Sunday, April 30, 2006

The Roster Rotation

Nationals Farm Authority has been doing a good job of keeping up with the Nationals' recent roster shuffling, but there are a few things I wanted to expand on.

There are two types of rosters that you'll hear thrown about, 40-man and Active (AKA 25-man roster). The 25-man roster is list of players eligible to play in major league games. They're the loveable losers we see futilely playing each night. This 25-man roster is a subset of the larger 40-man. So only players on the 40-man roster are eligible to play on the active roster.

It's the process of shuttling players up and down from the 40 to the 25, as well as on and off the 40-man, which has been so interesting and complex this week.

It started on Wednesday. The Nationals claimed Zach Day off waivers from the Colorado Rockies. Since the Nationals were already at 40 players on their 40-man roster, they had to remove one. They designated backup C Wiki Gonzalez for assignment. When a player is DFA'd, he's essentially put into transactional limbo. The team has 10 days to figure out what the hell to do with him. They can trade him, release him or some other options.

In the Nationals' case, they'll likely try to outright him to the minors. When you outright someone, it's an attempt to remove them from the 40-man. To do so, though, the player has to pass waivers, meaning any other major league team can claim him and put him on their roster. (Since Wiki has options left -- and that's a completely different topic! -- the claiming team could stash him in the minors, assuming they have room for him on their 40-man roster)

In short, Day was added to the 40-man, and Wiki was taken off.

  • That same day, Billy Traber was optioned back to the minors after his disasterous outing. Players have three years worth of options. After being placed on the 40-man roster for the first time (and I won't bore you know with the eligibility rules!), a player needs to be placed on the active roster, or they'll use an option year.

    Options allow a major league team to send players down to the minors freely during those three seasons. If a player is out of options, they'd have to pass through waivers first before being demoted, meaning any team could claim them. There are other exceptions and wrinkles to the option rule, but they're enough to make your head spin. If you're that interested, check out the transaction glossary.

    When the Nationals optioned Traber, it removed him from the 25-man roster, but not the 40-man. Accordingly, the Nationals recalled Jason Bergmann from the minors. Begmann was already on the 40-man, so he essentially just swaps roster spots with Traber.

  • The next day was Michael O'Connor's turn. He wasn't on either the 25-man or the 40-man, so it required dueling transactions.

    First, his contract was purchased. That's a term of art that simply means added to the 40-man roster.

    Since the Nationals were already at the 40-man roster limit, a corresponding move needed to be made. They designated outfielder Tyrell Godwin for assignment. Like Wiki earlier, Godwin's in transactional limbo. He, even more than Wiki, has a pretty good chance of passing through waivers, allowing the Nats to outright him to the minors, where he'll stay Nats' property, but just not counting against any rosters.

    Second for O'Connor, the team needed to clear room for him on the Active Roster. They optioned Brendan Harris back to New Orleans, just as they did with Traber. Remember, you have three year's worth of options. A player can be sent up and down as many times (pretty much) as the team wants within that year.

  • Today, Zach Day gets the start. When the team claimed him, they put him on the 40-man roster, but he needs to be added to the active roster to be eligible for the game. Rather than optioning another player down (not that there are many players with options left!), they put John Patterson on the 15-day disabled list.

    The DL is exactly what you'd expect. It clears up space on the active roster, but forces that player to stay out for those 15 days. In Patterson's case, they made it retroactive to April 22 (the day after his last game), meaning he'll be eligible to come off on May 7 at the earliest. Putting a player on the 15-day DL keeps him on the 40-man roster. There's a separate DL list, the 60-day DL, which also frees up a spot on the 40-man roster. Because of the length of time the player is required to be out, you see that used sparingly.

  • So a few weeks ago when the Nationals called up Saul Rivera from the minors, I grumbled a bit. It's not that Saul didn't deserve a chance. It was that he wasn't on the 40-man roster, so his addition to it started this latest roster squeeze we're seeing. It would've been easier for the Nats to have called up one of their players already on the 40-man.

    With the shuffling we're doing, there's a chance that we could lose Wiki or Godwin. Neither's great, but this team can't afford to give up any talent, even if Godwin stretches that word to within an inch of its life.

  • As the year goes on, you'll see these transactional terms used over and over. Keep an eye out for them, and maybe some of them will actually start to make sense!