Perfect Rule Changes to Fix September Roster Expansion Problems
September brings about many changes in Major League Baseball, notably the expansion of rosters. Teams are going to make improvements by dipping into their bag of prospects and other minor leaguers who could play a key role in the playoff push or get a leg up on winning a job in 2014.
Despite the flexibility that the roster expansion provides to a manager, the whole system is flawed. There is no rhyme or reason to why you are allowed to have 38 players in the final month compared to 25 the rest of the year.
Since we don't like to gripe without having ideas to make things better, we thought it was about time to look at what MLB can do to make the September roster expansion fair and help it make sense.
We have five ideas, some will actually feed off each other, while others might be vastly different from the one that came before it but at least they will all be fair and reasonable compared to what we have now.
Create a Universal System
The biggest problem with the September roster expansion is how completely illogical it is. Sure, it's easy enough to explain that teams can bring anyone on the 40-man roster to the big leagues to play. But, there is no order to it beyond that.
For instance, when a series starts, there could be one team that has 37 players who could play in the game and the other may have 32. How is that fair, especially if a game goes into extra innings and requires a lot of pitching changes?
You can dispute that by saying Team B could have added more players, but you shouldn't have one team enter a game with five more active players.
Milwaukee Brewers general manager Doug Melvin has argued this point during offseason General Manager meetings, saying that no other sport in this country has this kind of uneven roster system.
"You play 80 percent of your season with even rosters, and then all of a sudden, you throw that out. It's like playing three-on-six in basketball or 11-on-18 in football. I don't know of any sport in the world that does it like ours, with this kind of imbalance of rosters. I'd like to find out if there's any other sport that does that at the most important time of the year."
If you are going to have rosters expand, at least make sure that every team has to put the same number of players on the field. You can't have one team with more bullets in the chamber than the other expecting a fair fight.
Roster Designation System
If creating a universal system where every team has to have the same number of players, whatever the total may be, is too complex for MLB to get a handle on, how about keeping rosters at 25 by having teams pick from their pool of talent before a series starts?
This solution actually comes from Baltimore Orioles manager Buck Showalter, via Peter Gammons on Twitter.
Showalter is absolutely right, and his idea is more logical than anything I could come up with. It's a lot like the NFL system. In the NFL, teams have a 53-man roster they use to practice throughout the week. But on Sunday before kickoff, the active roster is trimmed down to 46 for both teams.
MLB is a bit different because there isn't a week leading up to a game, but the principle of the rule makes this a smart idea.
You give teams a pool of 40 players to choose from, most of the roster isn't going to change from series to series. But if there is a reliever who has been used a lot and needs time off, you have an answer right at your doorstep instead of having to go into a series with the temptation to push the player harder and risk injury, hurting the team's chances of getting in the playoffs.
Limit the Number of Players on an Active Roster
Think about the last time you were watching a Major League game and were curious if the 40th man on the roster was going to get a chance to play. It doesn't happen because only the hardest of hardcore fans even knows who that player is.
We all understand the purpose of having a 40-man roster throughout the season, because you will need players to fill in during the year when injuries inevitably happen. Knowing an insurance policy is at your fingertips is a valuable tool that every team will need.
But 40 is still too much, especially for just one month of games. Instead, why not trim that number to 30 or 35?
Teams are still able to add more talent in September with the hopes of giving some guys an extra day off or seeing how the new players handle themselves in a brief big league tryout, but the rosters aren't overstuffed to the point where you could have 15-18 pitchers in a bullpen.
Ideally the number would 30, because that gives teams another handful of players to use however they like.
But even trimming to 35 gives options without making the 'pen seem like one of those circus cars where an endless stream of clowns climbs out.
Put an Early End Date on the Roster Call-Ups
This idea is inspired by the Cleveland Indians and manager Terry Francona who earlier this week said that they were going to bring up players "in two different waves."
The Indians are hardly the only team to do this, but by acknowledging it shines a light on just how ridiculous the September roster expansion really is. They know who they are bringing up, yet don't want to do it at the same time for whatever reason.
This rule change gives teams a strict window in which they are able to add extra talent to the roster. Instead of giving teams the entire month of September to shuffle things, put a hard date, like September 10, that the clubs are able to add talent.
We can also implement the previous rule, where rosters are only 30 or 35 players deep, with this rule. There shouldn't be a constant revolving door of players moving in and out of the big leagues, especially if you are trying to keep the integrity of the pennant race intact.
Get Rid of Expanded Roster System Altogether
Finally, the most drastic measure taken would be to just get rid of the roster-expansion system altogether. While there might be some value in getting Triple-A players MLB experience, it really isn't going to change anything heading into next season.
Because the rosters get so watered down with minor leaguers in the final month of the season, not to mention the obvious small sample size issues, very few, if any, players are going to improve their stock heading into the offseason.
Teams have scouts and various other personnel to watch the talent throughout the system all year; they know what players can and can't do better than anyone. Playing 15-20 games in September isn't going to change a lot.
You also have problems we have mentioned before, like the integrity of the pennant race and roster discrepancies, but there is one issue we haven't touched on: money.
When you call players up to the big leagues, you have to play them for that time. In the scheme of things, one month of the MLB minimum salary is a drop in the ocean for what teams and owners have in their pockets.
Every franchise, whether it's the Yankees or Astros, has a budget they have to operate within. Some have more flexibility than others, which means that a team like the Yankees can add more players than, say, the Rays.
Is that fair?
By dumping the entire system, MLB ensures that contenders are on a level playing field for the stretch run. That's the most important thing in this whole mess.
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