I’m not sure what it is about baseball transaction minutiae, but I absolutely love it. Maybe it’s because I like questions that have answers, and this detail provides answers. I know it’s not a large subset of fans, but there are those among us that have these transaction questions and search for the same answers, even if it’s not with the same vigor I display.

The upturned 2020 season provides opportunity for seemingly dozens of transaction quirks that aren’t quite like what we’ve ever experienced before. As the news started to leak out and answers I was craving starting to be released, I couldn’t get enough, but it was when I found a copy of the 2020 Operations Manual that I truly rejoiced—I’m not kidding, I stopped everything I was doing and immediately dove in.

Since I continue to see the same questions over and over, I decided to explain some of the transaction detail as best as I can given the information available at the moment. I lifted information directly from Section 6 of the manual—League Operations and Transactions—which is in italics for clarity. Accompanying the dry or sometimes confusing jargon are my interpretations of what it means for how teams can manipulate their rosters for 2020. It doesn’t cover everything, but it’s certainly better than nothing.

Fair warning—there’s over 3,000 words here, and a lot of them are the passages from the manual. If that doesn’t interest you, just skip over the italics and read the accompanying breakdown.

Club Player Pool/Alternate Training Site

*The Club Player Pool 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.

*a Club is permitted to carry up to three additional players…from its Club Player Pool (“Taxi Squad”) on all road trips with the Major League team

*Each Club shall maintain a secondary baseball facility at which the Club will house and train players in the Club Player Pool who are not on the Active Roster during the championship season (“Alternate Training Site”) as described below.

*All players in the Club Player Pool who are not on the Active Roster must be assigned to the Alternate Training Site, with the exception of players on the “Taxi Squad” described below.

*Intra-squad Games.  Intra-squad games are permitted at all Alternate Training Sites; however, there shall be no exhibition games between players at different Alternate Training Sites.

I recently wrote up an article predicting who could be on the Pittsburgh Pirates’ taxi squad—which was officially announced as of Sunday—for the 2020 season; it seems my verbiage may not have been quite right.

Officially, the 60 players available for play will be referred to as the Club Player Pool. According to the manual, the Taxi Squad is actually a group of up to three players that can travel on road trips with the team. Presumably, these players are around on the road to be available in case of injury or general need of replacement. It’s odd though, because while every team made their announcements slightly differently, the Pirates were the only team I could find who used the term “Taxi Squad” to refer to the group reporting to their Alternate Training Site. At first I was confused, now I feel it was probably just a mistake.

Another assumption I made appears to be incorrect as well—all players on the 40-man roster are not required to make the Club Player Pool. As the first rule states, only players on the reserve list that the team “anticipates participating” need to be included; therefore, it’s possible teams may choose to leave some members of their 40-man roster out of the loop. Personally, I don’t foresee that happening a lot, if at all, because inclusion on the reserve list shows a level of interest from the team, whether it’s a readiness to play in Major League games or in this specific case, gain what small level of development can be had at the Alternate Training Site.

What is the Alternate Training Site, you ask? Well, that’s where teams will send the rest of the players not on the active roster—or Taxi Squad while on the road—to train and stay ready for if and when their name is called. The Pirates officially named Peoples Natural Gas Field—the home of the Double A affiliate Altoona Curve—as their Alternate Training Site, so some local fans can take solace in some modicum of minor league baseball, even though they won’t be able to see any of it.

As the rule states, teams cannot hold exhibition games with other organizations at their training sites, but they can hold intra-squad activities. So, players are expected to stay ready and develop with simulated games, scrimmages, drills, and other forms of non-game action.

Pay

*each non-40-man roster player without a Major League UPC (i.e., not on outright assignment) shall be paid at the weekly rate set forth in Addendum C of his 2020 Minor League UPC for participating in the Club Player Pool during the Major League championship season

*Players on the Taxi Squad will not receive Major League service and will be paid at the Minor League rate contained in their UPC

* Each player signed to a major league contract at the start of the season shall have his salary determined by multiplying his full-season salary by the number of games scheduled (not adjusting for weather-related postponements or cancellations) divided by 162, minus any advanced salary. (from the March Agreement)

Before touching on salary information from the Operating Manual, I thought it would be a good idea to at least touch on salary information in general. As was agreed on in the March Agreement, any player on the 40-man roster will be paid their prorated salary over 60 games. The formula is there, but for anyone who doesn’t want to do the math, my estimate is available, which also includes the advance amounts. The players already have that amount, and will effectively play the rest of the seasons’ games for the difference between their full prorated salary and their advance, which leads to one interesting circumstance.

I theorized that Erik González was a player that had a prorated guaranteed contract that was less than his preseason advance–$268,519 versus $286,500—and I turned out to be right. Therefore, while he will not receive a game check this season, González made more for 2020 than he should have; however, the Pirates will be reimbursed for the difference, as per the March agreement.

