What is dfa in baseball ? There are numerous transactions that can happen to an MLB player. They can be optioned down to the minors. They can be traded to another team. They can even just simply be cut.
One of the more unique-to-baseball transaction types is to be designated for assignment. If a big leaguer is underperforming significantly, a team might decide that it is time to hit the DFA button, which can have several different outcomes.
During the course of the MLB season, fans will often see players DFA’d by their teams. It is a particularly common process for players who are a bit more on the experienced side and in the middle of contracts.
Much of the other processes are more self explanatory. Trades and releases are obviously simple. Even options are fairly common knowledge. But what exactly does it mean to be designated for assignment?
What does designated for assignment mean in baseball?
Teams are only allowed to have 40 players on their roster at all times, with 26 of them active in the majors. Sometimes, teams make decisions to add someone to that 40-man roster, which means removing someone else.
In order to take someone off the 40-man roster, they must be designated for assignment. When that happens, a player is taken off the roster immediately and sits in a holding pattern for seven days. During that time frame, the team can trade the player away or place him on waivers.
Another team can claim the player on waivers, but it would require immediately placing that player on their own 40-man roster and taking on the remainder of that contract. Because waiver claims operate in a particular order, teams will sometimes trade for a DFA’d player rather than wait until waivers to make sure no one ahead of them in the order is able to claim that player.
There is always a chance the players go through waivers unclaimed. If that happens, teams have a few different options for what comes next. The team can release them or can outright them to the minors. However, not all DFA’d players have to go to the minors. A player can reject the minor-league assignment and head to free agency if he’s been in the majors for at least three years or if he has been outrighted to the minors previously.
Being designated for assignment is different than being optioned to the minors, though sometimes the two can overlap. Players early in their careers have option years, during which they can be sent back to the minors five times per season after MLB promotions. Being optioned to the minors does not mean a player has to be designated for assignment unless he runs out of options.
If a team claims a player that has been designated for assignment, and that player still has minor league options left, the team can choose to use one to send the player to the minors, so long as he is still on the 40-man roster.
DFA contract implications
There are often talented players that hit waivers that will go unclaimed for one big reason: the contract.
If a player is claimed on waivers or acquired via trade, the team that added him would be taking on the remainder of the contract as well. Often, part of the reason a team would make the decision to DFA a player is in the hopes another might claim them and take the contract off the books.
However, if the player reaches free agency, he can sign a deal with any other team on a prorated portion of the MLB minimum, which is $720,000. The team that DFA’d would then pay that player the remaining salary owed to him on his original deal minus the prorated MLB minimum paid by the acquiring team.
What Does Designated for Assignment Mean?
If a player is designated for assignment, he is removed from the 40-man roster.
The team has seven days to trade the player or place him on outright waivers.
Like all professional sports, baseball is a game of amazing highs and, for many, some not-so-amazing lows. There are a lot of incredibly talented players and only so many spots on a roster, so if someone isn’t performing, they likely won’t be around for long.
When a player is designated for assignment, often shortened to DFA’d, they are removed from the team’s 40-man roster. From there, the team has seven days to trade the player to another team or place him on irrevocable outright waivers. It’s not a place where players ever want to find themselves, but as teams move through the season and tighten up their rosters for the baseball playoffs, we often see underperformers get DFA’d to make space for new players.
Irrevocable Outright Waivers
If a player has been designated for assignment, he must be either traded to another team or placed on irrevocable outright waivers within seven days.
Outright waivers allow a team to remove a player from their 40-man roster, either to cut ties with the player entirely or to send him down to the minors when he doesn’t have any options. The process allows the 29 other MLB teams to claim the player as their own if they want to add him to their roster.
Should another team want to claim the player off waivers, the new team must take responsibility for the remaining money owed to the player and immediately add him to their 40-man roster. The team can assign the player to the minor leagues, assuming he still has minor league options available, or add him to their 26-man roster.
If another team has not claimed the player after 47 hours, he is considered to have cleared waivers. Once this happens, the designating team can send the player outright to the minor leagues or release his contract. If a player has more than three years of service in the major leagues, or if he has previously been outrighted in his career, he can reject the outright option and instead enter free agency.
Players Who Were Designated for Assignment
While being designated for assignment is a long way from flattering, it’s not necessarily the end of a player’s career. Many players have been DFA’d and come back bigger and better than ever, while others have struggled to find their place in the game.
Long before Big Papi was a ten-time All-Star and World Series MVP in the Hall of Fame, he hit rock bottom with the Minnesota Twins.
On Dec. 17, 2002, the Twins designated Ortiz for assignment to make room on the roster for shortstop José Morban. Having already battled a long list of injuries, the future was uncertain for the star designated hitter.
Just a month later, on Jan. 22, 2003, Ortiz signed a non-guaranteed free agent contract with the Boston Red Sox that would be worth $1.25 million if he made the team, and the rest is history.
Chicago White Sox closer Hendriks was designated for assignment a few times in the early years of his career.
The Minnesota Twins DFA’d Hendriks on Dec. 5, 2013, and he was claimed off waivers by the Chicago Cubs.
He was then reclaimed off waivers by the Baltimore Orioles, who then DFA’d him on Feb. 19, 2014, before he’d even played a game, to make room for Ubaldo Jiménez on the active roster.
Hendriks ended up with the Toronto Blue Jays, who traded him to the Kansas City Royals on July 28, 2014. The pitcher was designated for assignment again on Oct. 24, only to be claimed by the Blue Jays for a second stint and traded to the Oakland Athletics on Nov. 20, 2015.
Now a three-time All-Star named the American League’s Reliever of the Year in 2020 and 2021, it’s hard to believe Hendriks hasn’t always been the essential closer he is with the White Sox.
Sometimes it just takes a minute to find the right team.
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