In theory, the “26th man” doubleheader rule that MLB implemented in the 2012-16 wave of collective bargaining should work for all parties involved. Teams get an extra player, frequently a pitcher, to help manage the workload of the day’s pair of games. The player promoted to the big leagues gets a day of MLB service time and picks up a day of big league pay, in addition to the opportunity to make a nice impression on his organization. If the player in question is a pitcher, other members of the staff are spared from having to pitch on short rest and/or in extended outings.
It all sounds good! Well, it sounds good to most players. But what about the rare instances in which a player promoted to the Major Leagues as a 26th man ends up incurring an injury during that game? As Reds left-hander Cody Reed demonstrated this week, the rule isn’t exactly perfect.
Reed was summoned to serve as Cincinnati’s 26th man in a Monday twin bill with the Pirates and performed well, giving the Reds a pair of scoreless relief innings in the second game of the day. In doing so, he continued an impressive year that has seen him pitch 20 2/3 innings of 2.61 ERA ball in Triple-A and another 6 1/3 innings of one-run ball in the Majors. Unfortunately, he also sustained a strained medial collateral ligament in his left knee. The Reds announced that Reed won’t throw for the next 10 to 14 days, which obviously meant a trip to the injured list.
The problem for Reed, though, is that because he was not technically on the 25-man roster as the 26th man in a doubleheader, he’ll recover from that injury on the minor league injured list rather than the Major League injured list. Logic would seemingly dictate that a player injured while performing in a Major League game would rehab that injury while receiving the benefits of the MLB IL — that is, service time and MLB pay. That won’t be the case for Reed or future players who are injured while serving as the 26th man, though.
It may not seem like a major distinction, but consider the discrepancy between the prorated Major League minimum salary and the monthly salaries that a players make in Triple-A. Reed is fortunate in the sense that he has enough big league service time to be on a decent split contract; he’ll earn $145K in the minors this season versus $565K in the Majors. (A player with less big league time or no big league time would not be earning as much.)
That’s a fairly sizable difference between what he’d earn in the Majors versus the minors — particularly for a player who has yet to establish himself as a big leaguer. If he requires a couple of throwing sessions after his shutdown period, he could be out for three weeks or upwards of a month. At that point, the prorated MLB salary would top his prorated Triple-A salary by anywhere from $40-60K.
To be clear, the Reds aren’t doing anything wrong by placing him on the minor league injured list and actually didn’t have a choice. That’s the way the rules were bargained. As a concession for allowing a 26th player to be brought up for a doubleheader and earn a day of service and big league pay, it was agreed that there would be no technical transaction associated with the move:
(dd) Any Club that expands its roster for these purposes must return to a 25-man Active Roster immediately after the conclusion of the second game (i.e., a post-game roster adjustment). The recall and waiver requirements and limitations contained in these Rules shall not apply to the 26th Player if returned to his previous Minor League club for these purposes. Moreover, a player’s addition to the 25-man Active roster for these purposes shall not affect the expiration of any 10-day period that may be required by Rule 11(b)(1). The return of the player to his previous Minor League club shall not be considered an assignment (i.e., to a Minor League club, an optional assignment under these Rules, or otherwise). A Club may return to a 25-man Active Roster by removing a player other than the 26th Player only if the Club’s addition of the 26th Player complied with all applicable Rules and the Basic Agreement, and the Club’s subsequent removal of the other player from its roster complied with all applicable Rules and the Basic Agreement (and both of those transactions will not be covered by the exception created by this Rule 2(c)(2)(A)(ii)).
(ee) The 26th Player shall be paid one day of Major League salary and shall receive one day of Major League service. Such day shall not be counted for purposes of counting days on option pursuant to the Articles XIX(E) and XXI(B) of the Basic Agreement or Rule 11(c).
In essence, the rules stipulate that a player must be on the 40-man roster to serve as the 26th man but is not technically recalled from the minors when he does so. That’s important to note; were it not for that distinction, Reed would not even have been eligible to pitch in the Majors that day. He’d been optioned down just eight days prior and, as such, wasn’t eligible for recall under normal circumstances. The Reds couldn’t even have sent someone else down if they’d wanted to, as keeping Reed up would not have “complied with all applicable Rules and the Basic Agreement.” In that regard, the quirks of this rule both benefited Reed by allowing him to be in the Majors on Monday and hurt him by disallowing him from rehabbing on the Major League injured list.
This is likely the precise type of scenario that concerned owners when pushing for these stipulations during negotiations. A more extreme example could see a player called up to make a one-off start in the nightcap of a doubleheader only to blow out his arm and require Tommy John surgery. That’d turn what might’ve been a roughly $3K spot start for ownership into a $500K+ salary on the injured list for the majority of the season (in addition to the accompanying service time).
That owners sought protection against these injury scenarios is understandable, but it’s still counter-intuitive that a player injured in a Major League game would be deprived of the benefits afforded to those on a big league roster. Had Reed simply been called up to the 25-man roster for a one day to lengthen the ’pen in a normal game and incurred this exact same injury, he’d go on the MLB IL and receive that service time and salary. That’s a risk that clubs run any other time they dip into their farm system for a one-day depth move, but it strangely doesn’t apply when playing multiple games in the same day.
