So the Astros added Tommy Manzella, Drew Sutton, Polin Trinidad and Brian Bogusevic to the roster to keep them from being selected in December's Rule 5 draft.
What is the Rule 5 Draft? Held every December at the GM Winter Meetings (this year in Las Vegas), the basic idea is to keep Major League teams from stockpiling talent that other teams could use for their 25-man roster. The regular amateur draft, held every June, is technically the Rule 4 draft (thanks to its place in the collective bargaining agreement).
Teams who don't have any spots on their 40-man roster cannot participate in the Rule 5 draft and the draft order is based on final place in the standings. However, if a team drafts a player in the Rule 5 draft, he has to stay on the 25-man roster all season. He can't be optioned to the minors or designated for assignment. The team is allowed to waive the Rule 5 selectee - if he clears waivers, he goes back to the team that did not protect him.
Players who are 19 years old or above when they sign are protected from the Rule 5 draft for three years. Each draft selection costs $50,000 to prevent just picking anybody, I guess.
The Astros have been fairly active in the Rule 5 draft. 1999, Gerry Hunsicker is the GM. Hunsicker, in one of only a very few questionable moves in his time with the Astros, decides not to protect a young pitcher named Johan Santana - who is then selected by the Florida Marlins, who trades him to the Twins.
Astros selections in the Major League portion of the Rule 5 draft over the last ten years (no pick in omitted years):
2007 - Wesley Wright
2006 - Lincoln Holdzkom (returned to the Cubs)
2003 - Willy Taveras
1998 - Current Director of Pacific Rim Scouting (or something like that) Glen Barker
Other notable Major Leaguers selected in the Rule 5 draft include:
Shane Victorino (twice)
Josh Hamilton - who was taken by the Cubs, and then traded for cash to the Reds. Can you imagine an outfield of Soriano, Hamilton, and some other scrub?
Scott Podsednik (whose 2005 Game 1 World Series homer I watched today in front of a room full of kids, and had to try not to cry. Or swear.)
Roberto Clemente. That's right. Clemente.