CLEVELAND -- It is not the sexiest part of baseball's Hot Stove season, but the Rule 5 Draft still plays an important role in the constant roster maneuvering that takes place throughout the winter months.
Friday marked the deadline for ballclubs to protect eligible players from selection, and the Indians made a handful of moves to do just that. Cleveland selected the contracts of left-hander Scott Barnes, right-hander Danny Salazar and infielder Juan Diaz in preparation for the Rule 5 Draft on Dec. 8.
The three players were added to the Indians' 40-man roster, which is at capacity for the time being. Prior to the transactions, the Tribe's roster included 38 players, making it necessary for an extra spot to be vacated. In order to do so, Cleveland designated infielder Luis Valbuena for assignment.
As things currently stand, the Indians have 37 players in their system who are eligible to be added in the Rule 5 Draft. Some notable players within that group include outfielders Trevor Crowe, Chad Huffman and Tim Fedroff; lefties T.J. McFarland, Eric Berger and Elvis Araujo; right-handers Bryce Stowell and Rob Bryson; and infielder Jared Goedert.
Selecting a player, however, involves a certain amount of risk. Teams are required to pay $50,000 for a player in the Major League portion of the Rule 5 Draft and, if a draftee does not remain on the acquiring club's active roster for the entire season, he must be offered back to his prevous team at half the cost.
The Indians, who are in the market for an outfielder and possibly a first baseman, would need to clear room on their roster in order to add any Major League players through free agency or trades. Cleveland would also need to vacate a spot on the roster if the club plans on potentially adding a player in the Rule 5 Draft.
Adding the 24-year-old Barnes to the roster seemed like a no-brainer for the Indians. This past season, the lefty went 8-4 with a 3.45 ERA across 18 appearances between Double-A Akron and Triple-A Columbus. As injuries piled up at the big league level, he was on the Tribe's radar as an alternative before a left knee injury in July led to season-ending surgery.
Barnes -- acquired from San Francisco in the July 2009 trade that sent Ryan Garko to the Giants -- enters the 2012 season with a chance to impact the Major League team at some point during the summer. On the current depth chart, Barnes is among the top starting candidates (Jeanmar Gomez, David Huff and Zach McAllister being the others) behind the Major League staff.
Diaz -- a 22-year-old shortstop for Double-A Akron last season -- led the Aeros in doubles (24), multihit games (35), games (133), hits (133) and total bases (192) in 2011. He ended the season hitting .255 with nine homers, four triples and 60 RBIs, earning a spot on the Eastern League All-Star team.
The Indians obtained Diaz, along with outfielder Ezequiel Carrera, as part of the trade that sent Russell Branyan to Seattle on June 27, 2010. Diaz finished this past season with Columbus during the team's run to the Triple-A championship.
Salazar, 21, returned from reconstructive surgery on his left elbow last season and made eight starts between Class A Lake County and the Rookie League Arizona Indians. He posted a 3.07 ERA in those outings, striking out 18 and walking four in 14 2/3 innings.
By designated the 25-year-old Valbuena for assignment, the Indians have 10 days to either trade or release the infielder, or re-assign him to a Minor League affiliate if he clears waivers. Valbuena excelled at Triple-A Columbus last season, hitting .302 with 17 homers and 75 RBIs, but hit just .209 (9-for-43) in a 17-game stint with the Tribe.
Among those left unprotected, Crowe and Huffman represent a pair of players with some big league experience. Crowe -- a regular in Cleveland's lineup in 2010 -- returned from right shoulder surgery this past season and hit .214 over 15 games with the Indians. Huffman hit .246 at Triple-A Columbus in 2011 and had a cup of coffee with the Yankees a year earlier.
Some intriguing lefties eligible include McFarland, Berger and Araujo. McFarland, 22, went 9-10 with a 3.74 ERA over 27 starts (Class A Kinston/Double-A Akron). Berger, 25, had a 4.04 ERA between Double-A and Triple-A and piled up 87 strikeouts over 71 1/3 innings. Araujo, 20, went 9-1 with a 3.36 ERA in 15 games (Rookie/Class A Mahoning Valley).
Other interesting candidates include: Stowell (2.09 ERA, 57 strikeouts and 21 walks in 38 2/3 innings over three levels); Bryson (2.29 ERA, 48 strikeouts, 16 walks, 39 1/3 innings over three levels); Fedroff (.308 average, three homers, 28 doubles, six triples and 63 RBIs over 132 games between Double-A/Triple-A); and Goedert (.272, 18 homers and 48 RBIs over 87 games between Double-A/Triple-A).