Walter Mencken 11 a.m., Nov. 27
Any brief occupation of Petco Park from a handful of players that came early for non-mandatory workouts and so on, will come to a close this week and everyone will be at the Padres spring training facility in Peoria either this weekend or shortly thereafter. This includes much of the staff — media relations people, the front office, all of the coaches, sports writers, radio crew, the list is long. It's an annual migration. Around half of the league does spring training in Florida while the other half goes to Arizona. The Padres go to Peoria.
This season, like every season, there will be a handful of players that have yet to experience spring training with the Padres. There will also be a smaller handful that have yet to have experienced a spring training with any team at the major league level. To date, aside from the Padres 40-man roster, there are either 17 or 18 spring training non-roster invitees. There could be more. We'll find out officially before the weekend.
For those players who have never been to a major league spring training, one could actually draw a correlation to the event being like basic training. For fans, the entire ordeal can be confusing as well. The game of baseball is relatively easy to comprehend, to quote a famous line from the movie Bull Durham, "This is a simple game. You throw the ball. You hit the ball. You catch the ball." Perhaps. But also perhaps, there should be a basic training for fans? What's a 25-man roster, what's a 40-man roster, and what difference does any of that make? What are non-roster invitees? It might take as much effort to be a smart fan as it does to be a good player when trying to understand roster rules.
It gets complicated, but it can be simplified.
Basically, every team has a 25-man roster, that from opening day until September 1st, all teams can have no more than 25 players on their major league roster that are eligible to play. If a player is hurt and will be out for a while, the club can place him on the disabled list (DL) and call up another player until the injured player is eligible to be removed from the list. Simple, right? And all clubs also have a 40-man roster, which includes the 25-man roster plus 15 more players that are playing in the minor leagues. Those 15 players are on the 40-man roster in order to protect them from being claimed by another team. Not that all players can be claimed, only players with a certain number of years in an organization after being drafted, and those service years depend on how old they were when drafted and signed.
After September 1st, all teams can carry all 40 of those players in the big leagues until the end of the season.
Now, after a certain amount of time in an organization, several circumstances are presented that protect either the club or the player. After a certain amount of years of service, a player is eligible for arbitration, this is to the advantage of the club. Should the club opt to allow that process, a mediator determines his salary. Obviously, signing a player to avoid arbitration can avoid this hassle. Players that become eligible for arbitration are still under team control, for either two or three years (with each year of it going through the same process), until the player can become a free agent. Once a player reaches free agent status, as Heath Bell did at the end of last season, he is free to sign with anyone. Heath Bell chose to sign with the Miami Marlins. This is what happens.
Another circumstance that protects players is options. A club can only call a minor league player up a set number of times (depending on service time and the age that the player when he was drafted), and each time this is done, an option is stricken from the team's ability to keep sending that player down. Once a club controls a player that runs out of these options, should he be sent down (designated for assignment, or DFA'd) then he can opt for free agency instead.
These rules are designed to ensure that clubs have a certain amount of control over players they draft, and also that players are protected from a club trying to hide them within their system in order to keep the players from eventually being available to other teams.
This is a good basic training lesson for fans in that many roster decisions that come out of spring training in regards to where players wind up in the organization on opening day are every bit as much reliant on what they received in arbitration, what sort of control a club has over the players, and how many options the players have left. There are plenty of specifics so far as service time and call ups and so on, but basic training doesn't require the specifics. First we learn to take the rifle apart and clean it, then we learn to shoot it.
And knowing how this works is understanding why people say that baseball is a business. It is. You throw the ball. You hit the ball. You catch the ball. Until you're out of options or not offered arbitration or otherwise designated for assignment. And there will be some players from last year's squad that will fall into one of the latter categories. If you're a hardcore Padres fan, prepare for it. It isn't likely that the big club will carry both Will Venable and Kyle Blanks on the 25-man roster this coming season. Options, club control, and service time will have as much to do with who stays and who goes as will performance in the practice games.
On Saturday afternoon, Padres ownership group representative Jeff Moorad, in an interview with Padres flagship station XX1090's Lee Hamilton (which was replayed on Monday) clouded the television contract issue when Moorad stated that he thinks the yearly revenue will be around $35 to $40 million for a television media deal in negotiation but that he isn't certain about that number. That might not be the statement that fans want to hear from the potential owner of the Padres. Perhaps it was an attempt at being somewhat cavalier, but surely the man who is set to become the mouthpiece of the organization from an ownership standpoint would know where the negotiations are. It might have been more wise to decline to comment on the question. After all, Seward bought the entire State of Alaska for what might amount to month's worth of Padres television coverage, and he caught hell for it, perhaps a more Jeffersonian approach would be the best option (thanks, France, New Orleans is awesome).
Speaking of Moorad's ownership of the Padres, according to Moorad (as also reported by former U-T writer Tom Krasovic), the Padres ownership group has forwarded all requested documentation to Bud Selig for MLB approval on the group to finalize the buyout of John Moores. Where things will go next is anyone's guess, but as written here previously, the consensus opinion from people behind the scenes is that approval will likely come along the same time as will the television media contract. There is too much money at stake for MLB ownership to hold things up for very much longer. Moorad also stated that Moores was okay with the Moorad ownership group taking more time (as originally drawn up by contract they still have two more years to pay off Moores) to complete the purchase, but it is widely believed that the Moorad group will save money by completing the purchase as soon as possible.