On Friday, the Dodgers acquired Lance Lynn and Joe Kelly for former Tulsa Drillers in RHP Nick Nastrini, and RHP Jordan Leasure, along with Trayce Thompson, and that came with designating LHP Justin Bruihl and INF Eddys Leonard for assignment. The Marlins picked up former Mets closer David Robertson for Marco Vargas and Ronald Hernandez (an equivalent return from the Dodgers would be Josue De Paula and Thayron Liranzo). Just a few days prior, the Angels landed Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez, a starter and a reliever rental, for Edgar Quero and Ky Bush (the Dodger equivalents here would be Dalton Rushing and Justin Wrobleski).
All of the prospects acquired here are excellent returns, as they all land in the Top 20 of their new respective organizations, and they were acquired in exchange for short-term and/or flawed major league arms. These transactions were eye-openers, especially for Dodger fans, who had heard little but praise for the vaunted Tulsa pitching staff.
So, what’s the story here? Why are such excellent farmhands, likely big-leaguers all, on the move in somewhat suspect deals in the name of a postseason push? Let’s have a look.
On Wednesday, September 14th, just two months after reaching a $185 mil settlement with major league baseball to settle their class action suit over minimum wage and overtime allegations, minor league baseball players again shocked the world when it was announced that they voted to unionize, and joined the Major League Baseball Players Association.
Just prior to Opening Day, it was announced that, for the first time in baseball history, the newly unionized minor leaguers had a collective bargaining agreement in place with Major League Baseball. There were a number of fantastic wins going into place for the 2023 season:
- minimum salary increases, from $4.8K to $19.8K at complex ball, $11K to $26.2K at Low-A, $11K to $27.3K at High-A, $13.8K to $26.2K at Double-A, and $17.5K to $35.8K at Triple-A
- the right to profit off their name and likeness
- improved housing standards, especially for those with families
- increased per diem
- daily transportation to and from the field
- shorter reserve clause for players entering the system at 19+
- improved health care and medical rights (like the right to seek a second opinion)
- improved retirement benefits
It was a landmark achievement, and it will make the toil far from the bright lights just a bit more palatable. But, where there is a carrot, there is just about always a stick. Bargaining with billionaires is a dangerous proposition, and they will go down kicking and screaming, angling for a pound of flesh on their way out the door. In this particular case, the stick came in the form of Domestic Reserve List limitations.
So what is the Domestic Reserve List?
From the rules:
The term “Domestic Reserve List” shall refer to the list filed pursuant to Rule 2(a) and includes all players, player-managers and player-coaches with whom the Major League Club is party to Minor League Uniform Player Contracts who are assigned to domestic Minor League affiliates (i.e., affiliates in the United States or Canada
So the Domestic Reserve List governs the number of minor leaguers an organization is able to roster state-side at any given time. In 2021, that number dropped from 190 to 180 during the season, rising to 190 again in the offseason to give clubs a bit of transactional leeway.
After taking my shoes off, by my count the Dodgers affiliates have the following number of rostered minor leaguers (excluding minor leaguers on the 40-man roster, 60-day IL, rehab assignment, and restricted list folks, as they don’t count against the limit):
- Triple-A Oklahoma City: 28
- Double-A Tulsa: 28
- High-A Great Lakes: 31
- Low-A Rancho Cucamonga: 38
- ACL Dodgers: 43
That puts the Dodgers at a total of 168, but they have yet to assign nine of their healthy 2023 signed draft picks to rosters, so when they land it’ll rise to 177. Add in the two prospects they traded away, Nastrini and Leasure, and the Dodgers were, as of Friday morning, at a total of 179. If a club exceeds the limit, they have 48 hours to rectify the situation. Given the state of the Dodger 40-man roster, when I learned that the club was right up against another roster limit, well, I for one, was shocked. Am shocked. This is my shocked face: … yeah.
Anyway, on Opening Day 2024 the limit will drop from an off-season high-water mark of 190 to the new in-season limit of 165. That’s 450 in-season jobs eliminated. Oof. The off-season limit will rise to 175, but suffice it to say, a 13.2% decrease in roster space for minor leaguers will have already wrought its damage.
As an aside, I briefly toyed with the notion that the Dodgers could start a third Dominican Summer League club and send guys over there, but I think it’s a non-starter at this point. The only guys who are eligible are those who weren’t drafted, and undrafted free agents are often 22 or older, so sending a college graduate to play against (mostly) very raw high school kids just won’t work. As it stands, the roster limit per DSL team is 35, and absent a major change, the Dodgers are likely to continue toeing their 70 player limit for years to come.
Commodity: a raw material or primary agricultural product that can be bought and sold, such as copper or coffee
Commodification is a dirty word. It’s a process that, in this case, is ascribing value to a person like they’re a bale of hay, so that they can be bought, sold, and exchanged. It is incredibly degrading, but it is unavoidable in a such a high-dollar industry, where players are purchased and swapped for one another regularly. Absent values, gauging the fairness of a trade in the moment is a shoot-from-the-hip thing that has some romance to it, but ultimately, removing emotion from the calculus when and where possible can mean the difference between building a winning team for the fans and sitting with them.
Players have value. An increase in supply will, to a degree, decrease said value. I don’t think player values will crater like Beanie Babies in 2000, or, more recently, various crypto currencies, but the unavoidable paring down that is already taking place appears to be increasing returns for trade deadline sellers. (I’m sure there will be a very well thought-out article posted by someone far more intelligent than I am about the degrees to which returns increased, and I can’t wait for it, but I won’t delve that deeply. Apologies, girls and boys.)
In the case of the Dodgers, I think this is manifesting as neither panic nor desperation, but it is fast-forwarding their decision-making process. They are deciding, here and now, which players are part of their long-term plans, and which chips need to be cashed in. Bobby Miller‘s in the big league rotation. Emmet Sheehan is too (for the time being). Kyle Hurt, Nick Frasso, and River Ryan are still in Tulsa, and Nastrini and Leasure are heading to the South Side. For better or worse, decisions have been made and will continue to be made, potentially with the Domestic Reserve Limit in mind.
As of this writing, there are approximately 72 hours left before the trade deadline. I don’t know who else will be hugging it out with their boys in the next three days, but as someone who tries to follow the farm as closely as I can, I may or may not have Sarah McLachlan’s “I Will Remember You” on repeat for the duration. Strap in, folks, the fun has only just begun.