Tokyo Olympics Baseball Rosters Will Not Include 40-Man Players

Image credit: USA (Tom DiPace)

Team USA will once again not have 40-man roster players for the Olympics.

Major League Baseball officials confirmed to Baseball America on Thursday that only players who are not on 40-man rosters will be eligible to compete in the Summer Olympics in Tokyo. The same restriction was in place for the Americas Qualifier held in Florida last week, which Team USA won to clinch an Olympic berth.

Major league players have never been allowed to participate in the Olympics since baseball became part of the Summer Games in 1984. Players who were on 40-man rosters but not in the major leagues were originally slated to be eligible to participate in the Tokyo Olympics, but after the coronavirus pandemic delayed the Olympics by a year, MLB and the MLB Players Association revised eligibility guidelines amidst concerns about player health and safety. 

The restriction against using 40-man players means Team USA’s roster for the Olympics will look different than the one it took to the qualifier. Left fielder Luke Williams and reliever Jimmie Sherfy were called up by the Phillies and Giants, respectively, after the qualifier ended. Now that they are on 40-man rosters, they will no longer be able to play in the Olympics unless they are released, outrighted or otherwise removed from the 40-man between now and the start of the Summer Games in July.

While the exact configuration of Team USA’s roster will look different, the parameters will be the same. Team USA will be comprised of former major leaguers, top prospects and Americans playing abroad in foreign leagues, just as it was for the qualifier. Final rosters for the Summer Olympics are due July 1.

“There are some nuances and changes but it will be a very similar exercise,” USA Baseball executive director and CEO Paul Seiler said. “We have our baseline (from the qualifier) so it’s about who’s available and who isn’t available and where are the gaps and how do we fill those gaps. We feel like we have a great foundation.”

The restriction against using 40-man players applies to all countries. Japan will not be able to use Yu Darvish and Shohei Ohtani in the Olympics and South Korea will not be able to use Hyun-Jin Ryu or Kwang-Hyun Kim, for example.

The restriction does affect North American countries more than Asian countries. Japan will be able to use players from its major league, Nippon Professional Baseball, and South Korea will be able to use players from its major league, the Korea Baseball Organization. Both the NPB and KBO are pausing their seasons for the Olympics to allow their top players to participate.

MLB has never permitted major leaguers to participate in the Olympics. Doing so would require MLB to either pause its season or have teams play two-plus weeks without their best players, neither of which is palatable to the league or team owners.

There is varying support among players for a scenario that would allow for the MLB season to be paused so they can play in the Olympics.

During an interview last year with former pitcher Dallas Braden on a Barstool Sports podcast, Phillies outfielder Bryce Harper said he would like to see major leaguers be allowed to participate.

“It is such a travesty to me,” Harper said. “The … Olympics, in Japan. And you’re not sending big league guys? Are you kidding me? You want to grow the game as much as possible and you’re not going to let us play in the Olympics because you don’t want to (lose) out on money for a two-week period? OK, that’s dumb.”

Others took more reserved stances.

“I think it’d be tough because it’s during the season every time,” Angels outfielder Mike Trout said earlier this week. “I don’t know if clubs would allow it, but it would be a cool experience.”

Mike Scioscia will manage Team USA in the Olympics. Japan, Korea, Mexico, Israel and the United States have all qualified for the six-team field. The Dominican Republic, Venezuela and the Netherlands will compete for the final Olympic spot in a qualifier in Puebla, Mexico from June 22-26.

Opening Ceremonies commence July 24. Baseball begins play July 28.

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