Was having a chat on Facebook about bringing up Willie Calhoun, and I made a comment about him not being on the 40 man roster. The comment was made “I only counted 32 up here at the moment”. I tried to explain it, but when I didn’t think I was getting the message through, I decided to go and write my own article explaining the 25 man and 40 man rosters. It’s not as confusing as the infield fly rule, but I’ll try and sort it out.
UPDATE Nov 2019: Starting in 2020, the 25 man roster will be a 26 man roster, and things are changing relative to “September Callups”. I will revisit this closer to the rest of the season, but for now, this mostly all still applies.
The 40 Man Roster
For now, I’m going to ignore September. I’ll come back to that later…..
The major league roster is capped at 25. That’s usually split up along the lines of 13 pitchers and 12 fielders. There’s no rule about that, you can have 24 pitchers and 1 fielder, but you’d still have to field a team. :) But the major league roster is limited to 25 guys.
With one exception. A doubleheader will allow you to have a 26th man called up to help with roster stress that doubleheaders put on a team. But after the game, that guy has to go back. Also, this counts for “traditional” doubleheaders – where one game is played right after the other (with like 20 minutes in-between games or something along those lines). Day/night or “split” doubleheaders don’t have the 26th man available, since they’re far enough apart they can make actual roster moves between games if they wish to.
For a guy to be in the major leagues, he has to be on the 40 man roster. Basically, a way to think of the 40 man roster is the “Eligible to be in the major league list”. That list/roster can have a total of 40 guys on it. It does NOT mean you can have 40 guys in the majors. The major league roster is capped at 25. The guys on the 40 man roster can be anywhere. Obviously 25 of them are in the major leagues, because well you have to have that many.
Where can a player be when on the 40 man roster?
- The 25 man major league roster
- The Minor Leauges
- A Minor League Rehab Assignment
- The 7 day concussion disabled list
- The 10 day disabled list
- The Bereavement/Family Emergency list
- The Paternity Leave List
NOTE: Starting in 2017, the 10 day DL replaced the old 15 day DL.
The 40-man roster is also an important distinction in the offseason, as players who are on the 40-man roster are protected from being selected by another organization in the annual Rule 5 Draft, held each year in December at the Winter Meetings.
Getting On the 40 Man Roster
OK, so we have a player we want to put on the major league roster. If you look at the transaction wire, when a guy is brought up, you’ll see two terms used:
- Player X has been recalled from AAA
- Player X has been purchased from AAA
The former means he was already on the 40 man roster, and no special consideration needed to be made for the 40 man to get him here. The latter though means that he was *NOT* on the 40 man roster, and his contract was purchased (usually from AAA). For that to happen, we need a spot made on the 40 man roster. That’s usually done one of a couple of ways.
- Player Y is designated for assignment (aka DFA’ed)
- Player Y is placed on release waivers
- Player Y is traded
Basically the logic goes..
Want to add a player to the major league roster?
- Is this player on the 40 man roster? Yes? No problem, switch out, we’re good.
- Is this player on the 40 man roster? No? OK, then we have to move someone off the 40 man to make room. More detail on that scenario below…
Getting Off the 40 Man Roster
This can be a bit more complicated. More often than not, a player is designated for assignment.
When a player is DFA’ed, it means they’re immediately removed from the 40 man roster, and the team doing that has 10 days to figure out what to do with the player. This means trade, outright the player, or grant release waivers (which means we just cut him loose). During this 10 day period, any other team can claim the player “off waivers”. If the player clears waivers, we can then “outright” them to the minor leagues. They would remain our property, but off the 40 man roster. Now, if the player we’re attempting to “outright” has enough major league service time, they gain the right to refuse an minor league assignment. The player could choose to refuse the assignment, which would make them an immediate free agent.
If you get someone off the major league roster via a trade, it’s frequently for the infamous “Player to be Named Later” or “Cash”. Both of those options do not bring a 40 man eligible player back. There’s no point in using a trade to clear space on the 40 man and bring back a guy you have to put on the 40 man on top of the other guy you were trying to add. Not saying that doesn’t happen, but there’s little point, which is why you frequently see guys DFA’ed in this case.
You can also put a player on the 60 day DL to get them off the major league roster (and off the 40 man roster). When you do that, it generally means he player is not going to be playing again for quite some time, and therefore you’re given some roster relief. This player still remains team property, but we have to move another player off the 40 man when it’s time to activate them again. You can go onto the 60 day DL from the 10 day DL too – that’s sometimes a procedural move.
