It’s funny to say now, given the season they went on to have, but last spring the A’s were dealt a blow that jeopardized their sleeper-contender status. Not only did they lose hotshot prospect A.J. Puk to Tommy John surgery; they also lost big-league starter Jharel Cotton to Tommy John surgery. Puk wasn’t and isn’t on their 40-man roster, but Cotton was. Cotton had surgery on March 21. He was placed on the 60-day disabled list on March 19. He was activated from the 60-day disabled list on October 29. He’ll likely be placed back on the 60-day disabled list in a week or two. He’s looking ahead to something like a midseason return, should everything continue to go well in his rehab and recovery.
There’s nothing unusual about Cotton’s case. At the end of every season, players on the 60-day DL get activated. As a consequence, they occupy spots on 40-man rosters. And then around the start of every spring training, players get placed on the 60-day DL, as it’s again made available. Grant Dayton was the first player to hit the 60-day DL in 2018 — he was placed on Valentine’s Day. There were 31 players placed on the 60-day DL in February and March. Jacob Lindgren was the first player to hit the 60-day DL in 2017 — he was also placed on Valentine’s Day. There were 16 players placed on the 60-day DL in February and March.
This is all very normal and also kind of boring. But, why is this the way that it is? Why doesn’t the 60-day disabled list just cover the whole year?
Think about how much has been written lately regarding conflict between the league and the players. It’s not going to be easy to find common ground, and there needs to be some kind of structural change to how and when big-league players are compensated. Pretty clearly, conventional free agency isn’t the draw it once was. I don’t know what it’s going to take to arrive at a grand, collectively-bargained solution that satisfies all sides. But this should at least be a simple concession that curries some favor with the MLBPA. Baseball could stand to make the 60-day disabled list year-round.
Before getting any deeper into this, understand this would be a very minor adjustment, with relatively minor effects. Now then, let’s look at, say, the A’s. They might soon place Cotton on the 60-day DL. Same with Daniel Gossett, Sean Manaea, and potentially Andrew Triggs. The Rays? They might place Jose De Leon, Brent Honeywell, and Anthony Banda. The Padres? Dinelson Lamet and Garrett Richards. The Pirates? Chad Kuhl, Gregory Polanco, and Edgar Santana. The Yankees? Didi Gregorius, Ben Heller, and Jordan Montgomery.
These are just some of the teams. These are preexisting injuries. Some other teams won’t be placing anyone on the 60-day DL at the outset. But a good number of players will be spending the first couple months in recovery. Those players are already known. The majority of them are pitchers rehabbing from Tommy John surgery. The big issue at play — during the offseason, those players require 40-man roster spots. They require roster spots, even though they’ll miss a chunk of the following season, if not the whole season entirely. What if that didn’t have to be so?
The most immediate consequence is that players with long-term injuries would be valued more highly. They’d be valued more highly because they’d cost only money, and they wouldn’t have to bump anyone from the roster. With a year-round 60-day DL, Garrett Richards likely would’ve signed for more than $15.5 million. When Michael Pineda was in the same spot, he likely would’ve signed for more than $10 million. The same goes for Drew Smyly. Nathan Eovaldi, when he was rehabbing, likely would’ve signed for more than $2 million, with a club option.
That would be something of an artificial value boost. It would also be a value boost to players not currently helping their teams. But for one thing, just on principle, it seems weird that the 60-day DL isn’t year-round. And for another, the majority of the players affected would be pitchers who blew something out, and those are players who might suffer the most under present service-time structures. It takes a while before players are paid huge money, and along the way, a lot of pitchers get injured and sputter. I’d approve of measures intended to get pitchers more cash.
This would also somewhat goose the free-agent market. As is, if you’re, say, the Yankees, you’re more incentivized to sign a free agent after the start of spring training, because roster spots will open up. Sign someone now, and another player gets booted from the 40-man, becoming available to everyone else. To be sure, in the event of a year-round 60-day DL, 40-man rosters would still be kept full. So the same hypothetical Yankees signing would require someone to get dropped. But the player would be inferior to whoever the Yankees would drop under present conditions. Today, the Yankees would drop whoever is last on what’s effectively a 37-man roster. With a year-round 60-day DL, they’d drop whoever would be last on a 40-man roster. By reducing the penalty of the acquisition, it would be easier for teams to offer more money, and make moves sooner, before the start of camp.
Absolutely, there could be drawbacks. I don’t know all the ins and outs of the disabled-list system. One consequence would be that even less talent is available in the Rule 5 draft. By more highly valuing injured players, the market for them would shift more in favor of higher-spending teams. And as always, there would be the potential for abuse. Teams might try to make up reasons to keep players “hidden” on the 60-day DL. Maybe there would have to be a rule where a player needs to miss X amount of time at the end of the preceding season, and Y amount of time at the start of the following season. Maybe, alternatively, baseball could create something like a 365-day DL. I don’t and can’t know all of the details; I don’t and can’t know all of the implications.
But still, it’s not a dramatic change. It’s not a change that would seem to favor any one team, or any one kind of team, too severely. Everyone has pitchers get hurt. Everyone could stand to benefit. And even free agents might end up a little bit happier. The league could do worse than thinking about how it might make free agents happy.
Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.