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On Roster Construction

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Active Roster, 25-man, 26-man, 40-man, options, service time, two-way players, it can all get a bit confusing. Reading below might help.

The 25-man Roster

This is the team’s full roster of active players (hence it’s alternate name “Active Roster”), those which can man the bench during the game and be called on to play. These players must also be on the 40-man roster. This is the roster the team relies on from Opening Day until 31 August. Teams are required to keep a minimum of 24 players on the 25-man roster.

Players Optioned off the 25-man roster and returned to the minors remain on the 40-man roster. They must remain in the minors for 10 days, unless they are being recalled in response to a player from the 25-man roster being placed on the Injured List. In such cases, there is no minimum number of days which the player must remain in the minors.

Exception: An exception is made to the 25-man roster rule for teams playing a double-header. When playing in a double-header, a team may activate one additional player from their 40-man roster to join the bench. This player accrues one day of service time and must be deactivated and sent back to the minors at the conclusion of the double-header. In this case, there is no minimum number of days that the player must remain in the minors before being recalled to the majors.

Major Changes beginning with 2020 season:

Beginning with the 2020 season, the 25-man roster will become a 26-man roster. Teams will be required to keep a minimum of 25 players on the roster. Roster expansion to accommodate double-headers will go from 26 to 27 players, with all the same qualifiers as are already in place.

Unlike now, rosters will have a capped number of pitchers they are allowed to roster. The number has not yet been determined, but is likely to be 14 pitchers. In order to ensure adherence to the rule, each team will need to designate every player as either a position player or a pitcher at the beginning of the season. That designation cannot be changed for the remainder of the season.

A team may also elect to designate a player as a “Two-Way Player”. In order to qualify as a Two-Way Player, he must have accrued at least 20 Major League innings pitched and 20 Major League games started as a position player or designated hitter (with a minimum of three plate appearances in each of those games) in the current or the prior season.

Hard caps on pitchers become more important under the new roster rules as well. Beginning in 2020, position players will be prohibited from pitching except under the following conditions:

  • They are designated as a Two-Way Player
  • A game goes into extra innings
  • The position player’s team is either ahead or behind by more than six runs when he enters the game as a pitcher.

New Roster Expansion Rules: Beginning on 1 September, teams will be required to carry an active roster of 28 players for the remainder of the regular season. Only players on the active 26-man roster at the end of August will be eligible for the playoffs.

40-man Roster

The 40-man roster is a team’s pool of players from which all active players must be selected. It includes all players on the 25/26-man roster, the 7- and 10-day injured lists, the bereavement/family medical emergency list and the paternity leave list. As the active roster only has 25 or 26 members, this roster includes minor league players.

In order for a club to add a player to the 25-man roster, the player must be on the 40-man roster. If a club with a full 40-man roster wishes to promote a Minor League player to the active roster and that player is not on the 40-man roster, it must first remove a player from the 40-man roster -- either by designating a player’s contract for assignment, trading a player, releasing a player or transferring a player to the 60-day injured list.

A player who is on the 40-man roster but does not open the season on the 25-man roster must be optioned to the Minor Leagues.

The 40-man roster is the team’s protected roster. Any player listed on a team’s 40-man roster is protected from being selected by another team in the annual Rule 5 Draft held in December. Because the 40-man roster is the protected roster, it is not uncommon for teams to have a number of empty slots on their 40-man roster. These vacancies allow teams to select players made available by other teams through the DFA process or the Rule 5 Draft.

Options

One of the most commonly misunderstood parts of roster construction is the concept of minor league options. Players on a team’s 40-man roster begin that time with three Minor League “options.” An option allows that player to be sent back to the Minor Leagues (“optioned”) without first being subjected to waivers. When a player is optioned to the Minors for a time period of more than 20 days, he loses an option. Players who are optioned to the Minors are removed from a team’s active 25-man roster but must remain on the 40-man roster.

Upon being optioned to the Minor Leagues, a player must remain there for a minimum of 10 days before he is eligible to be recalled to the Major League roster, unless he is serving as the 26th man for a doubleheader or replacing a player who has been placed on the injured list. In these exceptions, there are no minimum number of days in which the optioned player must remain in the Minors.

An example of this would be: On 4 May 2018, the Diamondbacks optioned relief pitcher, Silvino Bracho to the Reno Aces. On 8 May, the team placed pitcher Braden Shipley on the Injured List. On the same day, Silvino Bracho was brought back up to the Majors. Because the team was replacing an injured player, it did not matter that Bracho had only been in the Minors for four days.

