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.
Heath Hembree in 2022 fits the bill for the Pittsburgh Pirates, but Albert Pujols in 2021 is a more notable example (notice the seven days between news stories, for what it’s worth).
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.
Who’s get DFA’d when Heineman or Delay needs to be added to 40 man?
My pick would be to trade Chase DeJong or Duane Underwood Jr. or maybe even WilCrowe. Seeing as Crowe has an option left and should hold more value.
It’s probably gonna be an OF though. They definitely need to sort though some of those OF’s. Swaggerty, Vilade, Smith-Njigba, Cal Mitchell, Suwinski, and with Marcano and Bae both playing some OF too. Plus Connor Joe who looks like the platoon in RF with Suwinski.
Ethan – explain it to me like I’m a dummy, which I am…
Does a player who is DFAd go on the waiver wire immediately, or can the team DFA a player on a Tuesday and put them on waivers Friday, frex? IOW, can the team wait until any point during the 7 days to waive?
Sorry, just now seeing this.
No, as the story says, players are not placed on waivers immediately.
It’s my understanding that as long as a player can clear waivers by the time the 7 days are over, they can be placed at any point. If there’s no interest league wide, they can be placed immediately, or the team can wait a few days. Like I said, as long as everything gets settled by Day 7.
Cool, thanks. Mystery cleared up.
For you heathens who don’t believe in Purgatory, may I present to you the MLB Waiver Wire as proof of its existence!
In all seriousness, this process has to be real difficult on those who are subjected to it. I sincerely hope MLB, or the individual organizations, or the Agency who represents them, provides these men access to a trained Sports Psychologist if they so desire one. Easy to see how this process could cripple someone mentally.
I know as men we’re taught to just rub some dirt in it, which I wholeheartedly endorse in certain situations. But when you’re essentially being told you’re not good enough to do what you’ve devoted your whole life to do, I can see how that might require more than just a word of encouragement to bounce back from mentally.
Good point – it happens every year, but it is the dream that many have and decide to pursue. The worst cases are these kids from the Caribbean – where are they going if they do not make it?
Checkout the kids in the minors who have a college background – all that means is that they played baseball in college. I would be willing to bet that at least 80% of them never completed their degree. Some may be close – possibly a year short of a degree, but the majority are too far away and too many dollars short to even think about going back to school.
At least they got a chance at a free education? Nope. With only 11 full scholarships available in D1, at least 6 will be split among big arms and possibly a few hitters. Then only about 5 scholarships available for possibly 20-25 other players? Good luck!
A tip to parents – most college baseball coaches are looking for VG players who can qualify for Academic Aid, and have the work ethic to stay in college. Lot of time available for socializing or studies? Forget it. The NCAA has limits on the amount of time allowed for sport, but every coach has their own requirements about how much of your “free time” better be spent at the indoor facility hitting, fielding, pitching, lifting, etc!
So, entering the real world in their mid-20’s without a job or relevant qualifications except to work part-time at one of the many indoor baseball facilities that preach the dream? We only see the success stories, but that is the case in any sport.
I’m pretty sure that 100% of amateur contracts come with promises for the team to pay for player to start/continue/complete education, except for maybe those who already have.
Great insight on the part of baseball nobody talks about.
Playing the game in Pittsburgh (North Hills) post HS and then raising and coaching two boys post HS is a heckuva learning experience.