With John Mozeliak announcing the other day that Yairo Munoz would be joining the club today in preparation for the upcoming Saturday and Sunday series in Mexico with the Reds, I thought I would share the rules surrounding the mechanics of that move, and other special rules concerning International Play that apply to this series.
International Series Rules
First, let's talk about the Mexico series. Everything involving International Play has been negotiated in the Collective Bargaining Agreement down to minute detail. International Play has its own separate article, Article XXV, in that document. The current CBA became effective on December 1, 2016 and expires on December 1, 2021 at 11:59 Eastern Time. The owners and the union have worked out a schedule to play certain series at various times in Mexico, Japan, the United Kingdom, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. The schedule and other rules are set forth in Attachment 51 to the CBA. The Mariners and Athletics played what was called an International Opener before the regularly scheduled Opening Day in Japan in March of this year. During the regular season this year the Cards will play 2 against the Reds this month, 2 teams will play in Mexico in May, and 2 teams will play in the United Kingdom in June. For the upcoming series in Mexico, each player on the Cards' active roster will be paid an extra $15,000 for participating. In addition, the Cards' traveling, non-player, non-executive personnel collectively will be paid a lump sum of $40,000. It will be up to the Club how to divide that sum, but managers, coaches, trainers, and clubhouse staff are eligible. If the Cards end up playing in the United Kingdom next year as has been speculated, the players will get paid $60,000 for that series, and the non-playing personnel will get a lump sum of $100,000. There are other specific rules involving promotional events. The Commissioner had to notify the Cards by April 1 of last year that we would be participating in this series. A Club may not be selected to play in more than 2 of these "International Play Events" during the life of the CBA, and no more than one Event outside of Mexico, the Dominican Republic or Puerto Rico.
Roster Limits for the Mexico Series
With respect to International Openers, the Commissioner gets to decide the active roster limits, and allowed the Mariners and Athletics to carry 28 players for that 2-game series. That was one of the main reasons why Ichiro Suzuki appeared, as he wasn't really taking anyone's job. Both clubs had to get back down to 25 men by March 28, the regularly scheduled Opening Day. For this upcoming Mexico series, however, All parties have apparently agreed that clause (13) of Article XV-O applies. Typically applicable to special events involving games played at neither a regular major or minor league park, the clause allows both clubs participating to add an additional position player to their active rosters, provided they return to 25-men following the conclusion of the event. There is an additional cross-reference to Major League Rule 2(c)(2)(A)(ii)(cc-gg).
The 26th man Rule
Major League Rule 2 is the rule on roster limits. As most people know, teams are ordinarily limited to a 25-man roster from Opening Day through midnight on August 31, at which time, they can expand to 40 (although that rule will purportedly change next season). That's Rule 2(c)(2)(A)(i). Rule 2(c)(2)(A)(ii) was added for the 2012 season, which allows a 26th man for a doubleheader with certain intricate exceptions that I won't get into here. The 26th man rules will apply to this Mexico series. One of the rules underneath that provision says that the addition of the 26th man must be consistent with the Prohibition on Taxi Squads contained in Article XV(E)(3) of the Basic Agreement. What in the heck is that, you may ask?
Taxi Squads and the reporting of Yairo Munoz
A team may require a minor league player to report to the major league club in connection with his potential recall or contract purchase before he is actually added to the roster. But he can't stay with the club unless he is added to the active roster by the earlier of (1) 8:00 P.M. Eastern Time; or (2) 3 hours prior to the club's scheduled game, on the day after the player reports. If he is not added to the Active Roster during that time frame, he can't remain with the club, and must be sent back down to the minors. During this short period of time between reporting and being added to the active roster, the player may participate in one workout without being paid the major league salary or receiving credit for major league service time, but he can't be in uniform for a game, or be in the bullpen, dugout or field after batting practice. During this window, the player is recalled from a minor league option, but is on the active roster or neither the major-league nor minor-league team. It's essentially a 1-day limbo status. This rule is designed to allow a player to report in advance, but to stop teams that have good excess minor league players from hoarding them on a "taxi squad" and adding and subtracting them from the active roster at a moment's notice in any given series.
