What Is the MLB Injured List?

Inside the MLB Injured List: Navigating Roster Challenges and Player Recovery
Written by Mark Bailey
Last updated on

MLB players, like us, sometimes need breaks due to injuries. To ensure teams don’t have to drop injured star players like Aaron Judge or Shohei Ohtani, the MLB established the injured list system, preserving the integrity of the 26-man active roster. This article delves into the injured list, its relationship with the 26-man roster, and the larger safety net of the 40-man roster.

KEY
POINTS
  • MLB teams must maintain an active roster of 26 players, supplemented by a 40-man roster in case of injury. Injuries are managed with four different classifications of injured lists: 7-Day, 10-Day, 15-Day, and 60-Day.
  • Players are placed on the injured list if their medical staff agrees that they need time off for recovery. Reasons for placement on the injured list range from actual injuries to paternity and bereavement leave.
  • Rules regarding injury list placement must be followed; players remain on the active roster for the declared number of days regardless of actual games played.
  • Injured list placement can have negative effects on both teams and players, including financial incentives and stress from media/fans.
  • MLB players continue to get paid while on the injured list, and can be in the dugout “within reason”; they can also travel with the team during rehab but focus more on treatment than traveling. They can also be traded if they first go through waivers process.

What is the injured list?

To make sense of the MLB injured list, you need to understand that there are four different classifications of injured lists. Below is a brief description of each:

1. 7-Day

This injury list is specifically for players with concussion symptoms and was introduced to MLB in 2011. 

2. 10-Day

The 10-day list allows injured position players to be removed from the active 26-man roster but keeps them on the 40-man roster so another team cannot sign them. This was introduced to MLB in 2017 during the collective bargaining agreement.

3. 15-Day

The 15-day injury list is only for pitchers and two-way players (ex. Shohei Ohtani who pitches and plays 1B or DH). Like the 10-day list, players on the 15-day injured list are not on the active 26-man roster but stay on the 40-man roster.

4. 60-Day

This is the longest of all injured lists and includes both pitchers and position players. Players placed on the 60-Day list are temporarily removed from a team’s 40-man roster. However, if a team does not have 40 players designated for its 40-man roster, then the injured player can remain. If not, less experienced players on the 40-man roster may be reassigned or traded to create room for an injured star player.

Now that you know the different kinds of injured lists, the other thing to know is that running a baseball team also involves roster management. Over the course of a regular season, players get sore arms, broken bones, and other injuries. The benefit of the injury lists is that teams protect their investments from other teams.

How are players placed on the injured list?

For a player to be moved to the injured list, the injury must be sufficient to warrant time off, and the team’s physicians must agree that the player is unable to participate. 

Once the medical staff alerts the manager and the team ownership, it is the job of the organization to complete the paperwork putting the player on the injured list, and creating a press release stating how long the player expects to be out. Depending on the team and the news source, they may or may not elaborate on the details of the injury.

Reasons for placement on the injured list

The reasons players are placed on the injured list range from actual injuries to paternity and bereavement leave. When it comes to specific types of injuries, there is no set protocol that is followed (other than concussions) because baseball is just… baseball. To understand what we mean, see below for some of the oddest injuries that teams dealt with:

  • 2022: Aroldis Chapman (NY Yankees) was placed on the 15-Day injured list because of an infection from a leg tattoo
  • 2004: Sammy Sosa (Chicago Cubs) missed several games due to a sprained ligament in his lower back. The reason? He sneezed so violently that it caused muscle spasms that injured his back.
  • 2019: Yoenis Cespedes (NY Mets) broke his ankle trapping wild boars on his property. This mishap led the Mets to restructure his contract and cost him $23 million in future guarantees.
  • 2010: Kendrys Morales (LA Angels) hit a walk-off grand slam to beat the Mariners but broke his left ankle celebrating with his team at home plate. Yes, that actually happened:

Injured list rules and procedures

Like any complex procedure, managing an MLB roster and the injured lists has rules that need to be followed.

The main rule is that the injured list is not something a player can opt in or out of at their own leisure. When a player goes on the injured list, they must remain off the active roster for the number of days declared. 

However, lost days are not lost games. If a player is placed on the 10-day injured list, they must remain off the active roster for ten days. During those ten days, if the team only plays eight games, then the player only misses eight games. This rule applies to all lengths of injury lists. There are ways around these situations, such as the “day-to-day” status rule or retroactively using the injured list (not declaring a player injured for several days after it happens—teams do this if they are not sure of the significance of the injury).

Effects of the injured list on teams and players

There are negative effects for both teams and players when a player goes on the injured list. For players, many have financial incentives in their contracts that are related to game performance. The less they play, the harder it is for them to achieve those incentives. For star players that don’t worry about incentives, there is also the pressure and stress that comes from the media and fans awaiting their return.

For teams, moving players around from active rosters to injury lists and back again is a full-time job for administrative workers. The ripple effects of moving players around include creating new contracts, asking players to relocate, navigating taxes and the salary cap, and making sure that a team’s best players are available at the right times. So, when players get injured, a significant amount of work is happening in the back office.

FAQ

Do MLB players get paid on the injured list?

Yes, MLB players continue to get paid while on the injured list. Like today’s workforce, which has benefits to protect them when they are out sick, MLB players do, too; they have it covered in their contracts and are supported by the MLB Players Association (the labor union representing MLB players).

Can an MLB player on the injured list be in the dugout?

Yes, according to MLB, injured players can be in the dugout with their team during games “within reason.” If you are wondering why MLB uses the phrase “within reason,” they learned that lesson in 1984. 

That year, both the Padres and Braves had players on the injured list not playing but present in the dugout for a regular-season game. As you watch this, remember that this is the fourth bench clearing brawl… of that game. In fact, if you fast forward to the six-minute mark, you will see the police and fans joining the brawl too.

If you are wondering if a player on the injured list can be ejected, the answer is yes. The rules state “any player, manager, or coach” can be ejected.

Do injured players go to games and travel with the team?

Injured players can travel and stay with the team and attend games. However, injured players spend most of their time rehabilitating their injuries. So, most often, they spend their time focusing on treatment and healing instead of traveling.

Can you trade a player on the injured list?

Yes, teams can trade an injured player if they put them on waivers first. When a team places a player on waivers, they can be signed by any other team.

One of the more notable incidents like this involved a former MVP. In 2015, Josh Donaldson of the Toronto Blue Jays won the AL MVP. Fast forward to 2018, and because Donaldson had missed several games and was still on the injured list for a calf injury, the Jays traded him to the Cleveland Guardians.

Conclusion

Whether it is a jammed finger or a complete muscle tear, MLB players need time to heal to be at their best. Those who oversee professional baseball have built a comprehensive system that addresses these injuries and how rosters should be managed for the benefit of the players, the teams, and the fans who pay money to see their favorite teams play. 

While pro teams employ athletic trainers, doctors, EMTs, and even sports psychologists, sometimes injuries can just be freak bad luck. Just ask Turner Ward of the Pittsburgh Pirates:

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