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Final Clarification on 2020 MLB Roster Rules, Service Time, Taxi Squads and Other Goodies

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Thanks to the Houston Chronicle, I have obtained a copy of Major League Baseball’s 2020 Operations Manual. This 101-page, single spaced pamphlet—all of the provisions of which were agreed to by MLB and the union—is the most important document for the 2020 season. The Official Baseball Rules, Collective Bargaining Agreement and Major League Rules are all relevant, to be sure, but the Operations Manual controls in the event of any conflict.

I feel guilty, in a sense, because I am not going to discuss at length here what really should be the language in the Manual that should be foremost on my mind. The overwhelming majority of the Manual concerns the COVID-19 virus—specifically the medical and testing protocols, protocols relating to baseball facilities and access, adjustments to on-field operations and the safety measures that will change the game as we know it in ways we might never have thought of, player and umpire COVID education, and even rules for traveling to and from the ballpark. I am not going into great length on those items—not because I don’t care, but because the provisions are so extensive that I would likely not be able to do them justice in an article of reasonable length that also covers my specialty. As detailed as they are, they might deserve their own article, and you can feel free to either e-mail me or ask about them if you have questions. For now, I can tell you that they are extremely detailed, right down to diagrams for recommended positioning of players and staff on the field, in the dugout, in the stands and even during warmups and drills. But even as detailed as they are, some of the provisions are vague and don’t answer an ultimate question, like how many players on a given team must test positive for the Commissioner to be able to cancel the season.

Instead, in this article, I am going to clarify the uncertainties that I raised in my earlier piece on the roster rules, add some details of which I was previously unaware, and then at the end, remind you all of the shape of the Cardinals’ roster, discuss how some of these rules might affect the Cardinals and offer a preview of what we might expect to see in the coming days.

EXTRA INNINGS-RUNNER ON SECOND BASE-NO PENALTY

Yes, this rule is still going into effect, but the Manual addresses one additional question you might have wondered about. You’ve read that the runner that will be directed to second base will be the player that made the last out in the previous half-inning for that club. For example, if the #5 batter leads off the top of the 10th for the Cards, the #4 batter in the order (or a pinch runner for that player) will be placed on second base.

What happens if there’s a mistake, and the wrong guy is sent out to second base? The umpire is supposed to check the lineup card and verify that the right guy is put on second base. If he doesn’t catch it in time, he can still make the necessary correction even after plays have happened, but all interim plays are still legal and there is no penalty. There is no penalty for the wrong runner scoring either, so at that point it’s too late for the umpire to do anything about it.

Just for completeness sake, I’ll mention an additional wrinkle that is listed in the Manual, but has almost certainly been made irrelevant now that the DH will be used in the National League. The Manual was first written in mid-May, but has since been expanded. There is still a provision in there that says that if the player in the batting order immediately preceding an extra-inning half-inning’s leadoff hitter is the pitcher, then the runner placed on second base may be the player preceding the pitcher in the batting order. Despite rumblings from some clubs, I don’t expect any club to really allow their pitcher to bat. Even Shohei Ohtani didn’t hit in the 10 games he pitched in 2018, and he started as a DH in 82 other games. I don’t expect this rule to operate if a pitcher happens to pinch hit.

WET RAG FOR PITCHERS

Pitchers will be allowed to carry a small wet rag in their back pocket to be used for moisture instead of licking their fingers. Water is the only substance allowed on the rag. Pitchers may not access the rag while on the rubber, and must wipe their hands dry before touching the ball.

CLUB PLAYER POOL-THE 60-MAN ELIGIBLE LIST

MAKING THE LIST

This list is critical for everyone to understand. By 4:00 EST today, Sunday, June 28th, all clubs must submit a list of up to 60 players that will be eligible to participate during the 2020 season. We might call this the 60-man roster, but the official name is the Club Player Pool (CPP). The Manual goes on to state that the CPP “shall consist of all players on a club’s 40-man roster that the club anticipates participating, and any non-40-man roster players under contract and reserve to the club whom the club anticipates may be selected during the 2020 season.” If a player is not on the CPP, he may not be invited to the upcoming second spring training, he may not play in a game, and if he’s not on the 45-day injured list, he may not use any club facilities or engage in club-organized baseball activities.

