Major League Baseball plans to stage an abbreviated 60-game season in 2020, commencing on July 23 and ending on September 27. Minor league baseball, however, will not be taking place in any recognizable format that we are used to seeing, with games being played in smaller towns all across America this summer. How MLB organizations maintain a pool of ready players to get through the season is a big change on tap for 2020.
MLB teams will have a list of up to 60 players each from which to select their major league squads for the shortened season — you can see the Tigers’ 60-man roster here. Only these 60 players may participate in “spring” training.
We still have 40 man rosters, with up to 14 players who are not on the 26-man major league roster on optional assignment to a minor league team. Normally, there are teams at five different levels of baseball from Triple-A down to rookie leagues, hosting a few hundred players per team. Not this season.
Spring Training 2.0
The 60-man lists provide another level of players that will include some players with major league experience, some of the game’s top prospects that clubs would like to invite to target for development, and others who might be called upon to help the major league team during the season. Most importantly, those on the 60-man list will either be on the major league team or at a nearby alternate training facility.
Teams may resume spring training in one or two facilities with players reporting by July 1 and workouts beginning July 3. Clubs may assign players to their alternate training facilities at their own pace, as long as they get the major league roster down to 30 players by Opening Day on July 23.
Unlike other clubs, the Tigers will keep all 60 players in Detroit until the start of the season. The club will maintain the alternate training facility for the duration of the season. For the Tigers, that will be in Toledo, Ohio.
60-man player pools
The 60-man list is a pool of players from which teams may select players to add to their 40-man rosters or their major league rosters. A player must be on the 60-man list to be added to the roster, although there is nothing really preventing a team from adding a player to the rosters as long as there is a spot available.
Removing a player from the 60-man list has consequences, just as it does with the 40-man roster. Once a player is removed from the 60-man list, he can not be added back to that team’s list during the season. He can be added to another team’s list.
Non-40-man-roster players may be removed by trade, release, placement on the COVID-19 related injured list, or placement on the suspended list (by the club), military, voluntarily retired, restricted, disqualified or ineligible lists. So, the top prospects on the 60-man lists are there for the season.
Players on the 60-man list will receive minor league salaries. Players in the minor leagues not on the 60-man lists will receive $400 per week through at least the end of August for most clubs.
Players on a 40-man roster may be designated for assignment and removed by clearing waivers, as described below.
Teams will be able to take three players from their 60-man lists who are not on the major league roster with them on road trips. One must be a catcher, who may serve as a bullpen catcher during major league games at home or away. These players are not eligible to play in major league games without being added to the major league roster.
Taxi Squad players will not be paid MLB salary or accrue service time, but they will receive the major league allowance of $108.50 per day along with their minor league salary.
The most likely use of the taxi squads is to bring a pitcher or a utility player who is ready to play should another player test positive for coronavirus. Traveling with the major league team avoids having to take a commercial flight to join the club.
Major league rosters
The MLB season will begin with 30 players on the major league roster. That will be reduced to 28 players after two weeks, and cut to 26 players after four weeks. So, instead of September call-ups, this season we will have rosters for the final month that are smaller than for the rest of the season. Teams may add a 27th player in the event of a doubleheader, but no twin bills are planned thus far.
There are a few new rules for the 2020 season to help adjust to the shortened campaign as well as the looming threat of the coronavirus.
- The 60-day injured list will now be the 45-day injured list. Players on this list are ineligible to play for 45 days, but could be eligible for playoffs if activated in time. They do not count against the team’s 40-man roster.
- The COVID-19 list: there will be a special injured list of undetermined duration for players who test positive for coronavirus. Importantly, these players may also be replaced on the roster, and may return once given medical clearance.
- The trade deadline has been moved from July 31 to August 31. Players must be on the major league roster by this date in order to be eligible for the postseason.
- Players must be on the 60-man list in order to be traded, but there is nothing preventing a team from putting a player on the 60-man list to trade him, as long as there is a spot available.
- The new limit of 13 pitchers on 26-man rosters will be waived for this season.
Same old rules
The rules for the major league and 40-man rosters are otherwise pretty much the same. Players must be on the 40-man roster and the major league roster in order to play in the major leagues.
Players have three years in which they can be sent on optional assignment to the minor leagues. BYB provides frequent updates to the Tigers’ roster showing how many options each player has left. These numbers will change as players are optioned to start the season.
Players who have five seasons of major league service, or have used up their options must clear waivers in order to be sent to the minor leagues. This sometimes factors into roster decisions. For example, the Tigers may initially keep both Dawel Lugo and Jeimer Candelario on the major league roster to start the season. However, both players are out of options and would have to clear waivers before they can be sent to the minor leagues.
The Tigers optioned twelve players in March, so they will need to recall a couple by Opening Day.
Once a player is optioned to the minors, he can not be recalled to the majors for 10 days, unless there is a corresponding player who is placed on the injured list.
When a player is out of options and a team removes him from the major league roster, that players is also removed immediately from the 40-man roster. Usually, he is “designated for assignment”. The club then has seven days to trade him, release him, or send him outright to the minor leagues. The latter two options require that the player clears waivers.
A player who has previously been outrighted previously during his career may elect to become a free agent either immediately or at the end of the season unless he is added back to the 40-man roster. This season, an outright assignment or optional assignment could be to the 60-player list unless the player is released.
A number of veteran players have “opt out” clauses in their contracts. These terms allow players to opt out and become free agents if they are not placed on the major league roster by a certain date. Of course those dates have long since passed, but it seems safe to assume that the opt out clauses are still valid. Players are not likely to opt out unless they like their chances of landing a major league job elsewhere a bit better.
Other minor league players
There have been rumors, but nothing official, regarding arrangements that could be made for minor league players who are not on the 60-player lists. Some options include:
- Expanding the Arizona Fall League to include a full squad of players from each team is one idea. Normally, there are six teams contributing six players each to one AFL team. The playing season could presumably be expanded to start earlier or finish later, coronavirus permitting.
- Expanding Instructional leagues, which the Tigers have in Florida, for another group of players, is another option that is being discussed.
Between the 60-man player lists which accommodate 30 to 34 players for the season, and another two rosters or more of minor league players, teams may be able to get some sort of a partial season in for most of their developing prospects.
The reduction of the amateur player draft to just five rounds, together with the expiration of the Professional Baseball Agreement between MLB and minor league baseball after this season has set the stage for MLB to eliminate affiliated baseball in 40 or more towns across America.