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May 13, 2010

Contractual Matters

The Restricted List

by Jeff Euston

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When the Seattle Mariners placed outfielder Milton Bradley on the restricted list a week ago, the move put a temporary halt to a drama simmering for years. Bradley asked the team for help a day after manager Don Wakamatsu removed him from a game because he thought the outfielder had become so upset that he was not fit to play. The Mariners—Bradley’s eighth team in 11 seasons—are providing assistance, forming a "partnership" with the player’s representatives to help him work through the anger-management issues that have dogged his career.

But baseball’s approach to such situations—and its use of the restricted list—has not always been so understanding. Before Milton Bradley, there was Alex Johnson. At 27, Johnson won the 1970 American League batting title for the California Angels. One year later, his career began to spin out of control. The Angels fined Johnson several times during spring training in 1971 for not taking outfield practice, not running out ground balls, and general lackadaisical play. Despite being selected the Angels’ Player of the Month for April, Johnson feuded with the media, his manager, and occasionally a teammate. He sparked uproars by dumping coffee grounds in a reporter’s typewriter and accusing backup infielder Chico Ruiz—traded with Johnson to California from Cincinnati after the 1969 season—of pulling a gun on him in the Angels’ clubhouse.

After unsuccessfully attempting to deal Johnson before the trade deadline—which was June 15 at the time—the Angels placed him on the suspended list for "failure to give his best efforts toward the winning of the club’s baseball games." Johnson was sent home without pay. In July, with the maximum 30-day suspension expiring, the Angels petitioned Commissioner Bowie Kuhn to transfer Johnson to the restricted list, where he could be kept indefinitely. Kuhn agreed.

The fledgling Major League Baseball Players Association, certified only three years earlier, responded by filing a grievance in the matter. Executive director Marvin Miller argued that Johnson belonged on the Disabled List as someone who was emotionally disabled and that arbitrator Lewis Gill should overturn both the suspension and the fines. Use of the restricted list for disciplinary purposes is "baseball’s form of jailing political dissidents," Miller later wrote in his 1991 book, A Whole Different Ball Game. Miller’s argument won over Gill, who agreed with two psychiatrists who had examined Johnson and determined he was indeed emotionally disabled. However, Gill ruled that the club’s fines would stand, though Johnson was entitled to back pay and service time.

Johnson received medical treatment, and the Angels dealt him to Cleveland after the 1971 season. He played five more seasons in the major leagues, retiring with 1,331 hits in 13 seasons with eight different clubs.

Under Major League Rule 15, a team may petition MLB to place a player on the restricted list if he is unable to render his services to his club through some action of his own. Typical circumstances include failure to report, visa problems, domestic abuse situations or treatment for drug or alcohol abuse. A player on the restricted list does not count against the 40-man roster, is not paid, and does not earn service time. A team may keep a player on the list indefinitely until he is reinstated under Major League Rule 16.

One of the more prominent restricted list alums is outfielder Josh Hamilton, selected by Tampa Bay as the first overall pick in the 1999 draft. With his career seemingly short-circuited by a series of injuries and substance abuse problems, Hamilton was suspended in early 2004 for violating baseball’s drug policy. He spent the entire 2004 and 2005 seasons on the restricted list before receiving permission to play in minor-league games in mid-2006. Cincinnati snapped him up in the December 2006 Rule 5 draft, and Hamilton has revived his career and his life, despite a reported relapse in early 2009.

If a player voluntarily comes forward seeking help for a problem, his team may choose to continue to pay his salary. That was the case when Cardinals infielder Scott Spiezio sought help for substance abuse in August 2007, just a few months after signing a two-year, $4.5 million contract. After being placed on the restricted list and undergoing treatment, Spiezio rejoined the team in September. However, the club cut ties with him the following spring when Spiezio was arrested on six misdemeanor charges after being involved in a late-night car accident. The Cardinals remained responsible for Spiezio’s 2008 salary.

Another option is to place the player on the Disabled List, which is the route the Royals chose when Zack Greinke left the club during spring training in 2006. The Royals continued to pay Greinke while he was treated for social anxiety disorder, and with the right-hander on the 60-day DL, the club was able to replace him on both the 25-man and 40-man rosters.

An increasingly common issue is a visa problem. The Dodgers placed pitcher Ronald Belisario on the restricted list in March when the reliever missed the first five weeks of spring training because of visa issues. Belisario did not rejoin the Dodgers’ active roster until April 21.

The problem only grows more complex when a third country is involved. In May 2008, Cuban-born Alexei Ramirez was placed on the restricted list when the White Sox were scheduled to play in Toronto. Ramirez held a work visa preventing him from re-entering the United States if he left the country, forcing him to stay behind in Chicago while his teammates traveled to Canada for a three-game series. The issue was subsequently resolved, and Ramirez has traveled to Toronto with the White Sox for games since 2009.

The restricted list also can be a transactional last resort for a player with a personal issue. In 2003, baseball instituted the bereavement list, which allows a three- to seven-day excused absence for a player experiencing a family emergency or the death of a loved one. With permission from the Commissioner’s office, the player’s team may replace him on the active 25-man roster, though he continues to be paid and earn service time. But if an absence extends more than seven days, the club must resort to placing the player on the restricted list, where he is not paid and does not earn service time. Casey Kotchman, Cliff Floyd, and Alex Gonzalez (then with Cincinnati) all were placed on the restricted list in recent years after their seven-day bereavement leave had expired.

The restricted list is distinct from the suspended list and the disqualified list. The suspended list is used for players in violation of the prohibited substance ban or as the result of an on-field incident, such as a fight with another player or an incident with an umpire. A player suspended for an on-field incident may not be replaced on the active roster, leaving his team a man short for the duration of the suspension. For example, Tampa Bay played two games in April with a 24-man roster after catcher Dioner Navarro was suspended for bumping an umpire. But Philadelphia was able to field a complete 25-man roster after reliever J.C. Romero tested positive for a banned substance and was suspended for the first 50 games of 2009. Incidentally, the Phillies placed Romero on the restricted list during his suspension.

A more complicated situation arises when a player under contract reports to his club but refuses to play, despite being able to do so. If a disagreement between a player and his club degenerates to the point that the player will not perform under the terms of his contract, his team may petition MLB to have him placed on the disqualified list. The player is not paid and does not earn service time, and the team is allowed to replace him on both the 25-man and 40-man rosters.

Former Washington Nationals general manager Jim Bowden reportedly considered using the disqualified list during spring training in 2006, when Alfonso Soriano balked at changing positions from second base to left field. Soriano, needing just three months of service to qualify for free agency at the end of the season, relented after refusing to play for two days.

Jeff Euston is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Jeff's other articles. You can contact Jeff by clicking here

Related Content:  California Angels,  The Who,  Substance Abuse,  Rosters

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