Perhaps this is much ado about something that occurs so rarely that it’s not worth fretting over, but Cody Reed probably doesn’t think so.
hmm, that’s pretty interesting. didnt know it worked that way.
To me this seems like a loophole that needs to be closed. I get why the owners wanted it this way but it just seems eminently unfair to the players in question.
It would hurt the players more if you tried to change it. Owners would not bring up the player and give him the service day and ML pay if there was a risk that those benefits would continue in the event of an injury. In the end this is a good thing for players who would not otherwise get the opportunity to impress on a major league field for that one day appearance.
Good point, I didn’t realize that the first time I read through this.
They do it all the time right now, though. It’s routine to see a guy come up from Triple-A or Double-A to make a spot start and then head back down to the minors, and those risks do apply there. Reed himself had two prior one-day stints in the Majors this year.
The 26th man rule was intended to protect players already on the 25-man roster from having to pitch too many days in a row, pitch multiple games in the same day, or pitch abnormally long stints due to a doubleheader-depleted bullpen. And while it does help someone like Reed or a different pitcher who gets a random day here and there, it’s also kind of lousy that someone can get hurt in a big league game but then go to the Minor League IL.
I doubt it’ll be a hot-button issue in CBA talks, but it’ll probably come up. Honestly, I wasn’t even aware of it until this happened, and it was quirky enough that I felt it was worth shining a light on even though this is a once-in-a-blue-moon type of injury scenario.
I was reading your reply and was impressed, It then became apparent that you were the author of this link.
You don’t need me to tell you it’s a well thought out post. But it was.
It is likely that he would have gotten hurt in his next minor league game if he had not gotten called up so he just goes back to where he “belongs.” The only difference is he got to play in the show and collect his higher pay. It is a bonus for the guy to be called up.
Steven, where did the information of the split contract come from? I can’t find any reports stating he signed a split contract.
What would probably see is teams in contention, along with teams that actually spend on salaries call up that 26th player and then? the normal cheap teams doing what they normally do.. being cheap and going with 25 players.
The difference for a team having to pay MLB salary for a few weeks or beyond is really chump change to most teams. Agree with JohnSilver that cheap teams will find loopholes. Decent teams won’t care that they have to pay a player an MLB salary. Most players that are on the cusp of MLB roster spots are going to try to get back ASAP and not linger on the IL even if it means they would go back to a minors salary when they came off.
He will get a full year of major league medical insurance coverage for that one day up which is huge.
Seems so unfair
Worrying about the $555K salary seems like the common man worrying about spending an extra quarter. It seems rather easy to agree to if the 26th man gets injured, he remains on the MLB-IL while collecting the MLB salary, but not accruing service time past that one day. Everyone wins. The player gets paid. The owners keep their service time. Both get the benefits of a MLB rehab vs a MiLB rehab.
555K is still 555k. Different for the Rays than for the Yankees but it is still 555k. Not paying that 555k makes it more likely to pay how many more janitors, or team staff how much more? I am not saying they will but it is still in the budget. The same reason there are so few old school double headers anymore. Was this a split double header like I would expect them all to be?
Those were my thoughts, too. Plus, what if that injury pushes a team past tax cap? I agree that something should be done but perhaps consideration for those situations would help even out the concern for the extremes.
Reading the comments, I understand where everyone is coming from. But, the rules really seem fair to be honest. This is still an opportunity. I disagree that the owners would still call someone up, if it meant burning options etc, they wouldn’t.
This is actually an opportunity to see the higher end talent in your system without burning an option, provided they are on the 40 man.
I do think it would be MORE fair if a player could refuse the opportunity, I mean I’m sure they can. But, you know, are they any more likely to be injured in a minor league game than a major league game? Why would they decline?
Non story to be honest.
If they’re already on the 40-man roster, haven’t they used an option already? Otherwise, they’d be in the majors, not the minors.
Not necessarily, it’s my understanding that a player can be added to the 40-man roster without being added to the 25-man roster.
It is fair. in the past, if teams would burn their bullpen in the double header , they would then have to option one or more pitchers to call up fresh arms. This seems to be an improvement.
I understand in theory why this is “unfair”, but honestly I just can’t get worked up about this one. The player is still getting an opportunity and a day of much higher pay than they normally would. Presumably any injury they occur is unrelated to whether they are in a major league or minor league game, and they are still getting their regular pay while on the IL regardless.
My interest in minor league salaries is for those lower-level guys who aren’t making close to a livable salary (12-15K a year for most of them), not for some legit prospect triple-A pitcher who has to “settle” for his regular 145K salary while on the IL instead of the major-league minimum. He’s fine either way. Yes, it’s “unfair”. No, I don’t really care.
Since these are doubleheaders, why aren’t they paid 2 games worth and 2 days of service time?
I don’t think he’s eligible in the first game. I might be wrong.
Service time is based on days on the MLB roster — not the number of games played.
Really interesting analysis Steve. Love original deep dives like this!
The MLB and MLBPA deserve each other.
I understand the disdain for this rule and it’s loophole, but consider how many double headers occur in a year and then the frequency that that 26th man is injured in that double header. Reed may likely be the first 26th man ever to be injured in a double header or even more probably the only one to get injured this year. It sucks for him, but the players’ association has so many other much larger fish to fry.