially be snatched when the Rule 5 draft is held Dec. 13.
A strong candidate would be right-handed reliever Paul Voelker, 26, who was a 10th-round Tigers pick in 2014 out of Dallas Baptist.
Voelker has had consistently bright numbers throughout his five years on the Tigers farm: 2.88 ERA, 197 hits in 240.1 innings, 275 strikeouts, with a 1.18 WHIP. His opponent batting average is .224.
Voelker is on the slighter side at 5-foot-10, 185 pounds. The Tigers have always regarded him as potential bullpen help, but with a crop of young relievers emerging, most of which are projected to have more upside, the Tigers appear to have taken a calculated risk.
Relievers generally are the easiest players to select during a Rule 5 draft because of greater ability to use them flexibly or to “hide” them during a 162-game schedule.
Voelker was suspended for 50 games in 2017 after testing positive for amphetamines.
Rule 5 players can be drafted from another team for $100,000 and must remain on the acquiring club’s 25-man active roster throughout the ensuing season. It is the same process by which the Tigers in 2018 carried outfielder Victor Reyes, who is now on the 40-man roster and who can be returned to the Tigers farm, as is likely, in 2019.
If a Rule 5 player does not stick with his new big-league club throughout the year, he must either be returned to his former team, for one-half the acquisition fee, or he can be traded to the acquiring club.
Other players are likewise eligible for pick-up by another team, but chances would appear remote any would be snatched next month.
Cam Gibson, Derek Hill, and Jose Azocar, all outfielders who have not hit in the manner hoped for, qualify there, although Gibson batted .250 in 48 games at Double A Erie, with a .731 OPS. He is a solid defender and a base-hustler with a left-handed bat who would perhaps rank second to Voelker as a player who could be plucked.
The Tigers will have the fifth overall pick in next month’s Rule 5 draft but are not expected to add a player. They continue to shop for a starting shortstop, as well as probable starting pitching help, as free-agent browsing and trade conversations continue.