Obviously, the fact these players aren't 40-man material generally means you're looking at fairly low impact acquisitions at best. Brian Barton was a nice pickup for the Cards in the Rule 5 a couple years back, and is fairly representative of the sort of player we're talking about. (Sadly, the Cardinals then turned around and traded Barton for the immortal Blaine Boyer, which did not work out all that well for anyone.)
It's not a lock the Cards will select anyone at all this year; their 25-man roster is pretty tight at the moment, and it may not be possible for them to take a player and hide him all season. Still, here's a quick rundown of five names that could just turn out to be useful additions to the Redbird roster.
Marquez Smith, 3B, Cubs --
Smith is the biggest name in the Rule 5 this year; he's much more talented than your average Rule Fiver and isn't so far from the major leagues still that it's impossible to believe he could make a legitimate contribution in 2011. So why are the Cubs leaving him exposed? Well, to be honest, that's a very good question, and one which doesn't seem to have an immediate answer. Suffice it to say there's a numbers crunch and, well, they're the Cubs. Shit happens.
Anyway, Smith is an athletic third baseman who has also seen a bit of time here and there in the middle infield. He has tremendous power, as evidenced by his .574 slugging percentage (.958 OPS), at Triple A Iowa in 2010. His defense is at least average. Think of him as sort of a David Freese type, with maybe just a smidge more power and ankles made of honest-to-god bone and sinew instead of aluminum foil.
Kasey Kiker, LHP, Texas Rangers -- Kiker is a former first-round pick who's fallen on some hard times with injuries of late. He's no longer the prospect he was a few years ago, when he would regularly touch 96 with his fastball, but he can still get it up in the low-90s starting. He has a solid changeup as well. His small size (5'10"-ish), and history of fatigue and soreness in his throwing arm screams out reliever to me. The Cardinal system is completely barren of left-handed pitchers of any sort, and while they've recently brought in a couple minor-league free agents to try and remedy that, it certainly wouldn't hurt to kick the tires on Kiker. Bonus: he's a high-school teammate of Colby Rasmus. Wait, maybe that's a bad thing.
Robert Fish, LHP, Los Angeles Angels -- Can you tell I think the Cards could use some help on the left side of the bullpen? Fish is a little like Kasey Kiker, only with even better stuff. He can get his fastball into the mid-90s consistently, and features a slider that has shown plus potential at times. The only problem for Fish is that while he has a premium arm, his numbers have been, for the most part, terrible. (Witness his 8.50 ERA last year in Double A.) His biggest issue has been a proclivity for allowing the home run, which can ruin just about anyone's numbers in a hurry. Still, he has a big-time arm, throws lefty, and the Cards have a pitching coach who specializes in telling pitchers to keep the ball down. Sounds like a match made in heaven to me...
Aneury Rodriguez, RHP, Tampa Bay Rays -- In any other system, Rodriguez would likely be a top ten, maybe top fifteen prospect. In the Rays' loaded farm system he's a victim of too much talent and not enough spots. Rodriguez has started throughout his minor league career, which would make him an ideal candidate for long relief, and he's actually pretty good, which would make him a better candidate than most of the Cards' other recent long relief types. He posted a 3.80 ERA last year at Triple A Durham and features a solid starter's repertoire. Low-90s fastball, decent curve, pretty good changeup. He isn't a wow guy, necessarily, but he looks awfully good for the tiny investment it would take to get him.
Brad Emaus, 2B/3B, Toronto Blue Jays -- Another player that's a little tough to figure out how he's available. Emaus had an outstanding season in 2010, posting an .888 OPS at Triple A Las Vegas while hitting 15 home runs. Even more impressively, he walked as often as he struck out, 50 times each. He's played second and third base both, and while his defense isn't sparkling it isn't seen as a major weakness either.
Personally, I'm still hoping the Cards' master plan this offseason involves moving Skip Schumaker, though those hopes become dimmer with each passing day. If there were an opening at second, Emaus would be an outstanding candidate to get some playing time there. As it is, his ability to play multiple positions would make him useful all the same, and his bat looks very promising. I would suggest him for third base, but the Cardinals already have a very similar player in Matt Carpenter, the Double A third baseman who won the organisation Minor League Player of the Year this past season.
The Cardinals could end up picking no one, or they could end up taking a guy I never even considered covering here. Either way, the Rule 5 is always at least an interesting choice to analyze afterward, no matter which way the wind blows.
Baseball's Winter Meetings will come to an end today, with the annual Rule 5 draft one of the final items on the itinerary. In case you aren't familiar with the Rule 5 draft, here's a decent overview of how it all works. In short, teams can choose any player from another team's minor league system who have been in the system for a certain number of years and are not protected on the 40-man roster. Said player must be put on the acquiring team's 25-man active roster and kept there all season or be offered back to his original team.