For baseball purists, one of the biggest additions to MLB 09: The Show has been the inclusion of authentic professional transactions within the franchise mode. No longer are virtual owners stuck with the limited options of trades and free agency -- now the full spectrum of rosters moves are available to budding Billy Beanes.
However, within this new framework there is a slight problem. Since video games have ignored realistic roster handling for a long time (outside of Acclaim’s All-Star Baseball), many users do not know what all of the new moves mean. The developers of The Show have tried to help by including a handbook on the disc, but for those interested in reading a less "textbook" approach, here is a primer for getting a grip on your roster.
Once a player has accumulated at least six years of Major League experience, he is eligible for free agency after his current contract ends. After that amount of time, any player can sign with any team. This six-year term is important because you may not feel the need to sign young prospects to long contracts until they approach eligible free agency.
Also, it is worth mentioning the supplemental picks you get or give up as a result of signing players via free agency.
If you sign a player who ranks in the top 20 percent at his position (called a Type A free agent), you give your first-round draft pick to his original team. That team also gets a supplemental "free pick" between the first and second rounds.
Should you sign a player who ranks in the 21-to-40 percent at his position (Type B), his original team simply gets one of those "free" or supplemental picks.
While you may not want to dish out big money to lock up a young player before you have to, that player may expect more money than you are willing to give him. If you cannot come to terms with this player, and he has at least three years of experience, you may need to enter arbitration at the end of his contract.
Essentially, the player and the team submit contract offers; an independent arbiter (here, the A.I.) picks the one that is deemed most fair. Whichever one is chosen -- that is what you pay.
"Super Two" Exception: A young player who has not played for three years may be eligible for arbitration if he has seen significant playing time. Basically, the player has to have played at least two years and must be among the top 17 percent of players that have accumulated playing time.
Normally, you will have 25 spots to fill on your active roster. These will be the players who you can use on the field on a daily basis.
The additional 15 spots on your 40-man roster are primarily for players who may bounce back and forth between the Majors and minors. Starting on September 1, you can dress and play anyone from your 40-man roster.
Options: So let us say that you have a fringe player who has seen time on both your Major League and Triple-A squads for three years. In the past, most video games allowed you to move him up and down between the clubs as much as you wanted. However, in the real MLB, any player who has been on the 40-man roster, but not on the active 25-man roster for any part of three seasons, is said to be "out of options" once his fourth year as a pro starts. In other words, you cannot move him back down to the minors without risk at that point.
When this happens, that player has to go through the waiver process before going down to the minors.
Waivers: Think of waivers as a grab-bag of discarded players. If a team waives a player, any other team can claim him, that is, grab him and place him on a new team. If two teams claim the same player, the team lower in the standings gets preference.
In real life, there are other resolutions to a waived player, but MLB 09: The Show simplifies the process for the sake of our sanity. If you waive a player and he is claimed, he is gone. If no one claims him, he is now on your minor-league team.
Rule 5 Draft: This draft occurs in December. Instead of drafting young players out of college, you are essentially drafting young players from other teams. If a player has played for a team for three years (four if he was 18 or younger when signed), but is not on the 40-man roster, he can be drafted by another team.
However, there is a risk factor when you grab this young talent. Once selected, the player has to play the entire upcoming season on the 25-man roster or else he goes back to his original team. Plus, there is a monetary fee that has to be paid to the former team if the player does not cut it on your 25-man roster.
After one year of being a Rule 5 draftee, the player reverts back to being a "normal" player.
For the record, some recent notable Rule 5 draftees include Shane Victorino, Johan Santana and Dan Uggla.
With that information out of the way, here are three quick tips that should help you effectively run your franchise.
Avoid Rule 5 temptations: It might be very enticing to scoop up a lot of cheap, young talent in the Rule 5 Draft, but remember, these players must play on your active team. If your picks turn into busts, you are stuck with them.
Use the minors sparingly: With the inclusion of "options," you cannot use the minors as a "practice squad" where you move players up and down at will. Be judicious when it comes to deciding when and who you should send down to the minors.
Have a plan: You can dig yourself into long-term trouble if you aimlessly grab every attractive free agent, waived player or touted young star who has crossed your desk. Finances aside, you can easily lock yourself into a tough spot with an inflexible active roster loaded with Rule 5 draftees and long-term contracts. Only pick up players that "fit your system."
Have fun enjoying a new baseball season, moving players around, shopping for "hidden" talent, and playing a pretty good baseball game in MLB 09: The Show. And, take a look at the built-in Transaction Handbook within the game for more information.