A Reminder About Playoff Eligibility

A quick note, today, to touch on a question I’ve received a few times in various forms over the last few weeks:

“The Dodgers need to call up Joc Pederson / Alex Guerrero / whoever soon to make sure they’re eligible for the playoff roster.”

It’s a totally valid concern. It’s also not true at all. So since there seems to be some understandable uncertainty about the rule, let’s clarify it right now. Here’s what you need to know, in one simple phrase:

If you’re in the organization by midnight ET on August 31, you’re fine.

It’s a bit more complicated than that, as you’ll see in a second, but essentially the only hard rule is that players acquired from outside the organization after August 31 can’t be added to the playoff roster. For example, in 2013, the Yankees acquired Brendan Ryan on September 10, and he played shortstop every day for the rest of the season, but if the Yankees had made it to the playoffs, he wouldn’t have been able to go with them.

What the rule actually says is that eligible players include the 25-man roster plus anyone on the suspended, disabled, bereavement or military lists by the end of the day on August 31. That’s pretty straight-forward, and I think that’s why people assume that the Dodgers need to make a move to promote a prospect in order to have them be eligible for the playoffs. Right now, Pederson and Guerrero are not on those lists.

Here’s the thing, though: if a player is on the disabled list and unable to play, he can be replaced by anyone in the organization (again, counting only those who were in the organization by August 31). That does mean anyone, too. It can be Pederson, it can be Grant Holmes, it can be John Cannon, whatever. Anyone. This is where having some guys on the disabled list actually creates flexibility, because Chad Billingsley, Paul Maholm, Stephen Fife, and Chris Withrow will all be “eligible,” since they’ll be in the organization and on the disabled list on August 31, yet clearly won’t be actually able to play. (Plus, probably, Onelki Garcia, who seems to have fallen off the face of the earth.)

So no matter whether or not Pederson (or anyone else) ever actually takes the field for the Dodgers this season, they can still be eligible for the playoff roster simply by being named to replace one of the eligible but injured players. The only requirement there is that the replacement player would need to be added to the 40-man roster, so if Pederson wasn’t recalled during the September roster expansion for some reason, you’d see a late DFA of someone to open up a spot. (Guerrero is on the 40-man, and did pinch-hit for the team earlier this season in Australia.)

If that sounds like a loophole, it is, most famously coming into play in 2002, when the Angels took an advantage of a roster spot held by Steve Green — who made his only major league appearance in 2001 and was injured for all of 2002 — to add Francisco Rodriguez, who didn’t make his big league debut until Sept. 18. Rodriguez, of course, became a huge part of the title Anaheim took home that year.

So there you have it. For practical purposes, anybody who is in the Dodgers organization at the end of the month can be used in the playoffs. No need to worry about calling anyone up to satisfy a rule that’s not in place.

About Mike Petriello

Mike writes about lots of baseball in lots of places, and right now that place is MLB.com.