Revising Our Understanding of Permissible Transactions During the Lockout

After the Cubs signed Stephen Gonsalves to a minor league deal this weekend, my understanding of precisely what kinds of transactions could take place during the lockout got a little turned upside down. I’d previously read, from multiple sources, that the lockout would preclude all transactions except those involving minor leaguers – trade or signing – who are not on the 40-man roster (obviously), who are not in the Players Association, who do not receive any kind of big league incentive in their deal, and who did not spend any time in the Major Leagues in 2021.

Gonsalves, of course, did spend some time on a big league roster in 2021, but signed two days after the lockout began, so it’s pretty clear at least some part of my understanding is incorrect. Upon review, I think it’s just that last part that needs a little tweaking.

Since these minor league deals are all we’re gonna have for a while, it’s worth belaboring slightly to get this right. Thus, I want to discuss more today, with some help from former Cubs reliever Trevor Megill, who just signed a minor league deal with the Twins:

The transaction does not yet show up on the official transaction log, but the whole thing has me wondering more about what kinds of transactions are permitted during the lockout. If Megill didn’t sign until after the lockout started, that would REALLY throw me for a loop. Even more than the Gonsalves signing.

Let me explain.

Megill, you’ll recall, got claimed on waivers by the Twins just before the non-tender deadline, and then bizarrely was non-tendered by the Twins. Because Megill was non-tendered before the lockout kicked in, he was no longer on a 40-man roster as of the start of the lockout. So, if he signed a minor league deal after the lockout began – as Wolfson’s tweet implies, and the transaction log could be read to suggest – then we would know that a defining factor for players being able to sign minor league deals is only that they were not on a 40-man roster as of the start of the lockout.

If true, that would be a MUCH larger pool of players available to be signed to minor league deals during the lockout. Every single player not currently on a 40-man roster could be signed to a minor league deal. You immediately see the issue, right? That would mean every single free agent is now available to be signed to a minor league deal … but that would include guys who are in the Players Association, and certainly they cannot be signing minor league deals with big league teams right now, right?

That just can’t be right. It makes me think that Megill actually signed his deal with the Twins on December 1, immediately after he was non-tendered, and it simply hasn’t been officially logged just yet (and didn’t get reported until Wolfson got word this weekend). You do see that sometimes with transactions showing up after the fact, and backdated to whenever they actually took place.

Another reason I’m dubious? Of all the minor league signings that show up on the official transaction log on December 3, there were several guys who had spent time in the big leagues in 2021. But every single one of them – including Gonsalves – had been outrighted off the 40-man BEFORE the end of the season.

Thus, the most logical conclusion here is that our understanding of what deals could be signed needs only a modest tweak: no minor league signings or trades involving players who were on a 40-man roster (or 60-day IL, obviously) as of the final day of the big league season. Those guys would’ve effectively entered the offseason as “big leaguers,” in the MLBPA. So you can sign guys to minor league deals – or trade minor leaguers – if they entered the offseason as minor league free agents, even if they’d previously spent time in the big leagues this year.

(A h/t to Jon Becker for suggesting that this was the proper caveat, and then the Megill signing thereafter sent me down the wormhole.)

If I’m right about this, I’m guessing the Megill deal was actually consummated before the lockout began – indeed, the Twins presumably claimed him from the Cubs off of waivers precisely so that they could try to negotiate a minor league deal before the lockout began. The deal will either show up backdated at some point soon, or needs some little bit to be finalized after the lockout ends (but is, for all intents and purposes, already agreed to).

Oh, also, I suppose it’s worth reiterating that Megill is gone now. Like I said when the Cubs lost him on waivers:

Megill, 28, was one of the more enigmatic/vexing/frustrating/tantalizing relievers the Cubs rotated through this year. When he was right, he went through a Kimbrellian stretch of a 45+ % strikeout rate, paired with a 0% walk rate. Seriously, he did that for a long stretch. But too often, he was not right, and he was getting hit hard.

From an earlier discussion on Megill: “His huge size and over-the-top delivery is simultaneously what makes him so hard to hit and also what makes it so much harder for him to locate his pitches where he remains so hard to hit. So when he stays at the top or bottom of the zone, good luck. You won’t hit him. But when he misses to the middle – which he does much more than you’d want any pitcher to miss – he’s just as dingable as any other pitcher. Or at least that’s how I see things, and how I suspect you wind up a guy who gets SO many strikeouts, issues SO few walks, and yet still gives up SO many homers.”

I don’t like losing Megill in this moment, but I can understand why the Cubs wanted to take a chance on sneaking him through waivers at a busy transaction time. Sometimes you get lucky. Sometimes you don’t. And Megill could still wind up being a successful reliever for the Twins. Good luck to him.

written by

Brett Taylor is the Lead Cubs Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at @BleacherNation and on LinkedIn here. Brett is also the founder of Bleacher Nation, which opened up shop in 2008 as an independent blog about the Chicago Cubs. Later growing to incorporate coverage of other Chicago sports, Bleacher Nation is now one of the largest regional sports blogs on the web.

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