Why does any of this matter? First of all, despite the direct prohibition of the creation of taxi squads in the CBA, teams informally refer to the 26th man device as their taxi squad. When Luke Weaver was added as the 26th man last year from the minors to make a start in a doubleheader, the official press release from the Cardinals said that Weaver was recalled from the Memphis taxi squad. Second, remember earlier that I pointed out that John Mozeliak had said that Yairo Munoz would join the Cardinals on Thursday? Memphis plays in San Antonio, Texas on Thursday night. The Cardinals play a Thursday afternoon game here in St. Louis. Friday is a travel day, and the Mexico series starts Saturday. Although Texas is obviously closer to Mexico than St. Louis, they can't very well ask Munoz to just swing over to Mexico from Texas on his own, and I can't possibly imagine, given the logistics of international travel, how they could arrange to pick him up somewhere on the way. He needs to be with the Cardinals to travel with them as a team. This one-day limbo status allows him to do that.
If Mozeliak means what I think he means, Munoz will be recalled on Thursday, work out with the club, and then be added to the active roster before the game. There are a couple of possibilities how this would work mechanically, but my guess is that MLB and the union have agreed to extend the "taxi squad" rule a bit. I suspect that he will be with the club for workouts on Thursday or report just after the game, and although he would normally have to be added to the roster on Friday, since that's an international travel day and the game isn't until Saturday, maybe his stay on the taxi squad will be extended a day and he will be added to the roster just before the game on Saturday afternoon. MLB and the union can agree to make exceptions to rules of this type, and such an exception would make the most sense in this case.
Munoz will be returned to AAA Memphis after the game unless the Cards make an IL move
The rules that I've cited above require teams using 26 men to return to a 25-man roster immediately after the game in which the 26th man is used by returning the 26th man to the minors. The CBA and Major League Rule 11(b)(1) require a player that is optioned to the minors to spend at least 10 days on optional assignment before being recalled again, unless the player is recalled to replace a player that is placed on the Injured List, Paternity List or one of two Restricted Lists. Yairo Munoz was optioned to AAA Memphis after the game on April 6th. Article XIX(E) of the CBA controls how you count days on option. That provision says that you normally count the day of the option as one of the days, but you don't count it if the option takes place after the start of the game in which the player would otherwise have been eligible to play. Since Munoz was optioned after the game on April 6th and he could have played in it, that day doesn't count. If he gets recalled to report early to the "taxi squad" today on April 11, assuming that recall occurs today, April 11th, before the start of the Memphis game Thursday at 7:05, April 11th would not count as a day on option either. The 26th man rule, together with the normal rules on options, provide that, to get down to 25 players from 26, the club must return the designated 26th man to the minors if he has not spent at least 10 days on option before being recalled, unless the team can place somebody on the IL, Paternity List or one of two Restricted Lists. Since Munoz is well shy of having 10 days on option, he almost certainly will return to Memphis after the Mexico series is over.
TL;DR and Conclusion
Yairo Munoz will likely join the Cardinals on Thursday, April 11 because the Cardinals can add a 26th man in the form of a position player for the special Mexico series. This will be a recall from his optional assignment, and he will report Thursday to be with the club for logistical reasons, but he will not be added to the roster immediately. Until he is added to the active roster as the 26th man for the Mexico Series, he will be part of what is informally known as the "taxi squad", and he will be on the active list of no team at all. While he is in that limbo status, he will not get major league service time credit or his major league salary, but he will get the meal and tip allowance. When he is added to the active roster, he will get major league service credit and his major league salary. Immediately after the Mexico series, he will have to be returned to Memphis unless the Cardinals make a move to place a player on the Injured List. This return is not another option, and his 10-day clock will not have to start over again. Thus, if I am right about what is about to transpire, the Cardinals would only have to wait another 7 days before they could recall him again, if they so choose.
Let me know in the comments if I can help explain anything!