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Going Deep: Deciphering rehab rules

Going Deep: Deciphering rehab rules

Righthander Frankie Francisco's path back to the Major Leagues following Tommy John surgery took him back this month to Frisco, Tex., where his professional breakthrough had taken place in 2004. Thirteen months after his April 29, 2005 elbow procedure, the 26-year-old was once again a RoughRider reliever, working his arm back into game shape and getting back into the routine of pitching in late-inning situations.

Francisco made his sixth appearance on June 18, striking out four Corpus Christi Hooks in 1.2 scoreless innings of work, allowing one hit. Four days later, he fanned one in a scoreless frame, allow one Wichita base hit.

In between, on June 20, Francisco was recalled from his Minor League rehab assignment, activated from the disabled list, and optioned to the Minor Leagues. And he never packed a bag.

The timing of the activation and option might have seemed a bit unusual, even for fans who pay attention to baseball's procedural rules. Generally, Minor League rehab assignments for Major League pitchers can last up to 30 days (as opposed to 20 days for position players), pursuant to Rule 9(f) of the Major League Rules. The player is taken care of by the Rules, in that he continues to draw his Major League salary and accrue Major League service time while playing on the farm. So is the team, as the assignment doesn't require an option. And both benefit from the standpoint that the player is able to face live competition as he makes his way back to the bigs.

But Francisco's rehab assignment kicked off on June 2. So why did Texas activate him after just 18 days, especially since the club wasn't ready to bring him back to Arlington? And why burn an option?

A new wrinkle to the rehab assignment rule was codified when the current Basic Agreement was enacted in September 2002. Article XIII(h) provides that a club may direct a player with less than five years of Major League service to rehabilitate at its Spring Training facility for up to 20 days (or more, if the player consents). But in the event that a club prescribes such a rehab assignment at its complex for more than 10 days, then every day from 11 through 20 reduces by one day the maximum amount of time that player can spend on a conventional Minor League rehab assignment with a Minor League affiliate.

Francisco spent over 20 days rehabbing in Surprise this spring, and accordingly -- pursuant to Article XIII(h) -- the maximum length of his June rehab assignment in Frisco, instead of the normal 30 days, was reduced by 10 to a maximum of 20 days. His RoughRider rehab assignment, therefore, would have expired on June 22.

So why did Texas procedurally cut the rehab assignment short on June 20? Because the plan is apparently to have Francisco ready to pitch when the Rangers open their home series against Houston on June 30, and a player optioned to the Minor Leagues may not be recalled for at least 10 days (unless it's to replace an injured big leaguer). By activating Francisco on the 20th and optioning him then, he'll be eligible to be recalled on the 30th.

But are the Rangers wasting an option on Francisco because of this procedural twist? Nope. Remember that a player who spends less than 20 days on optional assignment in a given season doesn't actually burn an option. Since Francisco will likely be optioned for only 10 days (assuming he has no setbacks before the 30th), no option will have been exhausted unless he is returned conventionally (that is, not on another injury rehab) to the Minor Leagues later in the season and ends up accruing at least 20 days on option overall.

The Rangers are in the same situation with righthander Josh Rupe, whose current rehab assignment with Frisco will be limited to 20 days due to the time he spent rehabbing in Surprise. Rupe's rehab assignment kicked off on June 10, so it will expire on June 30.

Francisco's rehab assignment got off to a spectacular start, as he gave up three hits (a .120 opponents' average) in seven scoreless appearances covering 7.2 innings, issuing one walk and punching out 12 Texas Leaguers. One thing that he had yet to do was pitch on consecutive days, possibly the final test for the big righty to pass before his return to the big leagues.

Barring any significant setbacks with his elbow, the next procedural move involving Francisco, then, should be a recall to Texas, a move that, unlike those that took place on June 20, will actually force Francisco to change addresses.

Jamey Newberg is a contributor to MLB.com. A Dallas lawyer, he has been an insane Texas Rangers fan since the days of scheduled doubleheaders, Bat Nights when they actually handed out a piece of lumber instead of a grocery store voucher, and Jim Umbarger. He has covered the Texas Rangers, from the big club down through the entire farm system, since 1998 on his website, NewbergReport.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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