When The 40-Man Roster Is Short

After a flurry of roster moves, the Mariners are playing the role of a clearinghouse. Larry Stone noted that the Mariners now only have 29 players on their 40-man roster. Not all teams carry a full 40-man roster, but having nearly a dozen open spots is certainly a rarity and an extreme. The Mariners are going to fill up their roster before springtime, but if they did not, could they benefit from leaving a few slots open throughout the season?

There are various reasons why a team places a player on their 40-man roster. The most obvious (and common) case is major league contributors. At least 25 men on the roster figure to play with the club daily and that number becomes ambiguous on a team-by-team basis depending on health, contracts, and talent. Not every player on the 40-man roster, of course, is classified as a major league ready contributor. Some are prospects who the team wants to protect from Rule 5 eligibility or view as near-ready contributors and the rest are usually organizational soldiers rewarded with a raise in pay and prestige.

That last part is vital to the topic at hand. Players in their first season on the 40-man roster (and without MLB service time in tow) are paid only around $30K a season. As soon as that player enters his second season or earns a single day of service time, his pay doubles – the minimum pay for first time 40-man roster entrees is actually 50% of the pay for second-year 40-man vets. Additionally, options are good reasons why teams should resist placing their best prospects on the 40-man roster, and by extension, resist late season call-ups for young prospects.

Let’s say the Mariners wind up with 37 players on their 40-man roster when all is said and done – not simply from adding eight players, but the net total of their entire offseason – and instead of adding three organizational soldiers or fringe prospects, they leave those slots empty for most of the season. That would save them $90K.

In the world of baseball, $90K is not a lot of money. The major league minimum (for players on the 25-man roster) is over $400K. It costs $20K to make a waiver claim. Selecting a player in the Rule 5 draft costs $50K. And so on. Could teams benefit financially from leaving a couple of slots open? Barely. Ultimately, it’s probably not worth hearing from the Players’ Union or the potential shot to fringe player morale.



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Mitch
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Mitch

The real cost is flexibility. If you have a full 40-man roster and want to make a 2-for-1 trade or sign a free agent, you have to take a player off the 40-man and expose him to waivers, thus risking losing him to another organization.

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