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Baseball Winter League Agreement Puts New Restrictions On Players Seeking To Play In The Caribbean

Boston Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz (34) hits a grand slam during the eighth inning in game two of the American League Championship Series baseball game against the Detroit Tigers at Fenway Park. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports
Boston Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz is fond of representing his country, the Dominican Republic. Photo Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

Winter Ball is a great opportunity for baseball players to stay sharp during the offseason by playing for teams in the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Puerto Rico and Mexico.  When I was a baseball agent, I placed multiple clients in Puerto Rico’s Winter League, and each of those players cherished the opportunity to build on their existing skill-set while earning some additional money in the offseason.

Winter League baseball is not simply relegated to those players making their way up their respective farm systems.  Oftentimes Major League players wish to get involved whether it be to continue to develop their form and/or to play for their countries of origination.  For instance, David Ortiz of the Boston Red Sox has played many years in the Dominican Republic’s Winter League.

So when it seemed as though baseball players’ on their teams’ 40-man roster may be prohibited from participating in the various Winter Leagues, players and agents became quite upset.  However, that potential issue has now been resolved.  Major League Baseball and the MLBPA have come to terms on a new deal that will allow said players to participate, with the stipulation that certain players who were worked very hard during the season will be prevented from playing in the Winter Leagues.

Double-A starting pitchers on their clubs’ 40-man rosters will be held out from Winter League play if they threw 140+ innings the prior season.  Double-A relievers must stay under 45 games pitched in order to be granted clearance.  If a pitcher stayed in his role (as either starter or reliever) and increased his workload by at least 25% over the prior year, then he will also be ruled ineligible for Winter Ball participation.

Alternatively, restrictions on position players have been loosened.  The old threshold was 502 plate appearances or more and the player was withheld from Winter League competition.  That threshold has been increased to 552, making it possible that more position players will be eligible to play.

By Darren Heitner

Darren Heitner created Sports Agent Blog as a New Year's Resolution on December 31, 2005. Originally titled, "I Want To Be A Sports Agent," the website was founded with the intention of causing Heitner to learn more about the profession that he wanted to join, meet reputable individuals in the space and force himself to stay on top of the latest news and trends.

Heitner now runs Heitner Legal, P.L.L.C., which is a law firm with many practice areas, including sports law and contract law. Heitner has represented numerous athletes and sports agents as legal counsel. He has also served as an Adjunct Professor at Indiana University Bloomington from 2011-2014, where he created and taught a course titled, Sport Agency Management, which included subjects ranging from NCAA regulations to athlete agent certification and the rules governing the profession. Heitner serves as an Adjunct Professor at the University of Florida Levin College of Law, where he teaches a Sports Law class that includes case law surrounding athlete agents and the NCAA rules.