Example: Player X is purchased from AAA after Player Y goes to the DL. Player Z is moved from the 10 day DL to the 60 day DL to make space on the 40 man roster allowing for Player X to be added.
Player Options & Willie Calhoun
There’s other issues to consider besides just the 40 man roster issue. There’s player options. When a player is called up/sent down in a season, it “starts their clock towards free agency” if it’s their first ever callup. That’s why guys aren’t just brought up willy nilly. The team always looks at the larger picture, unlike fans who tend to scream “BRING UP WILLIE CALHOUN – GOMEZ IS HURT!”. If they’re expecting a guy to be a BIG DEAL player, they will likely be slower to bring them up to start their march towards free agency. Using Willie Calhoun as an example, if they brought him up, they’d have to put someone on the 60 day DL (Gomez?) and then Calhoun’s major league service time starts in 2017 vs 2018, which would mean the “drive 50 trucks of money up to his house” time is closer than further away. That’s what I mean by “big picture”.
Player options are a seriously confusing issue (even more than the infield fly rule) – there’s more about player option over here on the MLB site, but even still, for guys who make a living at baseball, player options can be confusing.
Here’s some good text from the MLB site about player options..
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. Only one Minor League option is used per season, regardless of how many times a player is optioned to and from the Minors over the course of a given season. Players typically have three option years, although a fourth may be granted in certain cases (usually due to injuries). Out-of-options players must be designated for assignment — which removes them from the 40-man roster — and passed through outright waivers before being eligible to be sent to the Minors.
During the month of September, the 25 man roster rule is relaxed. You can have more than 25 men in the majors for the month of September. Guys over 25 still have to be on the 40 man roster. In theory you can have all 40 guys on the 40 man roster in the major leagues, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen that happen.
There’s been some talk lately about limiting the number of call-ups, or possibly doing away with it. The logic is teams have done silly things with the roster like having 20 receivers, and it changes the dynamic of how you play in September, when teams are vying for the playoffs. There’s a sentiment for keeping it the same in September as it is from April-August. But that’s never gained much traction that I can figure out.
… and then there’s Prince Fielder. You might be asking why I’m talking about him – he retired right? WRONG. Prince Fielder never formally retired. Prince Fielder is classified as “medically unable to perform”, but he remains Rangers property. He will never play again, but make no mistake. HE HAS NOT RETIRED.
He is currently, as I write this on Sep 9, 2017 on the Texas Rangers 60 day disabled list. The reason he is here and not “retired” is because if he retired, he’d walk away from all the salary owed him. Fielder’s salary is $24m a year through the 2020 season. Of that $24m, the Detroit Tigers are paying $6m a year (per terms the Fielder/Kinsler trade). Insurance on Fielder’s contract will be paying $9m a year, and the Texas Rangers pay $9m a year. However, to claim that $9m a year in insurance, the Rangers have to keep him on the roster.
During the season, it is not a big deal – we can stash him on the 60 day DL the day the rosters are set before the season starts, but during the offseason? Fielder must occupy a spot on the 40 man roster. If he’s not that that means we’re on the hook for the $18m a year. So basically Fielder will be dead weight on the 40 man roster through the end of the 2020 season.
It sucks, but that’s why he’s still there, taking up a spot that could be used to protect some young player. But the Rangers see that as a better choice. They either clog the 40 man with Fielder on the off season, or pay an extra $9 million per year for that 40th 40 man roster spot. Annoying, but that’s the way it is.
FIELDER UPDATE: On Oct 4, 2017 it was announced that the Texas Rangers had released Prince Fielder. Apparently they worked a deal where we could release him and still receive insurance money for the salary. While the precise details of that are unknown, Evan Grant said this in an article on the subject that evening.
The Rangers negotiated with the insurance carrier on the Fielder policy to allow them to release the player and still receive an annual benefit. It is believed the Rangers will essentially receive deferred payments, which reduces the current value of the policy. The original deal had the Rangers annually receiving $9 million from insurance and another $6 million from the Detroit Tigers toward the annual $24 million value of his salary. The contract expires after the 2020 season.
So basically Fielder will still cost money, just won’t count against the 40 man roster anymore.
I hope that clears it up. I tried to be not as technical or wordy, but given the subject at hand, it’s hard to not deviate into boring speak. If you’d like to read more about any of these subjects, or pretty much anything surrounding major league transactions, please visit this page on the mlb site. There’s some very good reading on these subjects there.
If there’s anything I missed, or anything you think needs clarification, please let me know, I’ll update as need be.
Thanks for reading.