clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

MLB Roster Rules: The 40 Man Roster

With the transactions constantly going on for Major League teams, we thought it would be a good idea to go over some of the key roster rules that teams must adhere to, and help define them. Next up are the 40-man rosters.

The 40 Man Roster

The 40 Man roster is the group of players who are eligible to be added to the active (25 man) roster. Generally, any player that a team wishes to use in the postseason must be on the 40-man roster by August 31st (although there are a few loopholes on this). In addition, when the rosters expand on September 1st each season, they are eligible to be included in the active roster for those games as well. 

Players on the 40-man roster who are not on the 25-man roster generally include:

  • Players on the 15-day disabled list
  • Players on "Optional Assignment" - In the minors
  • Players on the 7-day concussion disabled list
  • Players on paternity leave

Players can be added and removed from the 40-man roster in a number of different ways:

Added to the 40-Man

  • If a player is drafted in the Rule 4 (June) Amateur draft, they are added to the roster if they sign a "Major League" contract. Recent notables to do this include Nationals' SP Stephen Strasburg and OF Bryce Harper, as well as Diamondbacks' SP Trevor Bauer.
  • A player not currently on the 40-man roster can "have their contract purchased". What this basically does is put the player onto the 40 man roster. This portion is usually a move on paper only, as not all players who are added to the 40 man roster are also added to the active 25 man roster.

Removed from the 40-Man

  • A team can outright release a player. This generally does not happen unless it is clear the player has zero trade value.
  • A team can "designate for assignment" the player. This is a procedural move where the player is removed from the 40-man roster. The player is also placed on waivers, allowing any team the opportunity to claim him. During this time, the player is generally in limbo for 10 days, and is not able to play either in the Majors or in the minors. If the player clears waivers through this process, they are "outrighted" to the minors.
  • A team can move a player to the 60-day disabled list. This frees up a roster spot on both the 25 man and the 40 man roster if the player was active prior to that. However, the player must be added back to the 40-man roster if they are activated from the disabled list or after the season.
  • A player on the roster can be "non-tendered" during the offseason, where the team does not offer the player a contract and they become a free agent. This can potentially allow the team to resign the player to a minor-league contract which will not place them on the 40-man roster at this time.

Spots on the 40-man roster and their usage have become increasingly important, as any player who is removed from the 40-man roster is subjected to waivers and could be lost for nothing by a team. It can also determine which players are kept from year to year, and which ones are allowed to leave.

In addition, the players on the 40 man roster are protected from the Rule 5 draft, which occurs in December each year. For a team to retain the rights to a player, they must be on the 40-man roster, or become subject to that draft.  However, they don't have to protect every single player in the system with this roster at all times.

For the draft itself, protection requirements are determined as such:

  • If the player signed their 1st professional contract by the age of 18, they must be protected 5 seasons after that initial contract.
  • If the player signed their 1st professional contract at age 19 or older, they must be protected 4 seasons after their initial contract.

As a general rule, international free agents and high school players fall under the 1st part of that rule, and college players under the 2nd part.

For example,

  • The players drafted out of high school in the 2007 MLB draft will have to be protected after this season. Notable players who are not currently on 40-man rosters include Cubs' 3B Josh Vitters, Diamondbacks' SP Jarrod Parker, and Marlins' 3B Matt Dominguez
  • The players drafted out of college in the 2008 MLB draft will have to be protected after this season as well. Notable players include Mets' 2B Reese Havens, Rockies' SP Christian Friedrich, and Rangers' RP Tanner Scheppers.

Overall, the importance of the spots on the 40-man roster have increased as time has progressed, as proper usage can also help to keep payroll costs down. A player's service clock cannot start until they are on the 40-man roster, and even then will only start as they accrue service days in the Majors.