Buzzwords. Most topics have them. If you're on the inside of these terms where the definition is largely implied, your needs are likely being met. If the terms are as if foreign, you can act like you understand, or risk looking a fool. The Baseball Buzzwords series will look at some of these odd terms, and try to explain them in bite-sized pieces. Today's term is "player to be named later."
Baseball trades are often very straightforward. One player for one player, or two for one. Sometimes, though, the desire to finalize a trade is a bit larger than the ability to agree on all the exchanged parts. In these instances, trades are left partially uncompleted. Often, this involves a player (or players) to be named later, or PTBNL.
On occasion, teams haven't fully scouted a foe's pipeline. On other occasions, a player may have nagging injury concerns. (This held up the Cubs/Rangers trade for Matt Garza, where Neil Ramirez was named the PTBNL.) Sometimes, the last piece hasn't "distanced themselves" from other possible options.
Let's imagine one team has a player the Cubs want, and the teams are close, but not close enough, to trade. The PTBNL option gets mentioned. The other team wants one more player to complete the exchange. (PTBNL can go both ways, or multiple players can go one way. The premise is the same.) The teams agree to a list of players, often in the length of two to five. The receiving team has up to six months (if both teams agree, the period can be shorter) to decide on which player they prefer. If they decide on "none of the above," an agreed-upon cash fee is sent instead.
If the trade is as simple as (one player) for (a PTBNL that turns into a cash receipt), it's listed as the player being traded for cash. The premise of "bought" or "sold" is potentially considered barbaric.
Among the keys to remember: The PTBNL list is agreed to in advance. The hope for the receiving team is that one of these minor league players (in almost every case, it will be a minor leaguer) figures out a portion of the game upon being linked to the trade. Then, they can add him on a hot streak.
Neither players, media, nor bloggers are told the names on the list. Both teams progress as if nothing has changed. If an announcement is made, then the player changes teams, and the seasons continue.
Do you have any further questions about PTBNL trades? Are there any other terms that ought to be better explained? That's what this series is about. I have a few in mind, but maybe your questions are better than mine. I'll try to respond in shorter than the six-month time frame of a PTBNL swap.