A Solution for September Roster Insanity

So, things might be getting out of hand…

A lot of folks inside and outside the game don’t care for September roster expansion. After all, why play the game one way for five months, with one set of roster rules, and then in the most crucial month of the season change the limits of rosters?

If we were drawing up a rulebook from scratch, if we were creating an entirely new collective bargaining agreement, I don’t think we would arrive at this idea of September roster expansion. But here we are. Again

Those in favor of the September rules may note that many players make their MLB debuts in the final month of the regular season after the minor-league seasons have been completed and that the MLBPA has legitimate concerns about service time. The MLBPA should have concerns about service time given the way teams have manipulated the debuts of young players to enjoy another year of club control and/or to avoid the additional year of arbitration eligibility which Super 2 status entails.

So there are legitimate arguments on both sides. There’s room for compromise, though, and I think a fairly reasonable exists: the addition of another year-round roster spot (increasing the active roster to 26 players) and a corresponding reduction of the September roster limits. This would address the problem in a number of ways.

An additional spot on the active roster would almost always be utilized for another pitcher and that could represent a significant benefit for teams — not only by facilitating greater match-up flexibility but also by helping to keep arms fresher and more healthy. Starting pitchers’ workloads continue to decrease. In 2015, there were 27 pitchers who reached the 200-inning threshold, the lowest of the expansion era. In 2016, that figure dipped to 15. Nonetheless, pitcher injuries remain at or near record levels in recent seasons.

While the 10-day DL has been used by some teams as a rotating roster spot — as has the final bullpen spot on the roster — a 26th arm would be a more even-handed way to create pitching depth. (Or a team could still use the DL, like, say, the Dodgers, and create a 27th man.)

By adding a 26th man, the union is guaranteed a service time bump from April through August for 30 teams, roughly 4,500 days of total additional service time prior to September. There are no such guarantees with the current system.

By adding a 26th man, perhaps the embattled middle class of player — one who’s had trouble finding work in recent springs — would enjoy work more quickly. That’s 30 new openings (job creation!) at a time when the owners’ share of revenue continues to increase.

By adding a 26th man, by reducing the September roster spots dramatically from a maximum of 40, it ensures that the game is played in its most important month in roughly the same way it’s played over the first five.

While it’s hard to get two parties to agree on anything, this seems like something that could have owner and player bipartisan support, and the idea — or something similar — was close to becoming a reality during last winter’s CBA negotiation, according to the Associated Press.

Interestingly, it was the union that backed away.

“We thought we were going to make an agreement, had a tentative agreement,” baseball commissioner Rob Manfred told The Associated Press on Friday, “but nothing’s done until it’s done. … There were very mixed opinions on the club side, as well. Maybe we were going too far, too fast.”

Said MLPBA chief Tony Clark last winter:

“I don’t know that there was an agreement to do it and that it came apart. There was a lot of dialogue over the course of this round where we were moving in a direction that we inevitably weren’t able to agree to,” he said. “It simply got to the point with all of the moving pieces that were part of the conversation during the course of the year that we lived to talk about it another day.”

The MLBPA hasn’t been winning many meaningful battles lately. The average age of major-league players has decreased since PED-testing began, which means hundreds of seasons once played by veteran players have been replaced by the production of younger, cheaper players. Owners’ profits are up. Again, the 26th man is a job-creation opportunity that would also help the integrity of the game in September, when the product should be at its best for the consumer.

Baseball could use a 26th man in concert with smaller September rosters. Instead, the Angels have 14 relievers.

A Cleveland native, FanGraphs writer Travis Sawchik is the author of the New York Times bestselling book, Big Data Baseball. He also contributes to The Athletic Cleveland, and has written for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, among other outlets. Follow him on Twitter @Travis_Sawchik.

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6 years ago

Well, the Angels actually need 14 relievers at the moment, as they don’t seem to have any real starters currently.

6 years ago
Reply to  peakbear

That might be one thing, but Scioscia being lunatic is another. I had the great pleasure of watching the A’s play the Angels recently and saw ol’ Mike use 12 pitchers in an 11 inning game that took 4 hours and 38 minutes. Of those 12 pitchers 5 of them faced 2 batters or fewer, 3 of them didn’t even record an out!

6 years ago
Reply to  Walter

Hey, someone had to replace Tony La Russa