Where many fans get confused is this; an “option” applies to an entire season, meaning that a player can be sent to the Minors and recalled to the Majors any number of times over the course of a season while only using one of his option years. If the player is again optioned to the Minors for 20 or more days in the following season, he would lose his second option and can once again be optioned to the Minors and recalled any number of times that year. The same is true of a player’s third option year.

A player who is is out of Minor League options can make roster construction much more difficult for a team. Once a player is out of options, they must be “Designated for Assignment “ (DFA). This process exposes the player to outright waivers for seven days during which another team may claim them. This is why out-of-options players are more likely to make a club out of Spring Training, because that player must first be removed from the 40-man roster and exposed to outright waivers before he can be sent outright to a Minor League affiliate. Knowing that they stand a large risk of losing that player, clubs will often carry an out-of-options player early in the year even if that player was outperformed by someone with remaining Minor League options during Spring Training.

Exceptions: If a player misses an entire option year due to injury or expends his third option year before he has completed five professional seasons (Major Leagues and Minor Leagues included), he can receive a fourth option year.

A player’s option years do not need to be used in succession. Any player with fewer than five years of Major League service time and an option year remaining can be optioned to the Minor Leagues.

Players with more than five years of service time must consent to being optioned. If they do not consent, then they must go through the DFA process.

Designated for Assignment (DFA)

Designating a player for assignment is one of the procedural parts of roster construction which is often misunderstood. The actual act of designating a player for assignment serves one purpose, to remove that player from a team’s 40-man roster. The confusion seems to stem from the various outcomes that can result from designating a player.

When a player is designated for assignment (DFA), he is immediately removed from the 40-man roster. From that point, the organization has seven days to either trade the player or to place the player on irrevocable outright waivers. If the player is placed on waivers and remains unclaimed, he may then be assigned to a minor league roster. This and trades are the only permanent processes by which teams are able to make room for new players on their 40-man roster.

Waivers

There are two types of waivers available to teams to assign to players; release and outright. While the two work in essentially the same manner for roster purposes, the distinctions have some very serious differences.

Release Waiver: In order for a team to sever ties with a player still under contract, that player must pass through unconditional release waivers. Once a player is placed on an unconditional release waiver, all 29 other teams have seven days to claim the player. Should multiple teams select the player, the team with the worse record from the previous season and in the same league (NL or AL) has precedent. If both teams are outside the league, the team with the worse record in the previous season is awarded the claim.

If a player is claimed, that player is immediately added to the claiming team’s 40-man roster and that team assumes 100% of any remaining contract the player was signed to before being placed on waivers.

If a player remains unclaimed for seven days, the player is released from the team, but any monies still owed as the result of a guaranteed contract are still owed by the team.

An example of this that sticks in the craw of many Diamondbacks fans is the case of Russ Ortiz. In 2005 the Diamondbacks signed Russ Ortiz to a four-year/$33 million contract. Ortiz was awful with the Diamondbacks. In 2005 he had an ERA of 6.89 while only averaging 5.2 innings per start. He pitched just six games in 2006 before the Diamondbacks had enough of both his performance and his clubhouse issues. Ortiz was released by Arizona in June of 2006. Unsurprisingly, with the troubles Ortiz was demonstrating, no other team wanted to claim him and be responsible for his salary. Ortiz cleared release waivers, making him a free agent while the team still owed him $22 million, regardless of whether or not he wound up playing elsewhere. (He did.)

Outright Waiver: This is the more common of the two types of waivers. When a team attempts to DFA a player to make room on the 40-man roster, that player must be exposed to an outright waiver for a period of seven days. During this time, the other 29 teams have the opportunity to claim the player. Should multiple teams select the player, the team with the worse record from the previous season and in the same league (NL or AL) has precedent. If both teams are outside the league, the team with the worse record in the previous season is awarded the claim.

If a player is claimed, that player is immediately added to the claiming team’s 40-man roster and that team assumes 100% of any remaining contract the player was signed to before being placed on waivers.

If a player clears waivers (is not selected by one of the other 29 teams), the organization is then free to assign that player to any of its Minor League affiliates. Players with more than three years of Major League service time, or who have previously cleared outright waivers (whether with the current team or a previous one), are granted the right to decline the assignment and elect free agency. However, there is a catch. Players with more than three but fewer than five years of Major League service time who reject the assignment forfeit any guaranteed money remaining on their contract. Players with more than five years of service time may reject the assignment with no penalty. The team is still responsible for paying the remainder of their contract.

