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A few notes on postseason roster eligibility and other roster rules

Here’s what it takes for a player to be postseason-eligible, and how it applies to Ben Zobrist.

Photo by Rob Leiter/MLB Photos via Getty Images

Ben Zobrist, who is currently on personal leave from the Cubs dealing with his divorce, is on the Restricted List. It’s widely expected that Zobrist will return to the Cubs, likely in September, and thus will be eligible for postseason play.

There have been some misconceptions about just who is eligible for postseason play and how that’s determined. This article is intended to clear up those misconceptions.

It used to be that only players on a team’s 40-man roster by midnight ET August 31 were eligible for the postseason. This eligibility rule was changed in 2014. The Major League Rules spell this out. These aren’t the playing rules, but the rules that govern how the sport operates. (Think “Rule 5 Draft” — there are 60 such rules.)

Rule 40 deals with postseason eligibility. It states:

To be eligible to play for a Major League Club in a Wild Card Game, Division Series, League Championship Series, or the World Series, a player must

(A) have been on a Major League Active, Injured, Bereavement/Family Medical Emergency, Paternity, Suspended or Military List of such Major League Club as of Midnight Eastern Time on August 31, or on such date be under control, but on optional assignment, or on assignment from another Major League organization and not yet reported; and

(B) have remained reserved to such Major League Club (at the Major or Minor League levels) through the beginning of the applicable post-season series

“Remained reserved” is the contractual term indicating that a player is part of a team’s organization. (The language is similar to the old “reserve clause.”)

This means that any player in the Cubs organization as of midnight ET August 31 is eligible for the postseason roster. (The link below says 11:59 p.m. ET, which is probably more likely the case.)

However! Look at the lists a player needs to be on:

a Major League Active, Injured, Bereavement/Family Medical Emergency, Paternity, Suspended or Military List

Note that the Restricted List is not indicated here. Zobrist is currently on the Restricted List. Most of the time, this list is used for players under suspension — for example, Addison Russell was on that list while he was suspended. Players on the Restricted List don’t count against the 40-man roster list and generally are not paid during their time on that list.

For now. Zobrist is participating in rehab-assignment games under a rule that allows such things for players on the restricted list. You’ll recall that Russell did the same thing, and had to be added back to the 40-man roster after his suspension ended. (Brandon Morrow was moved to the 60-day injured list to make room for Russell on May 2, at which time Russell was optioned to Triple-A Iowa.)

Thus, for Zobrist to be postseason-eligible, he’d have to be returned to the 40-man roster by August 31. At that point, someone on the 40-man will have to be designated for assignment to make room for Zobrist. (I’m looking at you, Mark Zagunis.) Zobrist would not have to be placed on the active roster that day. Conveniently, the Cubs have an afternoon game at Wrigley Field August 31; they could place Zobrist back on the 40-man roster after that game is over and activate him for the September 1 game against the Brewers at Wrigley Field.

I want to say a few words here about a player being “designated for assignment,” too. This has become shorthand for many fans who want a team to get rid of a player and yell, “DFA him! DFA him!” That’s not what a DFA is used for. Being designated for assignment is something teams do when they need a 40-man roster space but aren’t 100 percent certain what they want to do with the DFA’d player. Here is what being DFA actually means:

When a player’s contract is designated for assignment -- often abbreviated “DFA” -- that player is immediately removed from his club’s 40-man roster. Within seven days of the transaction (had been 10 days under the 2012-16 Collective Bargaining Agreement), the player can either be traded or placed on irrevocable outright waivers.

If the player is claimed off said waivers by another club, he is immediately added to that team’s 40-man roster, at which point he can be optioned to the Minor Leagues (if he has Minor League options remaining) or assigned to his new team’s 25-man roster. If the player clears waivers, he may be sent outright to the Minor Leagues or released. Players with more than three years of Major League service time or who have been previously outrighted may reject the outright assignment in favor of free agency.

Clubs may utilize this option to clear a spot on the 40-man roster -- typically with the intention of adding a newly acquired player (via trade or free agency), a Minor Leaguer or a player being activated from the 60-day injured list.

(Emphasis in the quote box added by me.)

Hope that clears up what “DFA” means. If you really want a team to get rid of a player, you should yell, “Release him!”

Further, that “60-day injured list” note above is how Kyle Schwarber was eligible for the World Series in 2016. Schwarber was on that list all season after the knee injury in April. But he still had to be restored to the 40-man roster to be able to play. To make room for Schwarber on the 40-man on October 22, 2016, the Cubs designated minor-league pitcher Giovanni Soto for assignment. (And yes, if you don’t remember him, there really was a pitcher named Giovanni Soto in the organization at the time, though he never pitched in the majors for the Cubs.)

Note that the new postseason eligibility rules allow teams to use any player in their organization in the postseason, replacing someone on the active postseason roster, if they so choose. The Royals were the first team to do this, adding Raul Mondesi Jr. (who now goes by Adalberto Mondesi) to their World Series roster in 2015. He became the first player to make his major-league debut in the World Series (he didn’t play in a regular-season game until 2016).

Hope this clears things up regarding Ben Zobrist and postseason eligibility. Perhaps Ben will give us another magical postseason moment like this one. [VIDEO]