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Baseball Buzzwords: The 40-man roster

Here’s how the 40-man roster rules work.

Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

My Baseball Buzzwords series continues with one I refer to more than I probably ought to. If a transaction is made that involves the 40 (man roster), I reference it. Sometimes, I note how many spots are remaining when a roster move is made. Whether the player added is a familiar name or not, the 40 is a good way to add low-risk talent at any time of year. Here is a basic look at the MLB 40-man roster.

Major League Baseball accounts for two sorts of rosters. The more popular/familiar one is the formerly 25, now 26-man roster. Those are the players available to play each day, at least before September 1. This roster (now) allows for 13 pitchers and 13 hitters. Add to those the players on the (10- or 15-day) Injured lists, and you have a baseline for how much easily accessed minor-league talent is available. For instance, if two players are shelved in addition to the 26, the team likely has 12 (40-28) toggle-able minor-league players.

One of the things I advise in spring training is to try to become aware of something about as many of the players on the 40 as possible. Perhaps you're a note-taker, or have a good enough memory to not need to jot down notes. Players I'm not familiar with require some sort of jottings.

In addition to the (potential) fourteen on the 40 but off the 26, add any players on the long-term injured list (60-day) and anyone serving a suspension that bounces them from the list. (This happened in 2019 to pitcher Oscar De La Cruz and shortstop Addison Russell.) I recommend organizing the lists by "hitter" and "pitcher." That way, as a pitcher goes on the list, or has an outing that hints he might be riding the Des Moines to Chicago shuttle, you'll have a basic list of possible names to add.

It's possible, in fact quite easy, to add a player to the 40-man roster. As it's more difficult to retain the player when getting bounced from the 40, a degree of hesitancy is sometimes a decent idea. For instance, adding Nico Hoerner to the 40 was incredibly easy. Since he's there, and very unlikely to be removed, the "next player to be bounced" is likely better than if Hoerner hadn't been added.

Players run through the waiver process can be added to the 40 at a very slight rate of $20,000 and no direct talent loss. However, if the 40 is full at the time, a roster spot needs to be created to add the new player. Which seems a reasonable terminology end point, for today. Just as I was finishing up this article, the Cubs ran left-handed reliever CD Pelham through waivers to get him off the 40. He’s still with the team, and likely to begin his campaign in Des Moines or Tennessee.

Despite most waiver wire additions being fringe names, some absolute bargains can be added to the 40 on waivers. The Padres added their All-Star closer, Kirby Yates, on waivers. (Note the very positive comments.) Players go from middling to useful and middling to released on whether they're ready to be more useful or not. Not on how much they're guaranteed financially when on the escalator. Press releases generally aren’t involved.

If an unfamiliar player is added by the Cubs to the 40, look up where he attended school, and where he was drafted. That should give you an idea of how well he was valued on draft day. Then, wish him well. The “Who’s he?” comment is a bit played-out, and mainly shows a lack of awareness of a pro athlete. While major additions are more advertised, a player good enough to help the parent club when added as an afterthought can still be useful.