Finding a Way to Expand MLB Rosters

There seems to be a mildly growing concern about roster size in MLB. With so many specialized relief pitchers many teams are carrying 12, or even 13 man pitching staffs at this point. AL teams in particular almost all go 12, with four backup bench players. Because they don’t have to worry about pinch hitting for pitchers late in games they can afford to do this without much worry about it coming back to hurt them later. But with the seemingly growing list of teams who had had to use position players as relievers in blowouts, or really long games, the time has come for baseball to adjust.

The simplest, and most common suggestion is just to increase the active roster from 25 players. It could be 26 or 27, or it could be as many as 30. Because of the bizarre where that MLB’s system works, every team has a 40-man roster of players who are on Major League contracts (which includes all 25 guys on the active roster). They don’t have to have exactly 40 guys, and most teams probably keep just under 40. There are a lot of rules and procedures behind the 40-man roster that are not worth digging into at the moment. The key factor is simply that anyone on this roster at any given time has the same contract as the 25 guys on the active roster. This essentially means that from a financial standpoint the addition of a couple of more players to the active roster won’t be Earth shattering. Teams already can expand their active roster to 40 players on September 1st each season, and even though most teams don’t call up 15 guys, they usually call up a few. In other words, the logistics of having a couple of extra guys around on a given day would not really be a big deal.

So financially and logistically there is basically no impact to adding more players. What about from a competitive/strategic standpoint? Like is the case with many other aspects of the game, teams in bigger markets with more money at their disposal would surely have a bit of an advantage here. These teams would be able to pay their 26th and 27th guys more than the small market teams. Maybe it wouldn’t matter a ton because the difference between 6th and 7th reliever on most teams is negligible, but that possibility at least exists.

Having two or three more relief pitchers could surely increase the length of games since it would give an opportunity for not only an extra pitching change or two, but at least one extra mound visit per pitcher.

So what is the solution? How about a more complicated version of the NHL/NBA system of having inactive players on a given day? Rosters could be expanded to 27 or 28 players, and two or three of them would be inactive each day. Unfortunately it’s a little more complicated than just that though. The problem baseball has that basketball and hockey don’t is the starting pitcher. Excluding the playoffs, no starting pitcher is EVER going to pitch 1 or 2 days after a previous start (which is one of the reasons position players get thrown out there in the 19th inning sometimes). In other words, it would be easy for a manager to just make the last two or three starting pitchers inactive every game. This pretty much defeats the purpose of even having active/inactive players since those guys would not have played anyway.

The added wrinkle would be to make five rotation spots locked at any given time, and have only certain circumstances that this can change. So on any given game day a manager would have a starting rotation of 5 players, plus 20 players out of a remaining pool of 22–24 to chose from. In order to modify the five locked positions a move of some sort would have to be made. If a player is put on the disabled list or sent to the minors obviously he could be replaced in the rotation locked spot. The predicament comes with replacing poor performers. There are times now where a player is sent to the bullpen but not sent to the minors, how would that affect that locked in mechanism? Perhaps there could be some sort of rule that if a pitcher has started a game in the last two weeks they can’t be made inactive. Then the locked in spots wouldn’t have to be selected, they would just happen automatically. And once a pitcher has gone two weeks without a start they can be made inactive for any given game.

This seems complicated, and maybe it is too complicated, but whatever solution there is can’t make games too much longer, and shouldn’t weaken the quality of the game any more than having 12 pitchers already has. Most teams 7th reliever is not very good as is. Sure they are better than having a position player pitch, but the difference is probably not all that great. These guys tend to be guys who are used for extended appearances in blowouts anyway. Adding two or more guys to the back end of bullpens means that even crappier players are filling these spots. At least by using the inactive spots teams are forced to use some sort of strategy and not just change pitchers twice an inning.

Regardless of what you think the system will be, it’s definitely going to change in the next few years.