Arbitration: Players with three full seasons in the majors are eligible for arbitration. That's easy to understand, but it gets trickier. There is also another group of players eligible for arbitration. Those players have at least two full seasons, but not three full seasons and they must be in the top 17% of players with service time between two and three years. In other words – just to make the math easy – if there are 100 players with between two and three years in the majors, the 17 (17%) with the most time are also declared eligible for arbitration. Why 17%. Who knows? This is baseball, it doesn't have to make sense and it doesn't have to be easy to understand.
In arbitration, the player (or his agent) submits a figure and says why they deserve that much money. The team (generally, the GM) also submits a figure and says why the player is only worth that much. The arbitrator then must decide which figure makes more sense. Wouldn't just splitting the difference in the middle make more sense? Perhaps, but you're forgetting that this is baseball. Also, that middle can sometimes mean a swing of a couple million dollars one way or the other.
Of course, it should go without saying that the player must not have already signed a contract extension that covers the upcoming season.
Free Agency: Players with six full seasons in the majors, who do not have a contract for the upcoming season, are eligible for free agency. Those players can be offered arbitration by the team that they last played for and in fact, must be offered arbitration if the team wants to receive compensation if the player signs with a different team. If a player is offered arbitration and accepts, he is considered signed and the two sides go through the arbitration process. If he declines arbitration, he can not re-sign with that team until after May 1 of the following year and if he signs with another team, his original team receives compensation from the signing team. When Jim Thome became a free agent, the Indians offered him arbitration, but he signed with the Phillies. That meant that the Phillies owed the Indians a draft pick for Thome. The compensation is based on how highly the player is ranked based on other players at his position.
Rule 5 Draft: Stay with us on this one, because it gets truly confusing. The first rule for being eligible for the Rule 5 Draft is that the player is not on the team's 40 man roster. If a player was 18 or younger when he first signed a professional contract, he is not eligible for the first three Rule 5 Drafts after he was signed. On the fourth Rule 5 Draft after he signed, he is eligible to be drafted by another team, if he has not been added to the 40 man roster. If a player was 19 or older when he first signed, he is not eligible in the first two Rule 5 Drafts after he signs, but can be drafted in the third Rule 5 Draft after he signed his original contract if he is not on a 40 man roster.
If a player is drafted, he must remain on the 25 man roster for the entire season after being taken in the Rule 5 Draft. If he doesn't, he must be placed on waivers and can be taken by another team, who would then have to keep him on their 25 man roster for the entire season. If he clears waivers, his original club can buy him back from the team that drafted him for $25,000. By the way, the team that drafts a player must pay $50,000 to draft him. Instead of sending him back to his original team if he clears waivers, the two teams could also work out a trade for the player, which would allow the drafting team to send him to the minors.
Options: Once a player is put on the 40 man roster, a team has options on the player. That basically means that the team can "option" him to the minor leagues. A team can option a player as many times as they like, but are limited to three option years. In other words, if I'm added to the Phillies 40 man roster this winter – hey, I'll take the major league minimum – they can option me to the minors in 2004, 2005 and 2006. Technically, the years don't have to be consecutive. After that, they are "out of options" and for the Phillies to send me to the minors, I would have to clear waivers.
Waivers: What does being put on waivers mean? Well, if the Phillies put me on waivers, teams have three business days to claim me. If nobody claims me, then I have cleared waivers, which basically means there are just a few things that can happen. 1. I could be sent to the minors, unless I have five years experience (we'll touch on that later). 2. The Phillies could release me, which would make me a free agent who would be eligible to sign with any team. 3. I can be traded, even if the trade deadline has passed.
Of course, I might be claimed by another team or even multiple teams. In that case, 1. If there is only one team that claims me, my contract is assigned to that team. 2. If more than one club in the same league makes a claim, the club that is lower in the standings gets me. 3. If teams in both leagues claim me, the preference goes to the teams in the same league as the Phillies and the one that is lowest in the standings gets me.
There is another possible scenario if I am claimed. That is that the Phillies could realize the error of their ways and could withdraw the waiver request and keep me.
Veteran Players: For official reasons, major league baseball defines "veteran players". Any player who has been in the major leagues for five full seasons is considered a veteran player. That basically means that a player with five full seasons can not be sent to the minors unless they agree to go. If they don't agree, the team can either release the player or keep him on the major league team. Either way, they have to pay the player.
Another advantage of officially being a veteran player is that if the player has five full years experience and is traded in the middle of a multi-year contract, he can demand to be traded again prior to the next season.
It gets even better for players with 10 years experience and the last five years with the same team – Mike Piazza hit this goal during the 2003 season – because that player can veto a trade to any other team.
Designated for Assignment: If a team isn't sure what to do with a player and they need to clear a roster spot, they can "designate him for assignment". That means that the player is off the roster while the team does something with him. They could place him on waivers, trade him, release him or make any other moves that may be available to them.
The biggest advantage to this is that a team doesn't have to keep a player that they put on waivers on their roster while they wait for him to clear waivers or be claimed. The players roster spot becomes immediately available for the team to use for another player.
Called Up or Contract Purchased?: If a player is on the 40 man roster, but has been optioned to the minors, the team might decide to bring him back to the majors. To do that, they "call up" the player. If a player isn't on the 40 man roster, the team must "purchase his contract" from the minor league team that he was assigned to. In that case, the player must be put on the team's 40 man roster.
The difference showed during the 2003 season. Chase Utley was on the Phillies 40 man roster and they were able to call him up. Amaury Telemaco wasn't on the 40 man roster, so the Phillies had to purchase his contract.
Disabled List: This is pretty simple. There are two disabled lists (DL). The 15 day and the 60 day DL. The technical part of it is that a doctor must certify that a player is injured (which isn't tough to do) and the player can be placed on the DL retroactively. That means that he can be put on the list as of the day after he last played in a game, meaning that he is eligible to come off the DL quicker.
Players on the 60 day DL do not count on the 40 man roster. Players on the 15 day DL do count against the 40 man roster. A player originally put on the 15 day DL can be shifted to the 60 day DL at any time.
There is also a "Bereavement List" for players who have a death or serious illness in the family and need time away from the club. That player stays on the 40 man roster, but can be replaced on the 25 man roster. The Bereavement List is a fairly new thing. Barry Bonds went on the "BL" twice during the 2003 season. The first time was to visit his father, Bobby Bonds, who was battling a serious illness and he went on again when Bobby Bonds passed away.
Rehab Assignments: Players who go on the DL can be placed on a rehab assignment. That means that the player is temporarily placed with a minor league team to get back into shape. Position players can be on a rehab assignment for 20 days and pitchers have a maximum of 30 days on a rehab assignment. Players can also be moved to various minor league teams during their rehab assignment.