Until I read this definition, I had thought that the 40-man roster would just be a subset of the CPP. But that does not have to be the case. The definition leaves open the possibility that a player could be on the 40-man roster, but NOT on the CPP. Why would a team do that? Many players that have minor league options remaining have “split contracts” that call for different salaries depending on whether they are playing in the majors or the minors. For someone on the 40-man roster for the first time, that’s about a $46,000 salary for time not spent on the active MLB roster, which pro-rated for this season, would be about $17,000. The Manual states that non-40-man roster players (who do not have major league contracts and thus are not on an outright assignment to the minors) that are on the CPP will be entitled to the “weekly rate set forth in Addendum C of his 2020 Minor League Uniform Player Contract for participating in the Club Player Pool during the Major League Championship Season.” Addendum C just sets forth the player’s monthly minor league salary. The salary minimums in minor league baseball range from $290 per week for class A and below, to $350 for AA, to $502 for AAA. This major league season will be slightly over 9 weeks. A non-40-man roster CPP player making the AAA minimum would top out at a little over $4,500 total for the season. The total figure is much less for someone being paid at a rate for a lower classification club.

But replacing a 40-man roster player with a non-40-man roster player on the CPP does not save the club money because even if a 40-man roster player is left off of the CPP, he still has to be paid. Those guys are in the union, and they have been promised their pro-rated salaries. A lot of that money has actually already been paid in the form of an advance, but the fact remains that there is no cost savings to be had by substituting a non-40-man roster player.

Consider a player like RHP Alvaro Seijas. He was just added to the 40-man roster this past November to protect him from the Rule 5 draft. He has never pitched above High-A Palm Beach. Is there any shot at all that he’ll pitch a game for the Cardinals this season? Probably not. Even if the situation deteriorated to the point that they would think about using him, I would suspect that the Cards would just pick a depth non-40-man roster player that otherwise would have pitched in AAA or AA this year, add him to the 40-man and pitch that player. Maybe a guy like that would replace a guy like Seijas on the CPP. On the other hand, one might argue that when the season starts, one of Seijas’s minor league options will be burned, and it wouldn’t make a lot of sense to have a young player like that burn an option without being able to participate in any baseball activities. At various points in the regular season, with 30-man, then 28-man, then 26-man active rosters, there would be 10, 12 and 14 players on option, assuming a full 40-man roster. At those same points, there will be either 30, 32, and 34 total additional players on the CPP, assuming a full 60-man. At all those points, that leaves 20 extra non-40-man roster players available to work out and participate in baseball activities. There should be more than enough players on the CPP who fit that depth pitcher description that could be added in an emergency. The idea that a club would ditch a 40-man roster player in favor of adding a 21st non-40-man roster player to the CPP seems strange to me, but the rules leave open the possibility. Perhaps there are factors I am not considering.

REMOVAL FROM THE CPP

No club is ever allowed to exceed the 60-man limit for the CPP. This has the potential to be tricky. Only certain transactions will operate to remove a player from the CPP, depending on what type of player the club wants to remove—i.e., whether the player is on the 40-man roster or not.

*For any type of player, any of the following will remove the player from the CPP: approved trade, release, placement on the COVID-19 Related Injury List, or placement on the Military, Voluntary Retired, Restricted, Disqualified or Ineligible List.

*Clubs can also remove a 40-man roster player from the CPP by losing the player on an outright assignment waiver claim, outrighting the player to the minor leagues, designating the player for assignment, placing the player on the 45-day Injured List, or by placing the player on the Club’s Suspended List.

*Minor league injured lists are irrelevant this season. No matter how seriously a non-40-man roster player gets hurt, the injured player still counts against the CPP limit, unless he’s eligible for placement on the COVID-19 Related Injury List. Another transaction from the above list will be required to remove him from the CPP.

The significance of the above bullet points is that it is a big deal to remove someone from the CPP. It is not as simple as just sending the player home and substituting another. Aside from a placement on the COVID-related injury list, or the 45-day injured list (for 40-man roster players only), the club must instead engage in a transaction that could result in losing the player. Placements on the Military and other related lists are very rare events. If a club wants to remove a non-40-man roster player from the CPP, it’s almost sure to be by release. There’s a little more flexibility for 40-man players, but the club still runs the risk of an outright assignment waiver claim.

There is one potential reprieve listed in the Manual. Suppose three or more players that are not on the active roster (who are training at the Alternate Site) have to be placed on the COVID-19 Related Injury List. Those placements open up spots on the CPP. If the club replaces those players on the CPP with other players in the organization, MLB reserves the right to allow the club to take the substitutes off the CPP when the sick players get healthy without releasing the substitutes.

