one often-overlooked feature of the recently concluded winter meetings is the rule 5 draft, whereupon (in the major league phase of the draft) clubs are allowed to swoop down upon eligible unprotected players left off the 40-man roster of other organizations for a nominal fee -- and are allowed to keep them permanently if they manage to retain the player on their active roster for the entire upcoming year. players acquired in the minor league phases face no such roster restrictions.
this is a difficult feat, but not unprecedented -- and, as the most famous rule 5 pickup of recent years has demonstrated, it can also be significant.
the cubs were involved this year, picking up troubled former first-overall-pick josh hamilton in the major league phase only to trade him on to the reds. they further acquired from the minor phases jim henderson, and then by trade kevin hart for freddie bynum, clearing a spot on the 40-man (to which hart will not be added).
taken out of the cub system were (in the major league phase) ed campusano, lincoln holdzkom and jason smith, and (in the minor league phases) richard lewis and andy shipman.
arizona phil at cub reporter runs down the details best. henderson and hart are non-prospects of whom we figure never to hear again, and (unlike last year) the same can be said for much of what the cubs lost. but the team has potentially lost something in holdzkom. campusano may be the more likely to stick on a roster given that he is a lefty reliever and shipman was talked out highly before struggling in 2006, but former marlin draftee holdzkom has been near-impossible to hit for much of his interrupted career as a righthanded reliever. he pitched much of 2003 with a torn ligament in his elbow, undergoing a tommy john procedure that put him on the shelf for 2004 and much of 2005. he was subseqently traded to the cubs in the todd wellemeyer deal prior to the 2006 season, but his performance last year was impressive -- holdzkom returned to throw in the mid-90s with better command of his fastball-curve-slider repertoire than he had exhibited in years past. if the surgery rehabilitation has left holdzkom with better mechanics and command than he showed in the arizona fall league last month -- 13 walks in 20.1 ip, too small a sample to say much -- holdzkom may make it with the tigers.