Service Time

This is one of the thornier issue regarding roster management. Simply put, players receive Major League service time for each day spent on the 25-man roster or the Major League injured list. Service time is used to determine when players are eligible for arbitration as well as free agency. Additionally, service time may play a factor in how a player passes through the waiver process. Service time also dictates when a player can obtain universal no-trade rights, even if such rights are not part of their player contract.

Service time is calculated in years. However, a year in baseball is not a calendar year. There are 187 days in a baseball year. Each day spent on the 25-man roster , the Injured List, maternity or bereavement leave counts as a day of service time. A player accrues “one year” of service time when they reach 172 days in a given year. When a player reaches six years of service time, that player becomes eligible for free agency at the end of the season (assuming he is not already under contract through an extension).

Any player with at least three but fewer than six years of service time are eligible for salary arbitration. This is where service time becomes a tricky issue. At the end of each season, Major League Baseball identifies all the players with more than two years but fewer than three years. MLB then identifies those such players who accrued 86 days or more of service time within the season. MLB then further designates the top 22% of those players (in terms of accrued service time) as “Super-Two” players. Super-Two players are eligible for salary arbitration, despite not having reached three years of service time. This results in some players making four trips through arbitration instead of the usual three.

If a player reaches 10 years of service time and the previous five years have all been with the player’s current team, that player is said to have 10-and-5 rights. a 10-and-5 player has full no-trade protection. That is, if the player is traded by his team, that team must first get his permission. Otherwise, he may simply reject the trade and hold the team to honoring the signed contract.

Essentially, teams have six years of control of a player. The first three, the team may pay league minimum. The second three, the team must pay according to arbitration. The tricky part is that teams can, and often do, extend that period of control to seven seasons.

Service Time Manipulation: Service time becomes a thorny issue because of how eligibility for free agency is calculated. In order for a player to reach free agency, he must have six full years of service time. Thus, some teams will delay promoting a player to the Major League roster until such time as the player will fail to accrue the necessary 172 days of service to equal a year of service time. In essence, this allows the team to extend their control over these players by a season. A player with five years and 171 days does not qualify for free agency. Not all failures to promote top talent are the result of a team intentionally manipulating service time to gain an extra season of control. However, obvious instances abound. It is difficult to hide these players as they are usually the top prospects in an organization’s system and often top prospects in all of baseball. This was a major sticking point with Kris Bryant and the Chicago Cubs.

Injured List

Any player on the active roster who is unable to play due to injury may be placed on the Injured List. There are three variations of the Injured list; the 7-day (reserved for concussion protocol), the 10-day, and the 60-day. Players on any of the injured lists receive one day of service time for every day spent on the list. A player may be moved from one list to another, but only to increasing levels. For instance, a player may be hit in the head and placed on the 7-day list. At the end of that time, it may be determined that a concussion is in fact present and so the player may be moved to the 10-day list to heal. Days spent on the 7-day list would apply to the minimum amount of time the player must remain inactive. A player cannot, however, be transferred to a lesser list.

7-day (Concussion) List: And player suffering an incident that might result in a concussion may be placed on the 7-day list. If, at the end of the 7-day waiting period the player is not activated, he is automatically moved to the 10-day list.

10-day List: This is the normal Injured List. Any player suffering from an injury or ailment may be placed on this list. Any player placed on this list is immediately removed from a team’s 25-man roster. Players on this list remain on the 40-man roster and continue to accrue service time. The name 1-day refers to the minimum amount of time a player must spend off the 25-man roster before they can return to active status. There is no maximum amount of time a player may be on the 10-day list, though there are restrictions to how long a player can be left off once they officially begin rehab. Position players may only be assigned for a minor league rehab assignment for up to 20 days. Pitchers may be assigned for up to 30. At that point, the player must be reinstated to the active roster. One exception to this is for players recovering from UCL (Tommy John) surgery. Such players may have their rehab assignments renewed for up to 30 days in the form of three renewable 10-day extensions.

60-day List: This list works somewhat differently than the other two. A player on the 60-day IL does not count against the team’s 40-man roster, even if that player (when healthy) would otherwise be on the team’s active roster. Because the 40-man roster is used to designate who is and is not protected from Rule 5 Draft eligibility, all players assigned to the 60-day IL must be removed from the list and placed back on the 40-man roster at the conclusion of the World Series, even if they have not served 60 days of inactivity.

In order for a team to place a player on the 60-day IL, the team’s 40-man roster must be full. If, however, the team drops below a full 40-man roster after the player has been placed on the 60-day IL, the player is not brought off that list.