Let's dispose of some easy answers: the last day of August, the first day of school for many of you out there, Monday. Of course those are correct but they miss the point.
What is today in the baseball world? It's the last day on which players may be placed on the 40-man roster to be eligible for the playoffs.
Or is it?
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Roster rules are pretty arcane. Most thinking baseball fans, I think, have a pretty strong grasp of the 25-man roster. The 40-man roster is slightly more obscure, and its distinction from the 25-man roster is less obvious.
Similarly, most people understand the July 31st non-waiver trade deadline, but have a lesser grasp of the sort of waiver deals, like the Scott Kazmir deal, that happen after that deadline.
But what about playoff eligibility? This is, after all, no small beer: for teams that make the playoffs, they care very deeply about their roster, and have to be especially careful to construct a useful bullpen and bench.
It turns out that today, August 31, is the deadline for players to be added to a team's 25-man roster in order to be eligible for playoff rosters. In other words, players not added to 25-man rosters by today are ineligible from the playoff rosters.
To prove this rule matters, take the example of Brad Penny, who was recently signed to a major league contract by the San Francisco Giants:
The Giants only have to pay him the pro-rated portion of the big-league minimum of $400,000, which will be less than $100,000.
Since he signed today, he can be added to the 25-man roster. And since, after trouncing the Rockies over the weekend, the Giants now stand tied atop the NL Wild Card standings, Penny would be able to help them in the playoffs.
Think you've got that pretty simple picture down? Good, 'cause it's got a gaping hole in it.
Here's a weird headline:
Phils put P John Ennis on 40-man roster
Is that the same John Ennis who injured himself in the first game of the 2009 season at AAA, and required season-ending Tommy John surgery? Why yes, yes it is.
So why put a guy like that on the 40-man roster, where he is eligible to earn a major league salary? I'm so glad you asked.
Courtesy the Detroit Tigers Weblog comes an explanation of an arcane roster eligibility rule:
To be eligible for a team’s playoff roster a player must be on either a)the 25 man active roster, b)the disabled list, c)the bereavement list, d)the suspended list as of August 31st at midnight.
Ok, so far, so straightforward. But surely the Phillies don't think Ennis will be healthy enough that he could return and help the team in the playoffs. So what gives?
If an eligible player is injured and unable to play a club can call up any player in the organization regardless of their roster status* provided that the replacement player plays the same position (position player for position player and pitcher for pitcher), the replacement player was in the organization as of the August 31st deadline and they finished the season in the organization, and they receive approval from the commissioner.
Aha! It's important to note that the commissioner's office nearly always approves this sort of move, and it is so widely relied upon, it's worth asking whether it really counts as a loophole any more.
What about poor Ennis? Todd Zolecki says don't cry for him, Broad and Pattison:
Ennis certainly doesn't mind. He is now making a big-league salary and earning service time for just sitting on the DL for the rest of the season. Not bad.
(I hope you'll click on the Zo Zone link just for the picture of John Ennis, which is truly terrifying.) Don't forget, he also gets a per diem. Not bad for Pavano work.
So it may be that players like this have some value left. Take note, Dontrelle Willis, that even though your career may be over, it's possible you'll still help the Tigers come October.
Even players like Ryan Freel, recently signed to a minor league contract by the Texas Rangers, may be able to make the playoffs by way of this loophole.
...Is Folgers in Your Cup! Er, a cup of coffee. Whatever.
However critical today's deadline is for contending teams, tomorrow is just as important for even the non-contending teams. That's because, beginning tomorrow, rosters expand to 40 players, allowing teams to give young talent a showcase in the bigs.
For example, Dave Cameron explains what the Mariners might do:
So, that brings the final tally to something like this: Carp/Olson on Tuesday, Vargas and Morrow TBD, Tui after Tacoma’s season ends, and that may be it. Don’t expect a big group to join the team when rosters expand, especially with Morrow’s status now up in the air.
Cameron is right to note that many teams will let players finish the minor league season before calling them up, in order to ensure regular at-bats. But with many minor league seasons ending relatively soon, there ought to be a good many call-ups.
A man whose financial future has arguably been hurt by the Brewers' superior knowledge of roster rules, J.J. Hardy, appears to have benefitted from roster expansion a day early:
Since the slumping Hardy was demoted to Triple-A Nashville on Aug. 12, Monday will mark his 20th day in the Minors and thus he'll lose the Major League service time he needed to qualify for free agency after the 2010 season. Instead, Hardy will be eligible for an extra year of arbitration and won't hit the open market until the winter of 2011. If players spend 19 or fewer days in the Minors during the season, their Major League service is unaffected.
There's another side effect: Since he was not on Milwaukee's roster on Aug. 31, Hardy will not be eligible for the postseason roster, should Milwaukee make a run in September.
Of course, the benefits aren't so extensive for Hardy. And I wouldn't hold out for that playoff berth. According to BPro's most recent Playoff Odds, the Beermakers have just a 0.11% chance of avoiding October golf.
Which players should teams call-up for a cup of coffee this September? Remember, when it comes to pitchers, it's important to balance the interest of a young player's health and giving him an opportunity to prove himself at the big league level.
So, what do you think?