I wrote a couple of days ago about Bobby Crosby going on the disabled list and his father’s rant in the media about how badly his son has been treated by Billy Beane and the A’s. In Doug Krikorian’s article, the elder Crosby stated: “Right now Bobby’s on the disbled list, and he’s not even hurt.” That got me to thinking about the DL and how it is used.
Was he hurt when he was placed on the DL? I watched the game in which he strained his calf, so I know he had an injury. Was it enough of an injury to put him on the DL? Obviously, Ed Crosby doesn’t think so. So is the DL used by clubs to inactivate a player, maybe one who isn’t performing well, so they don’t have to send him down to the minors? Officially, they will say they don’t do that, but unofficially I think it’s done and may have been used by the A’s at least twice this year. But first, let’s look at the rules for placing a player on the DL.
Standard Form of Diagnosis: If a team wants to place a player on the DL (either 15 or 60 day DL), the team must file a Standard Form of Diagnosis (SFD) with the Commisioners Office.
The SFD requires outlining the exact type of injury or ailment the player is afflicted with, what the estimated time of recovery will be, and it must be signed by a licensed doctor. Notice there is no requirement for the doctor to state the severity of the injury. Apparently, most teams’ front office fills out the form and the doctor just reads it and signs it. Lots of wiggle room there.
The 15-Day DL: Once the Commissioner receives the SFD, the player is not permitted to participate in MLB games for a minimum of 15 days, but the SFD can be backdated to the day after his last game appearance, but no more than 10 days. Thus a player may actually be on the DL for as few as 5 days. Once on the DL, the player is removed from the 25-man active roster so that another player can be called up to take his place. He is not removed from the 40-man roster, so the club cannot add another player to the reserve list (more on this later.)
Continued DL or Rehab Assigment: When the stint on the DL expires, the player may or may not be activated. If he is still injured an SFD must be recertified to stay on the 15-day DL until he is no longer symptomatic, which may be less than an additional 15 days. Once a player is deemed to be “healthy enough for baseball activities”, he is usually sent to Double A or Triple A for a “Rehab Assignment” for a maximum of 20 days (30 days for a pitcher). After being on the DL and inactive for as many as 15 days, most players happily take the rehab assignment. If they injure or reinjure themselves during rehab, they are “returned from Rehab” to the DL until they are sufficiently recovered to resume baseball activities. This would have to be recertified by a doctor on a new SFD.
The 60-Day DL: Placing a player on the 60-day DL requres the same initial steps: filing an SFD with the commisioners office giving the type of injury and estimating the time for recovery to be 60 days or longer. At such time the player is removed from both the 25- and 40-man rosters, but is still protected on the reserve list (meaning the player is not available for the Rule 5 Draft.) That way a team may have more that 40 players on the reserve list at the same time and the team can also add a player to the 25-man roster to take the place of the injured player who is on the 60-day DL. If the injury persists past the 60 days, no recertification (SFD) is required to keep him on the DL.
The “Phantom DL”: So Ed Crosby said that Bobby isn’t hurt enough to be placed on the DL. Could Bobby have played through the injury? Perhaps. But Bobby is elligible for free agency at the end of the season so he doesn’t figure in to the A’s future plans. Cliff Pennington does, so he was brought up to play shortstop for the rest of the season and Bobby was put on the DL. Smells fishy to me.
But an even more obvious example is the handling of Jason Giambi. He was placed on the DL with no discernable injury at all (a “phantom” injury?), other than the ongoing problems of advancing age (not a valid diagnosis) and his sore knees, which he played on most of the season. It is well known that he retreated to his house in Las Vegas and was reportedly seen working out and taking batting practice after he had only been there a day or so. Doesn’t sound like he was injured to me.
So why would a team use the DL to hold a player off the 25-man roster? Former player FP Santangelo said on a recent A’s postgame show that there is something called the “Phantom DL” where a team can “park” a player on the 15-day DL while the team decides what roster moves to make. He said that when that happens, “a player sucks it up and doesn’t play for 15 days–he takes it for the team.” That sorta sounds like what happened to Crosby and Giambi to me. But you can be the judge of that.
The “Spread” : I will leave you with this anecdote: One of the things an MLB player always does when he is sent to the minors on a rehab assigment is to purchase the “Spread.” Tradition dictates that while he is there he must provide at his expense at least one meal for the minor league team he is assigned to. A player with a big contract might choose an upscale restaurant to cater the meal. A player with a minimum MLB contract ($400,000 in 2009) might provide ribs and chicken.
Woe is the player who forgets to provide the Spread. His MLB teammates will find out and make his life miserable. An affluent Jays player forgot and his teammates gave him such grief that he sent a check to the minor league clubhouse manager to procure a meal for the team. Bet it bought chicken and ribs.
(Many thanks to Bart Given, former Asst. GM of the Blue Jays, whose blog provided a glimpse into the workings of the disabled list and the Spread anecdote. Check out the blog at www.insidethemajors.com. He gives insights into the game of baseball from a front office perspective.)