The other interesting thing to note is that if a club decides to remove a 40-man roster player from the CPP by outright assignment or decides to remove a non-40-man roster player, the players removed in that fashion may not be added back to the CPP for the rest of the 2020 regular season and postseason.

All of this raises a couple of questions. We’ve just seen that if a club is determined to remove a 40-man roster player from the CPP, it can designate that player for assignment, for example, then try to outright that player to the minors. What if, however, a team needs a 40-man roster spot, and they want to DFA a player to clear space, but they don’t want to remove that player from the 60-man CPP? If the player clears outright assignment waivers, let’s suppose that club would be happy to have that player back in the Alternate Training Site as part of the CPP. Is that legal? My reading of the Manual suggests the answer is yes, but that would also mean by implication that a team, in addition to filing the transaction involving the 40-man roster player, would also have to designate the purpose for which the transaction was made: to just clear space on the 40-man, or also to clear space on the CPP. That requirement is not explicitly stated in the Manual. There does not appear to be a way to remove a 40-man roster player from the CPP without also removing him from the 40-man roster. But can a club remove him from the 40-man roster only without also removing him from the CPP? Can we expect the clubs to report this with that type of specificity?

SPRING TRAINING

Only members of the 60-man CPP can be invited to spring training. The list of invitees to spring training must also be submitted by today, Sunday, June 28th, at 4:00 EST. Just like the club does not have to place all 40-man roster players on the CPP, the club does not have to invite all 40-man roster players to spring training, even if they are on the CPP. All CPP players not invited to spring training will be directed to what is being called the Alternate Training Site (ATS), which I will touch on later in this piece.

Pitchers and catchers are scheduled to report on July 1st, with the first full-squad workout to take place on July 3rd. The Manual contemplates a spring training consisting of three phases. Phase 1 is individual and small group workouts (5 players or fewer), phase 2 is larger group workouts and intrasquad games, and phase 3 may include a limited number of exhibition games. The Manual does not say how long each phase should last.

Will there actually be any actual spring training games between clubs? Keep in mind that for most clubs, this second spring training will occur at each club’s home park and one of the purposes of the new COVID protocols is to limit travel. Games are not required. Rick Hummel of the Post-Dispatch reported here that the Commissioner may authorize up to a total of 3 games to be played, and that although the Cardinals have not made their final decision, at this point they are not inclined to play any, feeling they can get the work they need with intrasquad games. There is a possibility that if there are games, clubs could play those three games against the club they are scheduled to play on opening day, with the visiting club arriving early. If there are games, various rules will be relaxed, but the three-batter minimum rule will be enforced.

Derrick Goold of the Post-Dispatch reported here that the Cardinals plan to invite 44 players to spring training, with the remaining 16 players on the CPP reporting to the Alternate Training Site.

ALTERNATE TRAINING SITE

The Alternate Training Site (ATS) is the place where clubs will house and train players who are on the 60-man CPP, but not in spring training and not on the active roster at any given point during the season. Media outlets are already calling this remainder group of players the “taxi squad,” but it is not. The Operations Manual specifically states that all players on the CPP who are not on the active roster must be assigned to the ATS, with the exception of players on the taxi squad. There is a clear line of demarcation between ATS players and taxi squad players. There is no official name of players in this remainder group. I’ll probably be calling them ATS players.

You can, for all practical purposes, think of the ATS as this year’s minor leagues. Although there will be no exhibition games between ATS squads of different clubs, each club’s ATS will be coached and staffed, and there will be unlimited possibilities of intrasquad games within each ATS. In addition, the Manual specifically notes that all existing rules governing the assignment of player contracts that would normally apply between a major league club and the minor leagues will apply this year to the ATS. Normally when the Cards option a player, it’s to the minor leagues, and the club will say “optioned x player to AAA Memphis.” This year, all optioned players and non-40-man roster players will be treated as assigned to the ATS.

Although the Cards’ Peoria, Illinois affiliate is closer to Busch Stadium by about an hour, this year’s Cardinal ATS site will be Springfield, Missouri. Although I could have missed it, I’ve never seen a reason given for this. I expect that it could relate to minimizing interstate travel, where different COVID protocols are in place. As I understand it, Illinois was just given the option a few days ago to proceed to a phase where more than 10 people could gather, with the decision to be made on a county basis. Missouri is considered wide open for business unless a local authority decides differently. Furthermore, because the Cards own its AA Springfield affiliate, they have more control over the facility and presumably have a greater pulse on what is going on in Greene County, Missouri than Peoria County, Illinois. According to Goold, the 14 CPP players not invited to spring training will head to Springfield, and open a camp around July 14th.

