Baseball is full of roster rules and regulations that aren’t always the easiest to understand. Well, these are my favorite parts of baseball, so I’m creating a series to try and explain some of those aspects of the game. If you missed it, check out last week’s article on how Optional and Outright assignments work.
“To make room on the active roster, Player X was designated for assignment”.
Baseball fans hear it so much that it’s something that has become second nature, but what does it really mean?
Teams can only designate a player for assignment if they need room on their Active List (26-man roster) or Reserve List (40-man roster), so this is a short-term way to make room for incoming players.
Nothing happens to the player immediately, however, aside from losing their roster spot.
In simple terms, think of being designated for assignment as an IOU for a future transaction — except this is a transaction a player doesn’t want to be owed.
Fulfilling a Designation
Once a player has been designated, the team has seven days to effectively settle up with the player, with the date of designation counting as Day 0.
There are several ways in which a team can designate a player: assign them outright to the minors, assign them to another team (trade), or release them.
Outright Assignment and Waivers
In order to be outrighted to the minors, a team would have to place the player on waivers and he would have to go unclaimed by the other 29 teams. This is likely the point where many fans get confused by the process.
When designated, a player isn’t immediately placed on waivers, which I believe to be the common misconception. They simply need to be able to clear waivers within a week, and while I don’t want this to turn into a tutorial on waivers, a little extra information is required to explain this.
According to the rules, if a player is placed on waivers in season by 2 p.m. on any given day, another team must place a claim on said player by 1 p.m. two days later. For example, a player placed on waivers by 2 p.m. Monday needs claimed by 1 p.m. Wednesday. Offseason waivers are a little different in that business essentially isn’t done on weekends (Thursday is settled on Monday and Friday on Tuesday), but the same theory applies.
So, if a player is designated for assignment on a Monday, they must be able to clear waivers by 1 p.m. the following Monday. That means that the team wouldn’t have to place them on waivers until Saturday in-season and Thursday during the offseason.
Either way leaves several days between the designation and the waiver placement where the player is just kind of existing in purgatory, neither on an active roster or waivers. Therefore, this period is often when teams will test the market on their designated player, seeing if they may be able to get more than just a waiver fee.
Another reason why players aren’t immediately placed on waivers is that players are not allowed to be traded while a waiver request is pending. Why would a team want to trade for a player that they might be able to claim on waivers in a few days though?
Teams generally have a good idea of how other teams view their players, and sometimes one person’s trash is another’s treasure. When a player is placed on waivers, the waiver order is such that the worst team in the entire league gets first dibs, all the way down to the worst.
The common misunderstanding prevails that waiver order goes by National and American League (I guess that’s understandable when baseball can’t even get it right), but it hasn’t been that way since at least 2019 (the oldest rulebook I have access to).
So, if a team further down the waiver order fancies a player, they may have to effectively jump line and acquire the player before anyone else can. If the player is in high demand, that may mean trading a player in return, like the Toronto Blue Jays did for Zach Thompson.
Usually, however, it only takes cash considerations, like Bryse Wilson and the Milwaukee Brewers. As of 2021, considerations for a waiver claim were $50,000, so anything above that makes it worth the designating team’s time to accept a trade.
Finally, if a player has enough service time—5.000 years of service or more—and can decline an outright assignment, they are typically released when their seven days are up.
Sometimes, teams will still release a player that is able to be outrighted, as the Pirates did with Kyle Crick in 2021.
Designated for Assignment and Contract Details
If a player is on the active roster when they are designated for assignment, they continue to receive their Major League salary while also accruing service time, both through the date of the assignment or release.
However, if a player is on optional assignment when they are designated for assignment, they do not gain service time, but they are still paid at their Minor League salary. The date of designation is also counted as the final day of the optional assignment.
Offseason Calendar Update
No updates here as of this week
Pirates Payroll Updates
— No updates here as of this week
—For 2023, the payroll estimate stands at $73,202,372 for the Labor Relations Department, while it’s $89,619,039 for CBT purposes.
A longtime Pirates Prospects reader, Ethan has been covering payroll, transactions, and rules in-depth since 2018 and dabbling in these topics for as long as he can remember. He started writing about the Pirates at The Point of Pittsburgh before moving over to Pirates Prospects at the start of the 2019 season.
Always a lover of numbers and finding an answer, Ethan much prefers diving into these topics over what’s actually happening on the field. These under and often incorrectly covered topics are truly his passion, and he does his best to educate fans on subjects they may not always understand, but are important nonetheless.
When he’s not updating his beloved spreadsheets, Ethan works full-time as an accountant, while being a dad to two young daughters and watching too many movies and TV shows at night.