Baseball fans in the Dominican Republic should not be concerned about the upcoming Winter League season, because there will be no shortage of participation by Major League players, according to Lou Melendez, MLB's vice president of international baseball operations and administration.
There was never a reason to worry, Melendez said.
But a recent article in Hoy, a Dominican Republic newspaper, brought the issue of player participation to the forefront, implying the league would suffer this winter because MLB will be enforcing a fatigue clause that will prohibit a large number of Major League players from playing in their native countries this winter. The message drew strong criticism from Caribbean Confederation Commissioner Juan Francisco Puello Herrera in Santo Domingo and raised a few eyebrows stateside.
"My reaction is the individual that wrote the article is misinformed in the matter and how it works with the Caribbean Confederation and our Major League clubs," Melendez said.
The "extreme fatigue" reasoning, as detailed in the Winter League Agreement between Major League Baseball, the Winter Leagues and the Caribbean Confederation, has been a part of the contract for almost a decade. It gives Major League clubs the right to withhold a native player from participating in Winter League and cite "extreme fatigue" if a player has reached a certain number of at-bats (500 at-bats for players from Class A to the Major Leagues, and 325 at-bats for players in short-season and Rookie League ball), innings pitched (170 innings at the Major League level, 165 innings for Class A to Triple-A, 80 innings for short-season, 70 innings for Rookie League), or games played (60 games at the Major League level, 55 at Class A to Triple-A, 35 at short-season and Rookie League).
Melendez estimates there are a combined total of 90 to 95 players affected by the "extreme fatigue" clause in the Winter Leagues of the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Mexico and Puerto Rico.
"That's a small number when you consider there are approximately 1,000 players in the D.R. to choose from alone," he said.
Immediately after the original fatigue story was published, Herrera went on record with Hoy to clarify any misunderstanding and reiterate his support for Major League Baseball and the Winter League Agreement established between the two parties.
According to the Winter League Agreement, which expires in 2009, illness, physical incapacity and "extreme fatigue" are the reasons an MLB club can deny a native player participation in the Winter League. A club can also deny participation if a player is on the inactive list. Major League clubs must send the Commissioner's Office the permission denial on or by Sept. 1, and the notice is forwarded to the Winter League club. All "imported" players must receive permission from their respective clubs to participate in winter ball.
"This has been around for many years," Melendez said. "It's nothing novel."
What is fairly new is the opportunity for native players who have been excluded from Winter League participation because of "extreme fatigue" to participate in the Winter League playoffs that start in December and play in the Caribbean Series, held annually during the first week of February. As articulated in the 2005 Winter League Agreement, a Winter League club can send a request to the Commissioner's Office on or after Dec. 1 asking for permission to use players who have been excluded from league play because of "extreme fatigue."
At that point, a Major League club can refuse permission again or allow the player to participate on conditions it establishes. Violations of conditions can lead to disciplinary actions from the Commissioner's Office.
"Before, it was worse," Puello Herrera told Hoy. "Major League Baseball teams would plead extreme fatigue and there was nothing anybody could do about it but act on the decision. Now, there is a way to ask for a revision to get the players to start playing on Dec. 20 if the teams approve."
Jesse Sanchez is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.