Why some MLB players are considered ‘uninsurable’ for the World Baseball Classic

Dodgers starting pitcher Clayton Kershaw watches from the dugout during Game 3 of the NLDS against the San Diego Padres in October. Kershaw wanted to play in the World Baseball Classic, but insurance issues will prevent him from doing so. (Jae C. Hong/Associated Press)

Clayton Kershaw and Miguel Cabrera have résumés few baseball players have matched. Both are former MVPs and future first-ballot Hall of Famers. Kershaw has three Cy Young Awards. Cabrera won a Triple Crown and surpassed 500 home runs and 3,000 hits in his career.

This offseason, both players committed to playing in the World Baseball Classic for their respective countries. Kershaw’s commitment to play for Team USA was seen as a coup for a tournament still seeking to establish legitimacy. Without Cabrera, arguably the greatest Venezuelan baseball player of all time, the tournament would have left a baseball-mad nation unsatisfied.

Both ran into a roadblock earlier this month: obtaining insurance coverage to participate in the event. Kershaw and Cabrera’s contracts, which expire after this season, were deemed uninsurable because of their injury histories.

Cabrera was informed that he was not insured and therefore could not participate, but days later he was cleared to play. On the other hand, Kershaw reluctantly announced Friday that he won’t pitch for Team USA without elaborating, though he did mention there were “complications” and “all parties really tried to make it work.”

The difference? The Detroit Tigers made the unusual decision to waive Cabrera’s insurance requirement and assume the financial risk in the event Cabrera is injured while playing in the tournament, according to people with knowledge of the situation who are not authorized to speak publicly on the matter. . The Dodgers didn’t do that for Kershaw.

Kershaw’s announcement not only created disappointment but also confusion. Here are answers to clarify some questions:

Why is insurance necessary?

Detroit Tigers star Miguel Cabrera takes aim during an at bat in July.

Detroit Tigers star Miguel Cabrera takes aim during an at bat in July. The Tigers are making it possible for Cabrera to play in the WBC by taking the financial risk in case he gets hurt. (Carlos Osorio/Associated Press)

Cabrera, 39, is in the final year of an eight-year, $248 million contract. He is scheduled to earn $32 million this season before retiring.

Kershaw, who turns 35 next month, signed a one-year, $20 million contract in December. He hasn’t closed the door on retiring after the season, but the Dodgers are counting on Kershaw to lead their rotation alongside Julio Urías as they compete again for a World Series title.

For Cabrera, the circumstances are different. He is the designated hitter for a rebuilding Tigers club that is not expected to contend for a playoff spot after going 66-96 last season.

They are just two of the players with big contracts who have committed to play in the WBC this year.

While Major League Baseball and the players’ association want the WBC to prosper, believing that a star-studded tournament produces substantial long-term benefits for the sport, teams are understandably more concerned with the short term. There is a 162-game season to play after the event. The tournament schedule (the final will be played eight days before the opening day) leaves the clubs dizzy.

Insurance softens the potential blow. Players are paid their guaranteed salary no matter what, whether they miss the entire season or a few games due to an injury sustained at the WBC.

The insurance coverage, which has always been carried by Team Scotti, a Pittsburgh-based running back recently bought by NFP, protects teams from having to pay a player for time lost due to tournament-related injury. If it is determined that an injury occurred at the WBC, then the team is reimbursed for the time lost by the player. WBC participants are required to undergo entry and exit physicals to help gain information on injuries.

What does the data say about injury risk?

Dodgers manager Dave Roberts puts on his sunglasses as he leaves the clubhouse at Camelback Ranch on Thursday.

Dodgers manager Dave Roberts puts on his sunglasses as he leaves the clubhouse at Camelback Ranch on Thursday. (Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press)

MLB has collected injury data from the first four iterations of the WBC, according to a league official. The data is not publicly available, but the official maintained that “there is no correlation between being injured and playing in the WBC.” It’s also in MLB’s interest to say that without sharing the data.

A study conducted by the University of Washington in 2017, days after the previous WBC was held, found that tournament participants missed an average of 2.35 more days due to injury after the WBC. For pitchers, it was a 4.07-day rally. Position players missed less than one more day.

These are small sample sizes, too small to convince teams that there is no risk.

“To me, it’s moderate in the sense that if they’re going to get hurt, they’re going to get hurt,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “I don’t worry if I can’t control it. It’s not out of sight, out of mind. But they want to perform, they want to compete, and I’m not going to dissuade them.

So, I’m going to cross my fingers and hope for the best. But as long as you’re playing baseball, there’s always the possibility of injury. “

How does this insurance agreement work?

Dodgers relief pitcher Brusdar Graterol throws a pitch during a game.

Dodgers relief pitcher Brusdar Graterol is another player who will not compete in the World Baseball Classic due to insurance issues. (Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press)

This particular arrangement covers players on MLB’s 40-man rosters; other leagues that have players in the tournament are not included. Free agents do not need insurance because they are not on an MLB roster.

A premium is negotiated with NFP to cover each player. An underwriter reviews each player’s medical records. Players are then placed into two buckets: insurable under that overall premium or uninsurable.

Players can go without insurance for “four or five” reasons, according to a person with knowledge of the situation. One is that the player has a “chronic condition” based on his injury history. Another is that the player spent considerable time on the disabled list the previous season or finished the previous season on the disabled list.

Kershaw and Cabrera fell into the “chronic” category.

Kershaw’s injury history includes a major elbow injury in 2021 and various back ailments over the past decade. Kershaw landed on the 10-day disabled list twice last season, both times with back problems. Cabrera has dealt with left biceps injuries for the past four seasons and various other nagging ailments.

Dodgers reliever Brusdar Graterol wanted to pitch in the tournament for Venezuela, but was not offered insurance coverage due to previous injuries. Texas Rangers pitcher Nathan Eovaldi committed to Team USA but was left off the list because he did not meet the criteria for insurance coverage. The same thing happened in 2017 with pitcher Sonny Gray, who didn’t play for the US team after spending 70 days on the disabled list in 2016.

Teams also have the option of not allowing a player to participate in the tournament if they were on the 60-day disabled list at any time during the previous season.

St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Tyler O’Neill faced that hurdle this month. O’Neill was deemed ineligible to play for Canada after finishing last season on the disabled list, but the Cardinals waived the hold and cleared him with a physical before the insurer would authorize coverage.

Can players explore other avenues of insurance?

Yes. Kershaw explored other ways to obtain an insurance claim, including considering a personal policy for the event, but was unable to find a solution.

One agent described a player who took out his own insurance for the tournament as “very expensive.” It is not believed to have ever been done for the WBC. Although Kershaw tried, he will have to watch the tournament from Camelback Ranch.

This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.

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