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MLB, MLBPA reach agreement on winter ball participation

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From our friend Jeff Passan at Yahoo! Sports:

Major league players will be allowed to compete in winter leagues this season after Major League Baseball and the players’ association reached an agreement on restrictions that will limit pitchers’ participation but loosen limitations on position players, sources with knowledge of the deal told Yahoo Sports.

That’s not such big news here in the United States, but it’s cause for great celebration in the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Puerto Rico and Mexico — where the four biggest winter baseball leagues operate. There was some concern that players on Major League Baseball’s 40-man rosters would be barred from participating in those winter leagues this year because of tense back-and-forth negotiations between MLB and the MLBPA that just concluded this past Friday.

Major League Baseball was aiming to limit the use of young and injury-prone starting pitchers and the union was pushing for as much freedom as possible for its players. Those winter league teams do pay salaries.

Passan has the breakdown of the new winter league rules that were officially ratified on Saturday:

Starting this year, Double-A starting pitchers – those on the 40-man roster with a majority of their time spent at Double-A – cannot participate in winter ball if they threw 140 or more innings. The previous threshold was 155. Similarly, Double-A relievers cannot have appeared in more than 45 games, while in years past it was 55.

Pitchers also are ineligible if their workload in games or innings grew 25 percent over the prior season. The caveats: They must’ve reached 60 percent of the games-or-innings threshold the previous season, and players switching from the rotation to the bullpen or vice versa don’t count.

Instead of a 502-plate appearance threshold for major league position players, those with up to 552 now can play winter ball. Moreover, the past procedure of declaring a “physical incapacity” – teams simply had to provide documentation – now has strict rules. Unless a player finishes the season on the disabled list or spent 60 days on the DL (including 15 over the final 60 days of the season), a team cannot declare him physically incapable. The exception is pitchers who have undergone major surgery in the previous 18 months.

Off-field improvements for players include the requirement of MLB-certified trainers, higher-quality equipment and increased standards for fields, clubhouses and bathrooms, with a compliance program to address issues.

The Venezuelan Winter League and the Mexican Pacific League began play late last week and the most popular of the four — the Dominican Winter League — is scheduled to get underway this coming Friday.

Nationals will add Mat Latos to the roster on Thursday

ARLINGTON, TX - MAY 11:  Mat Latos #38 of the Chicago White Sox pitches against the Texas Rangers in the bottom of the first inning at Globe Life Park in Arlington on May 11, 2016 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
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Thursday is September 1, which means rosters expand. As a result, the Nationals plan to promote pitcher Mat Latos to the major league roster, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reports. Latos had an opt-out clause for Monday, but after discussing the matter with the team, he agreed to stay at Triple-A Syracuse until Thursday.

Latos, 28, put up a 4.62 ERA over 11 starts with the White Sox before being released in mid-June. Nearly two weeks later, he signed a minor league contract with the Nationals.

In the Nationals’ minor league system, Latos has made three starts for the club’s Gulf Coast League team as well as three for Syracuse. In aggregate, the right-hander has yielded six runs (four earned) on 20 hits and 10 walks with 28 strikeouts in 28 innings.

Latos will likely pitch out of a long relief role for the Nationals and can be used as starting rotation insurance as well.

John Gibbons texts Mark Buehrle, “You know, rosters expand in September.”

ST. PETERSBURG, FL - OCTOBER 2:  Mark Buehrle #56 of the Toronto Blue Jays pitches during the second inning of a game against the Tampa Bay Rays on October 2, 2015 at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida.  (Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images)
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Mark Buehrle hasn’t officially retired, but he hasn’t thrown a pitch in professional baseball since last October. Still, the Blue Jays wouldn’t mind having some insurance, so manager John Gibbons recently texted Buehrle, “You know, rosters expand in September,” Sportsnet’s Ben Nicholson-Smith reports.

Buehrle’s response? He texted back a picture of a lake. Sounds like he’s not interested in making a return, at least this year.

Last year, at the age of 36, Buehrle went 15-8 with a 3.81 ERA with a 91/33 K/BB ratio in 198 2/3 innings while leading the league with four complete games. He fell 1 1/3 innings shy of a 15th consecutive 200-inning season. There are many worse ways to end a career.