TAXI SQUAD

The real taxi squad is a group of up to three additional CPP players that are not on the active roster that the club may carry with it on road trips. All taxi squad members are subject to the same transaction rules as any other ATS member. If a club does carry three players, one must be a catcher. Players on the taxi squad will not get MLB service time or MLB salary while on the taxi squad, but will be paid a $108.50 daily allowance on top of their minor league salary, even if the club provides meals.

After each road trip, all taxi squad players will return to the ATS. The one exception is that one catcher may remain on the taxi squad to serve as a bullpen catcher for home games. That catcher will be entitled to the $108.50 daily allowance on top of his minor league salary, even if the club provides meals, for the first 14 days that he is on the taxi squad.

There is an additional sentence in the Manual that doesn’t make sense to me concerning the taxi squad because it must contain a typo. It says that “Players on the taxi squad are permitted to work out with the major league club, but are permitted to be in uniform and in the dugout during games.” The “but” in that sentence makes no sense at all, unless they meant to include a “not” in either the first or second clause of that sentence somewhere. Because there would be no point in having a taxi squad if players were not permitted to work out with the club, I bet that the intent was for the last clause to read “but are not permitted to be in uniform and in the dugout during games.”

STANDARD INJURED LISTS

The standard injured list will be the 10-day IL. The 60-day IL is being reduced to a 45-day IL. The Manual provided two clarifications to the rules surrounding the 60-day IL. Normally, a club may not place a player on the 60-day IL (or the 45-day IL this season) unless the 40-man roster is full. That rule is waived for this year until August 31st. At that point, a club may only use the 45-day IL if the 40-man is full, and a club using it must replace the injured player on the 40-man roster. Clubs have already started placing players on that list, including the Cardinals, who placed John Brebbia on the list yesterday. The MLB transaction pages have not coded the changes to reflect the shortened date. I suppose it’s possible that they have not actually changed the name of the list, and are going to treat the situation as if players are eligible to come off of the 60-day IL after only 45 days. I will be calling it the 45-day IL.

The other clarification the Manual provided is that players who were placed on the 60-day IL prior to March 26th will be eligible for reinstatement on May 25th. That’s funny because the Manual was finalized last week, although it was initially drafted in May. The important point is that normally players must spend 60 days on the 60-day IL during the regular season before they can be reinstated. The Cardinals placed Jordan Hicks on the 60-day IL back in February when pitchers and catchers reported to the first spring training. Enforcing the normal rule would have made no sense because the season was postponed and this regular season will only last about 60 days. The upshot is that the Cards can activate Hicks whenever he’s ready.

COVID-19 RELATED INJURY LIST

Players will be subject to extensive testing and screening this season. All players will have their temperature and other symptoms checked and recorded at least twice per day. They will be given a personal oral digital thermometer to check their temperature twice in the morning, as well as a standardized symptom and exposure questionnaire as part of a daily home screen. This will be done on a mobile app, the results of which will be uploaded to the club, and it must be done before the player leaves his residence. They will also have their temperature checked before entering the facility and to orally complete another questionnaire. In addition, all players will be subject to diagnostic/polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing every other day by means of an oral or nasal swab or saliva sample. Further testing will include monthly venous blood collection for antibody testing.

Any player who has a 100.4 degree temperature during a temperature check, reports or exhibits any other symptoms that may be consistent with COVID-19 or has come in close contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19, will, in addition to a clinical assessment and referral for a medical examination, be subject to an immediate expedited diagnostic COVID-19 test, as well as a confirmatory PCR test. If a player tests positive on either of those tests, he will be subject to isolation, contact tracing and immediate testing of all other people who came into close contact with him. The Manual cites the CDC definition of close contact as living in the same household, being within 6 feet of the person for 15 minutes or longer or being in direct contact with secretions from a COVID-infected person. Brief interactions or walking past someone doesn’t count.

