Baseball Transaction Primer

Milwaukee figures to be active on the player personnel front, and baseball's silly season, better known as the Hot Stove League, already has started. These explanations can help folks weed through all of the complicated terminology.

Now that the wacky World Series is over, the Hot Stove League already has been stoked. And no one should be busier than Milwaukee general manager Doug Melvin.

So, here is a transactions primer, gleaned from information in an ESPN article, to give fans the nuts and bolts, hopefully in layman's terms, about the sometimes daunting major league baseball rules that govern player movement.

Disabled lists

Two such designations exist, 15- and 60-day varieties. The only real difference is that players on the 60-day disabled list-- sometimes referred to as the Emergency DL—don't count against a team's 40-man roster, such as in the case in 2008 for Brewers' left-hander Chris Capuano.

To be placed on either list, a doctor must certify that a player is disabled. Needless to say, such certifications generally aren't difficult to acquire. Players can be disabled retroactively--up to a maximum of 10 days--beginning with the day after the last day on which they played. A player on the 15-day disabled list may be shifted to the 60-day DL at any time.

Those on a DL may be assigned to the minors for injury rehabilitation for a maximum of 20 days for position players and 30 days for pitchers.


Players who attain three years as a pro must be protected on a team's 40-man roster or they are eligible for the Rule 5 draft (discussed later). Once he's added to the 40-man roster, his club then has what are called options on him.

When a player is on the 40-man roster but not on the active 25-man Major League roster, he is on optional assignment. One common misconception is that a player may only be optioned out three times. Actually, players have three option years, and clubs can send them up and down as many times as the team chooses within that time period.

When you hear that a player is out of options, that means he's been on the 40-man roster during three separate seasons--beginning with his fourth as a pro—and he'll have to clear waivers (more later) to be sent down again.


Waivers might be the most complicated aspect of the whole process. In the rule book, a waiver is defined as "... a permission granted for certain assignments of player contracts or for the unconditional release of a Major League player ..."

If a player placed on Major League waivers is not claimed by another team during the three business days after waivers have been requested, then the player is said to have cleared waivers, and the team has secured waivers for the remainder of the waiver period.

And what does that mean? Essentially, the team can do with the player's contract as it pleases. This generally means one of three things:

1. They can send him to the minors, which is subject to his consent if he's defined as a veteran Player. (more later).

2. They can release him, which makes the player a free agent and thus available to sign with any team.

3. They can trade him to another team, even if the so-called trading deadline has passed. Any trades made after July 31 may only involve players who have cleared waivers.

If a player does not clear waivers--if he's claimed by another team or teams--the club requesting waivers may withdraw the request. If the club doesn't withdraw the waiver request, the player's contract is assigned in the following manner:

A. If only one claim is entered, the player's contract is assigned to that club.

B. If more than one club in the same league makes claims, the club currently lower in the standings gets the player.

C. If clubs in both leagues claim the player, preference shall always go to the club in the same league as the club requesting waivers.

Designated for assignment

Essentially, this allows a team to open up a roster spot while it figures out what it's going to do with a player. The Brewers did this in Derrick Turnbow's situation early in the 2008 season and is what happened when they signed Casey McGehee on Oct. 29 and sent Joe Dillon out.

There are certain situations in which a team needs a player's permission to either trade him or send him to the minors. So, rather than force the player to make a quick decision, the team can simply designate him for assignment while he decides.

More commonly, a player is designated for assignment so the club can open up his roster spot while they're waiting for him to clear waivers, which can take four or five days. Occasionally, a club will designate a player for assignment while they're trying to trade him.

Being called up versus having a contract purchased

For most practical purposes, this really doesn't make much difference. If he's already on the 40-man roster, he's called up. If he's not on the 40-man roster, then his contract is purchased (for a nominal fee) from the minor-league team. However, the player must be added to the 40-man roster when his contract is purchased, which often necessitates dropping another player from the 40-man roster, whether by release or trade.

Veteran players

Any player who has been in the major leagues for five full seasons may not be assigned to a minor-league team without his written consent. This sometimes puts the team in a bad position because a player with five years has every right to refuse the assignment and basically tell the club: "I don't want to go to Nashville (for example). You can either release me and keep paying me, or keep me on the major league roster and keep paying. Your choice."

Also, a player with five years of service time who is traded in the middle of a multi-year contract may demand another trade prior to the start of the season after the one in which he was traded. Any player with at least 10 years of Major League service, the last five of which have been with one team, may not be traded without his written consent. This is commonly known as the 5 and 10 rule.

Player to be named later

Milwaukee fans should know all about this phrase from 2008: The Brewers obtained CC Sabathia from Cleveland for four minor leaguers in early July, but one of them was a player to be named later. It turned out nearly three months later that that player was outfielder Michael Brantley.

There are two restrictions. First, the transaction must be completed within six months. And second, the player named later can't have played in the same league as the team he's being traded to. That's why the player is almost always a minor leaguer.

What happens if the teams can't agree on who that player will be? This doesn't occur often, but if no names are agreed upon initially, the clubs will agree on a price to paid in lieu of a player.

Sometimes the team receiving the player will provide the other club a list of minor leaguers, and later the club will have its pick from those on that list. This list is negotiated at the time of the trade.

Rule 5 draft

A player not on a team's 40-man roster is eligible for the Rule 5 draft if the player was 18 or younger when he first signed a pro contract and this is the fifth Rule 5 draft since he signed, or if he was 19 or older when he first signed a pro contract and this is the fourth Rule 5 draft since he signed.

A player drafted onto a Major League roster in the Rule 5 draft must remain in the majors--on the 25-man active roster or the DL--for all of the subsequent season or the drafting club must attempt to return him to his original club. However, since a returned Rule 5 player must first be placed on outright waivers, a third club could claim the player off waivers. But, of course, that club would then also have to keep him in the majors all season or offer him back to his original club. Occasionally, the drafting club will work out a trade with the player's original team, allowing the drafting club to retain the player but send him to the minors.

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