How does MLB recruiting work?

Making sense of the Rule 4 Draft and a few other things

The 40-man roster

Let’s start with the MLB roster size and composition. Each MLB club is made up of 40 professional baseball players, commonly referred to as the 40-man roster. Each 40-man roster is made up of an active roster (aka the 26-man roster) and an expanded roster. The active roster includes the position players (catcher, first baseman, second baseman, third baseman, shortstop, left fielder, center fielder, right fielder), the pitcher, and the reserve players.

Baseball fielding positions. From here.

MLB Rule 4 Draft

The First-Year Player Draft is formally called the Rule 4 Draft, and commonly referred to as the MLB Draft. It is used for selecting amateur baseball players by an MLB franchise. An amateur player is one who has never played on any major league or minor league teams and is likely in high school or college. The Rule 4 Draft is usually held in July.

MLB Rule 5 Draft

The Rule 5 Draft is held on the last day of the Winter Meetings in December and involves players already in minor-league baseball. A club is eligible to select players during the Rule 5 Draft only if they have an open spot on their 40-man roster. Just like the Rule 4 Draft, the franchise with the worst winning percentage gets to pick first and so on.

Free agency

Players become free agents after six years of service in the major leagues or when they’re released from their organization (more on that later). A free agent can sign with any club and under any terms agreed upon by the two parties. A player with three or fewer years of service might become a restricted free agent.


The trade market opens the day after the conclusion of the World Series and lasts until the trade deadline.

Minor League options

When a player is on the 40-man roster but not on the 26-man roster, he is on optional assignment and has three option years. This means that he can be moved back and forth between the majors and the minors (up to five times) for three different seasons. After that, the player is out of options and may not be assigned to the minors without clearing waivers (explained later).


Certain MLB assignments require waivers or permission from all other clubs. Not all assignments require waivers. For example, as previously mentioned, clubs can trade players without permission any time prior to the trade deadline.

Trade assignment waiver

The trade assignment waiver is used to gauge trade interest. It is also used to trade players after the trading deadline.

Outright assignment waiver

A club attempting to remove an out-of-options player from the 40-man roster and send him to the minors must first place that player on outright waivers. This allows the other 29 clubs the opportunity to claim the player. Once claimed, the player is placed on the new club’s 40-man roster.

Unconditional release waiver

In order to release a player on its 40-man roster, a club needs to place him on an unconditional release waiver. At this point, he may be claimed for $1. Should the player accept the claim, the new club pays him under the same contract he signed with his former club. If he rejects the claim, he forfeits what remains on his contract and becomes a free agent. Further, if the waiver clears, i.e., the player is not claimed by any other club, he becomes a free agent.

Optional waiver

Optional waivers are required when optioning a player who is three years removed from his first appearance in the majors. It allows a club to send a player to the minors while keeping him on the 40-man roster.

Designated for assignment

A player who is designated for assignment (DFA) is immediately removed from the team’s 40-man roster to clear up a roster spot for another transaction. At this point, the club has seven days to decide to trade or release the player, or to place him on outright waivers.

Injured list

A player who is unable to play due to a medical condition can be placed on the 7-, 10-, or the 60-day injured list (IL). Players on the 7- and 10-day IL are removed from the 26-man active roster, making them ineligible to play for 7 and 10 consecutive days, respectively. They remain part of the 40-man roster, however. A player placed on the 60-day IL is removed from the 40-man roster and is ineligible to play for at least 60 consecutive days.



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