All it takes for someone to be treated like a COVID-19 symptomatic individual is for the person to have a 100.4 degree fever. Such a person may not enter the club facility, and must immediately self-isolate and be immediately directed to a team doctor for consultation and direction. He will then be subject to an expedited COVID test, and pending the results of that test, must isolate either at home or in a health care facility. The player must also provide a sample for confirmatory diagnostic PCR testing. During the period while both tests are pending, the player must be remotely monitored by a doctor, is barred from travel, is barred from entering the club facility, and is barred from direct contact with players and other staff. The player may not return to the facility unless (1) the results of both tests are confirmed negative; AND (2) the player no longer exhibits any COVID-19 related symptoms; AND (3) the team doctor approves the player to return after consulting with the Joint COVID-19 Health and Safety Committee. The Joint Committee consists of one non-medical representative from MLB, one non-medical representative from the MLBPA, and two doctors, one appointed by each group.

The reason this is significant is that the Manual expressly provides that a positive COVID test is not required for placement on the COVID-19 Related Injury List. A positive test can do the trick, but a player can be placed on the list if he has confirmed exposure to COVID-19 or “if a player exhibits symptoms requiring self-isolation for further assessment.” A 100.4 degree fever is all it takes to require “self-isolation for further assessment.” Because of this, my guess is that this list will be used a ton. As I read things, all it takes is a 100.4 degree temperature to be placed on the list. Just be aware not to panic. Just because a player is placed on the COVID injury list, that doesn’t mean he has the virus.

Players on the COVID-19 Related Injury List do not count against the active roster, the 40-man roster, or the 60-man CPP, but just like with other injured lists, they get MLB salaries and service time credit if they were MLB players on the active roster at the time of placement.

27th MAN RULE

Rosters go all the way down to 26 in size at 11:00 EST on the 29th day of the regular season, which it looks like will be Thursday, August 20th (assuming opening day is on July 23rd). Only then will clubs be allowed to use a 27th man for certain doubleheaders. There will be no 31st man rule or 29th man rule at earlier points in the season.

SERVICE TIME

If the 2020 season had proceeded normally, a player would have had a possible 186 days to accumulate 172 days of service time this season. 172 days of service time is treated as one year, and a player may only accumulate 172 days in any given season. Under the March agreement, MLB and the union agreed to pro-rate player service time for the 2020 season.

The question that lingered, was exactly how would it be pro-rated? I had figured the equation would have been (A/B) multiplied by either 172 or 186, where A is the number of actual 2020 service days and B is the length of the season (not how many games, but counting the days between opening day and the last game, including off days). We are all assuming that B is 66. When I started to look at it, I concluded that the multiplier could not be 172. If it was, check out what could have happened: a player could miss being on the active roster for one day and not get a full year of service time credit: (65/66) * 172 = 169.39, which is not enough. In a normal season, there was a 14-day grace period to allow a player to get a full year, and I had a hard time believing that the union would agree to a formula that included no grace. I figured that 186 must be the multiplier.

I have been trying to get confirmation of the formula, but in the interim, Jeff Passan of ESPN confirmed the formula as A * (186/B), which is the same mathematically as (A/B) * 186. Note that even under this formula, the grace period is really tight. I am not sure if Passan was making an assumption when he provided a fraction that included rounding, or whether the March agreement provided for rounding to the nearest integer, but let’s suppose a player only gets 61 regular days of service before the conversion formula: (61/66) * 186 = 171.90. If we round up, that would mean a player, like Dylan Carlson, for example, would miss a year of service if he was left off of the active roster for 6 days. If we don’t round up, he would miss a year if left off for only 5 days. I will provide an updated roster analysis later today, but for this and other reasons, Dylan Carlson is not at all a lock to open the season on the active roster.

TRADES

There is one sentence in the Manual that has provided some confusion for me, and despite racking my brain, I have failed to resolve it. The Manual says “All traded players must be assigned to the assignee’s Club Player Pool.” Ok, fine. But every outlet, including the MLB FAQ page is also reporting that clubs may only trade player who are on the CPP already, and thus you might see prospects added to the CPP just so they can be traded.

I find nothing anywhere in the Manual that suggests this, and that conclusion is not implied by the sentence I quoted. Why can’t teams trade each other prospects that are not on the CPP initially, as long as they’re added after the trade? I don’t know, but I can tell you that is what all outlets are saying. Maybe I will get a clearer answer later.

CONCLUSION

Hopefully, this has provided you with a one-stop shop of answers. I was going to include a roster analysis with this to get you up to speed on where the Cardinals are, but the article is already lengthy. I will instead provide it when the Cardinals release their CPP and spring training invite list later this afternoon.