Today is the day that your favorite major league team might enjoy an early holiday gift, finding their own Johan Santana or Roberto Clemente under the big tree at the Bellagio Hotel. Why? It's the last day of the Winter Meetings in Las Vegas and the day for everyone's favorite young player dispersal mechanism: the Rule Five Draft!
What is the Rule Five Draft? I'm not entirely sure, that's why this is the Idiot's Guide, because I'm an idiot. Basically, it prevents teams from stockpiling prospects. If a player is not on his team's 40-man roster, and is not subject to some mumbo-jumbo age restrictions, he's eligible to be cherry-picked today by the other 29 teams. The draft order is decided by how teams finished during the regular season last year. That's why Washington should get used to having the first pick from this point forward, what with the Rays actually learning to be a real major league team last season.
In exchange for drafting a player, the drafting team gives up $50,000, or the approximate cost of one of Peter Angelos' toupees. If a player gets selected, they have to spend the entire next season on that team's 25-man roster or the team will risk losing that dude to his original team. That would be embarrassing. Teams don't have to select a player if they don't want. I mean, look at the 'big' names available this year: Eduardo Morlan, Donnie Veal, Dmitri Young, Ryan Mullins, Chris Mason, Juan Abreu and Jordan Brown. I've heard of two of those guys, and only because one of them, a once-untouchable Cubs pitching prospect, has a last name that sounds delicious sauteed with a light lemon butter sauce, and the other one was a violent alcoholic.
So cross your fingers and hope that your favorite team ends up with someone like one of the all-time Rule V Draft success stories, Johan Santana, Roberto Clemente, or Bobby Bonilla. Or even better, someone like Shane Victorino, who was selected in this draft in 2002 by the Padres, later returned to the Dodgers, and then selected again in the 2004 Rule V Draft by the Phillies. The Flyin' Hawaiian gets around!
UPDATE: The Nats took Cincinnati's pitcher Terrell Young with pick number one. Donald Veal was taken by the pitching-starved Pirates at pick number four. Also, the Yankees have had three players taken so far in the first round because their farm system is A+++ superfantastic.