For the rest of the pool, any player not on a Major League deal—or outrighted, like Yacksel Ríos just was—will make the rate specified in his Minor League Player Contract while at the Alternate Training Site. The Taxi Squad will also make their minor league salary; however, they will receive the $108.50 daily Major League allowance.

As a side note, this is basically just like paying a minor league player, except it will just be a whole lot less of them. Per the CBA, these salaries normally are not attributed to official payroll calculations, so I won’t include them in my 2020 calculation either.

Transactions

*No Club may exceed the limit of 60 players in its Club Player Pool at any time throughout Spring Training and the championship season. In the event a Club is at the limit and wishes to add a player to its Active Roster or its Alternate Training Site, the Club must select a player to be removed from the Club Player Pool by means of a bona fide transaction, as follows:

  • 40-man roster players may be removed from the Club Player Pool by an approved trade, waiver claim, return of Rule 5 selection, release, outright assignment, designation for assignment, placement on the 60-day Injured List, placement on the COVID-19 Related Injured List
  • Non-40-man roster players may be removed from the Club Player Pool by an approved trade, release, placement on the COVID-19 Related Injured List

*All existing rules governing assignments of player contracts will continue to apply, including between Alternate Training Sites (in lieu of a Minor League club) and the Major League Club (i.e., all optioned and non-40-man players will be treated as assigned to the Alternate Training Site…. All traded players must be assigned to the assignee’s Club Player Pool. Once a non-roster player has been removed from the Club Player Pool by way of release, or a player has been removed from the Club Player Pool by way of an Outright Waiver Assignment, the removed player may not be added back to the Club Player Pool for the remainder of the 2020 championship season and postseason.  

*In the event that a Club experiences a significant number of COVID-19 Related IL placements at the Alternate Training Site at any one time (i.e., three or more players), and the Club chooses to substitute those players from within the Club’s organization, MLB reserves the right to allow that Club to remove those substitute players from the Club Player Pool without requiring a release.

*Players on the COVID-19 Related IL will not count against a Club’s Active List limit, Reserve List limit, or against the Club Player Pool limit. Players who are on their Club’s Active List at the time they are placed on the COVID-19 Related IL will receive salary and credited Major League service to the same extent that they would have if they had  remained on the Active List during that period.

Before I read over the agreement, a lot of my questions came from here: how does movement on and off the active roster work, will options exist, designated for assignment, waivers, outright assignments and the like. Well, it basically seems like I assumed it would be—the same as it always is.

Teams will have their active roster, and everyone else will be either optioned or reassigned to the Alternate Training Site as opposed to a Minor League affiliate. If a team wants to clear a spot on the active roster, they need to do it as they always do, either through optioning a player with options remaining, or designated/trading/etc. a player without them. Players on the 40-man can be recalled, but non-roster players must have their contracts selected, same as always. One difference appears to be that a designated player who clears waivers and is outrighted to the minors presumably stays in the organization, but can’t be added back to the Club Player Pool at any time, while a released non-roster player can’t rejoin. Also, only players in the pool can be traded, and acquired players via trade must be added to the pool.

While removing players from the pool is fairly obvious, adding players doesn’t appear to be as so, at least per the manual. The only section I could find that really references adding players is the first rule that states “[i]n the event a Club is at the limit and wishes to add a player to its…Alternate Training Site,” meaning that a non-roster player could presumably be added. As player pools started to roll out in amounts well below the 60-man limit—the Red Sox only announced 47—it became clear that later additions could be made from both inside and outside the organization and that these initial 60 players weren’t the only ones that were ever going to be available. Ben Cherington even clarified as much, stating they would look both internally and externally to fill the last spot remaining on their Club Player Pool.

The rules for removing a 40-man player are listed above, and while there’s a chance of retaining those players in the organization if they clear waivers, the only way to retain a non-roster invite is by placing them on the COVID-19 Related IL; otherwise they won’t be sticking around. When looking at how the non-roster invitees were structured, I think this is the best reason to speculate why some bigger names may not have initially been included—asset management. Basically, it appears to be easier to add players than it is to take them away, so having the flexibility to make moves with lower profile names at first may be how teams are leaning. I’m not suggesting the Pirates would willingly give up the prospects they ended up including, but the finality that appears to exist in removing a player may at least explain certain decisions a bit.

While some speculated that options may not be used, as the player had no where to be optioned to, this certainly doesn’t appear to be the case. For one, the manual stipulates that “the crediting of Major League Service for days on an optional assignment less than 20 days during the 2020 championship season shall be no greater than 19 total days of Major League Service.” This is the same as the rule always is, and it’s basically saying that if a player is optioned for 19 days or less, it counts as Major League Service, and if it’s 20 or more it counts as an optional assignment. To make it even clearer, the section on assignments states that “[a]ll existing rules governing assignments…will continue to apply,” and it even uses the word “optioned.” To me, it seems clear options will be used in 2020.

