Thinking About The Game: MLB Rosters Expand in 2020, But Not Enough

Fenway Park, Boston, MA, September 17, 2019. Photo credit Scott Greene, @Scotty_Ballgame on Twitter

MLB teams will have one more active player on their rosters in 2020 as there will now be 26-man rosters allowed during the regular season. This seems like a compromise that does not really do much to improve the game and also does not go nearly far enough.

The traditional 25-man roster was always something of a sham as teams were limited there by having to carry a few starting pitchers who were never expected to appear in a game if they weren’t the scheduled starting pitcher that day, barring some crazy happening like a 15-inning game. Bumping the number up by one does little to alleviate that issue, though the proliferation of openers and the disappearance of at least some traditional starters has made a small difference in the last season or two.

If a change is going to be made, the game should be thinking about some radical, outside-the-box approaches that could improve flexibility for teams and likely even the product on the field. It’s time for a taxi squad. MLB should consider allowing teams to have overall MLB rosters of 33 players with 25 active for each game. Of course, there would have to be some guidelines. Those 25-man game rosters should have a limited number of pitchers. Nine seems like a good number and that would leave 16 hitters available for every game. Even in the AL, with the DH, teams would have seven bench players available on offense. That kind of flexibility would allow teams/managers to do a few more creative things to try to add more interesting aspects to each game.

A player like Billy Hamilton, who can add excitement to a game, could have a regular roster spot. Every team could carry a base-running specialist that could add some intrigue and tension late in a close game. Players with solid defensive skills at multiple positions who can also handle the bat a bit, but don’t have the power to be given a 25-man spot in today’s game, could also have important roles. Even with those types of players rostered, there would still be room for a couple of hitters from each side of the plate and, combined with the new rule requiring pitchers to face three batters or finish an inning, that could add to the strategy of late-game situations.

This idea could also help players with nagging injuries avoid the full 10-day IL at times, as they could simply be on the taxi squad for a few days instead. The same could be true of the bereavement and paternity lists. Teams could also have less need to move pitchers up and down as they could use the taxi squad to stash a tired reliever for a day or two. All of that together could very well save teams significantly in the costs of those AAA/MLB shuttles that have been used so often in the last couple of seasons.

Those savings could be at least part of the answer to what would likely be one of the most common objections to this idea, that of the increased costs of adding 7-8 players on MLB salaries. While we here are not in the habit of telling other people how they should have no real problem with spending some increased amount of money, however small, it would seem that many of the players who would be a part of those roster increases would be on minimum salaries. We’d be looking at committing somewhere in the neighborhood of an extra $5-10M to a team’s spending. That can certainly be significant, especially to some smaller-market teams, but seems a reasonable compromise with the players union. With the new CBA due, holding out the promise of 240 new MLB roster spots should gain some goodwill and/or some concessions in other areas.

There may be other ancillary benefits to this proposal, depending on those CBA negotiations and how other aspects of player-owner relationships are worked out. For example, this could be a way of controlling concerns about service time manipulation, especially if 40-man rosters are not increased.

There are certainly a lot of issues that would need to be worked out, but there are enough positives to make the idea of a taxi squad something to think about. It could well help to make the game more interesting and exciting and that could never be a bad thing.

I live at the beach in Palm Coast, FL with my wife. I'm an old retired guy whose main job is hosting trivia shows at golf courses for which I get free golf at several upscale golf courses. When it rains and I can't play golf, I read about baseball and try to find the next underrated prospect.

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