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Clarifying 2020 roster rules, player pools, and option status

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How exactly are the 60-man player pools going to work?

Kansas City Royals v Oakland Athletics Photo by Michael Zagaris/Oakland Athletics/Getty Images

The weird 2020 MLB season brings with it some unusual rules regarding team rosters. Let’s take a closer look at how exactly it will all work, with some help from MLB’s site as well as MLB Trade Rumors.

The basic overview is that each team will begin training camp with a list of 60 players, which must be submitted by noon on Sunday. The pool can be made up of anyone in the organization, and does not need to include the entire 40-man roster, though surely most or all of the 40-man will indeed be there. Only players in this 60-man pool are eligible to participate this year.

When the regular season begins in late July, active rosters will begin at 30 players, all of whom must be part of the 60-man pool and on the 40-man roster. That active roster will go down to 28 after two weeks, and then down to 26 after two more weeks. On top of that, they can travel with a three-man taxi squad of emergency reserves in case they need to suddenly call someone up while on the road; the third taxi member must be a catcher.

Transactions go on as normal. A team can option a player off the active roster and call up someone to replace him, provided the replacement is also on the 40-man and part of the 60-man pool, and then the optioned player must spend 10 days on assignment before returning to the majors unless they’re coming back to replace an injury (read: business as usual). Or they can make a signing or a waiver claim and then DFA someone to make room. Teams can trade, as long as all players involved are in their respective clubs’ 60-man pools.

Real-world example: Player A and Player B are both on the 40-man roster, and in the 60-man pool. Player A makes the active 30-man Opening Day roster, but Player B doesn’t. Later, Player A is optioned back to training camp, and Player B is recalled to the majors in his place. They are both still on the 40-man roster, and both still in the 60-man pool. Ten or more days later, Player A is eligible to be called back up to the active roster. All of this is how things normally work, because both players are in the 60-man pool.

60-man pool rules

The part that needs clarifying is exactly how the 60-man pool works. The first important detail is that it’s not set in stone when teams submit their lists on Sunday. It is possible to add and remove names from the group as the year goes on.

The catch is, players can only be removed from the pool via some kind of transaction. If they’re on the 40-man then they can be DFA’d, or if they’re non-roster then they can be released from the organization, or either way they can be traded, among other methods. But they can’t just be “sent down” off the 60-man pool, and once they’re gone they can’t return to the same team’s pool this year.

One other way out of the pool is to be put on the long-term injured list, which is a 45-day stint this year instead of the normal 60-day. The same goes for the new COVID-19 related IL, which is of indefinite length. Players removed for IL reasons will be able to rejoin the pool when healthy.

Once space is created in some way and there are open spots in the pool, new players can be added freely. That can come in the form of acquiring someone back in a trade, or signing a free agent, or making a waiver claim, or simply pulling from within the organization. They don’t need to be added to the 40-man roster in order to join the pool, though they’ll need to get on the 40-man if they’re to come up to the majors.

Real-world example #1: Player A is in the 60-man pool and on the 40-man roster. The team wants to sign Player B, which means they need space on the 60-man (regardless of whether Player B is also going on the 40-man). So they DFA Player A, which removes him from the 40-man roster and from the 60-man pool. Player A is now out of the team’s picture entirely for the year; even if he clears waivers and stays in the organization, he can’t be re-added to the 60-man pool this year.

Real-world example #2: Player A is in the 60-man pool but not on the 40-man roster. The team wants to sign Player B, which means they need space on the 60-man. In order to remove Player A to make room, they’ll either have to trade him or release him entirely from the organization. Even if he finds his way back later, he can’t be re-added to the 60-man pool this year.

Real-world example #3: The team wants to call up Player A to the majors. He’s in the 60-man pool, but not on the 40-man roster, so to clear room on the 40-man they have to DFA someone else. They choose Player B, who is thus removed from all the roster/pool lists. As an offshoot of clearing 40-man space, they now also have an open spot in their 60-man pool, which they can fill by signing someone else, or adding one of their own minor leaguers, or they can simply leave it open for use later.

***

The key point here is teams’ ability to add new players to their pool. That means the initial list this weekend isn’t final for the entire year, and it’s not important to maximize every single spot in a win-now capacity.

For example, if some role player doesn’t work out and gets DFA’d, or if Rule 5 draft pick Vimael Machin gets returned to his old team, then Oakland won’t permanently be down a spot in their overall pool — they can just add a new player to replace him. If Daniel Mengden doesn’t get activated from the long-term IL by the noon submission deadline, then there’s no need to include him on the list; they can add him later in place of whoever gets DFA’d off the 40-man in the corresponding move.

A’s 60-man pool

Who might be included in the A’s 60-man pool? It’s probably safe to assume the whole 40-man roster will be there, as there isn’t anyone who’s too far away from MLB. Beyond that, there is some reporting on a handful of early picks.