Finally, while I’ve seen many mention the COVID-19 Related IL, I hadn’t seen the following information until I read the manual. It appears that this IL will act just like the 60-day (now 45) IL, in that it will have no affect on roster limits and the player still gets paid.

Service

*If games are played, a player would receive service equal to days in the major leagues multiplied by 186 (days in the original season’s schedule), divided by the number of days in the revised schedule after excluding interruptions in play. A full service year remains 172 days. (from the March Agreement)

I know I’ve seen this question a lot, so even though it’s not addressed in the Operations Manual, I’m going to break it down here.

As you can see, this was settled during the March Agreement, stating that if a season happened, service would be scaled proportionally to a full season. I’ve seen the number 66 for days in the season thrown around a lot, but I’m not sure I totally agree, unless the Basic Agreement is being disregarded for some reason. Article XXI (A)(1) of the CBA states that “Major League service will be computed commencing with the date of the first regularly scheduled championship season game, through and including the date of the last regularly scheduled championship season game”. While nothing is final as of yet, it’s currently being reported that the season will be kicked off with two games on July 23rd, with all the other teams starting on July 24th. Using September 27th as the final day of the season, 66 represents a season for 26 teams, but not the other four. If the aforementioned rule were to be followed, the season would be 67 days, not 66. Maybe I’m wrong, but I don’t see why I would be.

So, when trying to calculate service, picture the equation as (days active * 186)/67. It produces uneven numbers, but, assuming they will be rounded to the nearest whole number, that is presumably how service will be calculated. What many probably want to know though is how does this affect the Pirate most every fan wants to see, Ke’Bryan Hayes?

Worried about Super Two for Hayes (even though it’s completely possible nothing will be the same after the 2021 Agreement)? Let’s look at that first.

This past off-season, the Super 2 cutoff was 2.115 years of service, so we’ll use that for Hayes, even though that was quite lower than recent years. Ignore all the math, and I will simply tell you that 41 days of service in a 67 day season would be considered “safe”, leaving Hayes with .114 days of service for 2020, while 42 would put him over the cutoff at .117 (of course this implies adding full years for 2021 and 2022, leaving him with 2.114 or 2.117 after 2022). Now what about gaming for an extra year of control? This time, 61 days would secure an extra year, leaving Hayes with .169 days of service, versus 62 days and .172 (or 1.000 year of service) exactly. So, would teams give up six days and important wins in a 60-game season to game service time? I certainly wouldn’t put it past them.

While the rule seems fairly straightforward, using the qualification of “a player”, it possibly may not be that simple. I’ve seen speculation that selected players may be counted differently, and ESPN’s Buster Olney even stated in a story that, essentially, rookies would only get credited service for total days they were active, not scaled to a whole season. I literally have seen that stated no where else, and Jeff Passan seemed to contradict that just days ago, echoing what I worked out above. Between Passan’s reporting and actual terms of the agreement, I am leaning towards my math presented, but I am open to being wrong until some more hard and fast rules come to light regarding service.

What about Reynolds and Burdi?

*If, despite any additional precautions and measures offered by the Club, and after consulting with the Team Physician, a High-Risk Individual believes that it would pose an unreasonable risk to his or her health to participate in the 2020 season, he or she may elect not to participate in the 2020 season; and, if the High-Risk Individual is a player, he will be placed on the COVID-19 Related Injured List (see Section 6.1.8 below).

*2.5 Families & Household Members – The health and wellbeing of family members of players, umpires, and other Club personnel is paramount to MLB. MLB will provide family members or other members of Covered Individuals’ households with appropriate PPE, education, and access to regular testing. Team Physicians should also offer to advise on (or assist with arrangements for) the care and treatment of any family or household members who are symptomatic or have come into close contact with a Covered Individual who tests positive for COVID-19.

When early news starting to come out, it appeared that players who lived with high-risk individuals would be able to sit out the season and still receive service time and prorated pay. While I understand it’s completely irresponsible to speculate about the gestational status of any of these players’ significant others, both Bryan Reynolds and Nick Burdi have announced they are soon to be fathers, which left open the possibility of them being able to sit out the season with zero repercussion. As more has come to light, this no longer appears to be the case. As the manual states, a high-risk individual can choose to sit out and be placed on the COVID-19 Related IL and, as the rule stated above, receive full pay and service. However, the single paragraph for Section 2.5 relating to Families and Household Members mentions nothing like that.

While it still seems possible that teams could pay players in this situation if they choose to, and some FMLA protections probably exist, it appears unlikely a player could get a full season worth of service and pay if they wanted to sit out.

*****

There’s still a lot to figure out, but hopefully this helps to answer some of the questions you have—I know it did for me. If you have more, feel free to let me know.

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