Not always are the cuts from Major League spring training camps driven solely by performance. Sometimes the calendar is a candidate’s enemy. One factor rarely discussed during the spring are rules that govern player movement.
One of these rules is a set date each spring after which a club can no longer option out an injured 40-man roster player.
I thought about a potential application of this situation on Friday, when outfielder Tommy Pham was helped off the Roger Dean Stadium turf during the team’s game against the Miami Marlins. While his quad strain is not believed to be major, you never know, especially considering the patient is the oft-injured Pham.
During the regular season, the situation is clear. If a player is injured while in the majors, he has to go on the Major League disabled list, receiving MLB pay and accruing MLB service time. Early spring training does not count, but later in camp, it does. My understanding is that March 20 is this year’s cut-off date.
In other words, if a player is injured before March 20, the club can option him to the minors even if still injured. If necessary, he would then open the season on the disabled list of the minor league team, not that of the Major League club.
But if the player is injured later in camp, he is protected from being optioned out just because of his injury status and accruing less pay and Major League service as a result. In the case of a serious injury, such as a Tommy John surgery, a full season of MLB pay and an entire year of service time could hang in the balance.
My understanding is that this situation is only applicable to players with no prior Major League service time, however. During the period Pham was called up last September, he accrued 21 days of major league time, so he would not qualify.
Four of the five relevant Cardinals players have no realistic chance of making the big-league roster, anyway. Still, the club will likely clear them out of camp to avoid a late-spring injury forcing them to artificially keep the player on the big-league DL to open the regular season. The four are catchers Ed Easley, Cody Stanley and Michael Ohlman plus shortstop Aledmys Diaz.
The fifth player is far more interesting. Second baseman Ty Kelly has been seeing a lot of playing time to date this spring. There are several reasons. One is that he is new to the system. Another is that he switch hits. Yet another is that Kelly is versatile defensively. Maybe one other reason is a desire to get a very good look at him before March 20.
Based on his play to date, the 26-year-old seems to have a legitimate shot at making St. Louis’ bench to open the season – perhaps even more so if Pham’s injury lingers.
In fact, through Friday’s action, Kelly is just one at-bat off the team lead with 17. He is also starting again on Saturday – in left field. To date, Kelly has five hits, including the club’s only triple, and four walks for a credible line of .294/.429/.412. He has scored three runs, has two RBI and four strikeouts.
If he keeps up this rate of performance, Kelly could earn the right to remain around much longer than March 20th, MLB DL risk or not.
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