First up are a few minor league free agents who provide immediate MLB depth, via Susan Slusser of the S.F. Chronicle:

  • LHP Lucas Luetge
  • RHP Jordan Weems
  • C Carlos Perez
  • IF Ryan Goins

Next up are some top prospects, from both the upper and lower minors, via Slusser and MLB insider Jesse Sanchez (for Puason):

  • C Tyler Soderstrom
  • SS Nick Allen
  • SS Robert Puason
  • OF Greg Deichmann

The presence of teenagers Puason and Soderstrom, and even Allen who hasn’t yet played at Double-A, shows that there are priorities for these pools beyond just stocking the MLB rosters. With no minor league season for their top prospects to play in, the A’s appear to be using some spots to give those youngsters a chance to continue their development — and to do so in a big-league-type setting, where they can work out and interact with more experienced players and coaches.

Allen and Puason both ranked Top 10 on our Community Prospect List, and this year’s 1st-round draft pick Soderstrom would as well if we re-voted today. Everybody else in the Top 10 is on the 40-man roster, so the upper echelons of the farm system will all be part of the pool. Deichmann ranked No. 15 on the CPL.

As for the minor league free agents, Luetge, Perez, and Goins all have MLB experience, though Luetge hasn’t been there since 2015 and Perez since 2018. Weems has only briefly pitched as high as Triple-A, but was strong in the original spring training back in Feb/Mar. They’re in the background for now, but it’s not unusual to see these types of non-roster depth guys step up and make an impact in the bigs.

Option status

There’s one last detail to wrap up the roster/pool picture, and that’s option status. Who is eligible to be sent down to the “minors” (aka off-site training camp in probably Stockton)?

First, let’s set aside some of the stars who are obviously never going to be sent down. Chapman, Olson, Laureano, and Manaea are surely safe, as likely are Canha, Pinder, and Piscotty. The top prospects Luzardo, Puk, and Murphy would presumably need to struggle in some MLB games in order to get sent down, so we’ll ignore them too.

Also missing from this conversation are the long-time veterans, defined as anyone else with five or more years of MLB service: Fiers, Hendriks, Petit, Soria, Diekman, McFarland, Semien, Davis, and Grossman. Those players can only be optioned with their permission, which rarely happens and isn’t something we need to worry about here.

With all of them out of the way, here are the 40-man roster players with options remaining, with the number of option years in parentheses (the number will go down if they use one in 2020, by being sent to the “minors” for at least 20 days, which most of them will). These players can be sent down and therefore don’t need to be on the Opening Day active roster, though a few will indeed make the team:

  • RHP Paul Blackburn (1)
  • RHP Daniel Gossett (1)
  • RHP Grant Holmes (2)
  • RHP Daulton Jefferies (3)
  • RHP James Kaprielian (2)
  • RHP Burch Smith (1)
  • RHP Lou Trivino (2)
  • C Austin Allen (2)
  • C Jonah Heim (3)
  • IF Sheldon Neuse (3)
  • OF Luis Barrera (2)
  • OF Skye Bolt (2)
  • OF Seth Brown (3)
  • OF Dustin Fowler (1)

Most of those names are Double/Triple-A prospects or depth guys, who weren’t in the running for the MLB squad anyway. The notables are Trivino and Brown, as well as the newcomer Smith. They’re all presumably candidates for the 30-man roster, but if there’s not room, or if they get squeezed out when it drops to 28 or 26 men, then they can be safely stashed.

Meanwhile, these are the out-of-options names you need to know. All of these players need to make the Opening Day 30-man roster, or else be dumped in some way — either traded or otherwise DFA’d:

  • RHP Chris Bassitt
  • RHP Daniel Mengden
  • RHP Frankie Montas
  • RHP J.B. Wendelken
  • IF Franklin Barreto
  • IF Vimael Machin**
  • IF Jorge Mateo
  • UT Tony Kemp

** Machin actually has all three options left, but can’t be sent down because he’s a Rule 5 draft pick.

For a clearer visual, here’s the current 40-man roster. Players in bold have options remaining and can be sent down off the active roster. Players in italics haven’t yet debuted in MLB.

Oakland A's 40-man roster
Pitchers Hitters
Starters

Frankie Montas (R)
Sean Manaea (L)
Mike Fiers (R)
Chris Bassitt (R)
Jesus Luzardo (L)
Paul Blackburn (R)
Daniel Gossett (R)
--Grant Holmes (R)
--Daulton Jefferies (R)
--James Kaprielian (R)


Relievers

Liam Hendriks (R)
Yusmeiro Petit (R)
Joakim Soria (R)
Lou Trivino (R)
J.B. Wendelken (R)
Jake Diekman (L)
T.J. McFarland (L)
A.J. Puk (L)
Burch Smith (R)


60-day IL

(Daniel Mengden) (R)
Catchers

Sean Murphy (R)
Austin Allen (L)
--Jonah Heim (S)


Infielders

Matt Olson (L)
Marcus Semien (R)
Matt Chapman (R)
Tony Kemp (L)
Franklin Barreto (R)
Sheldon Neuse (R)
--Vimael Machin (L)
--Jorge Mateo (R)


Outfielders

Khris Davis (R)
Mark Canha (R)
Ramon Laureano (R)
Stephen Piscotty (R)

Robbie Grossman (S)
Chad Pinder (R)
Seth Brown (L)
Skye Bolt (S)
Dustin Fowler (L)
--Luis Barrera (L)