Earlier this week, former Rockies outfielder Ryan Spilborghs penned a guest piece for MLBTR in which he offered a former player’s take on the September expansion of MLB active rosters from 25 to 40. Spilborghs’ opinion was a nuanced one, but he noted that most coaches and players intensely dislike roster expansion, noting that it slows the pace of games and prevents MLB role players from getting playing time.
Roster expansion rules have come in for criticism with beat writers recently as well, due in part to the long game times and frequent pitching changes that now seem so characteristic of late-season baseball. Matt Gelb of the Philadelphia Inquirer, for example, described a recent Phillies/Mets series as “a perverted type of baseball,” noting that one game took nearly four hours and featured 38 players, including two relievers who had pitched not at all, or close to not at all, in the previous two weeks. Those sorts of figures are, unfortunately, quite common in September, as contenders and non-contenders alike attempt to outmaneuver one another with seemingly limitless situational matchups.
“Let’s put it this way: That’s the thing about September,” said Phillies manager Pete Mackanin, via Gelb. “They have a lefty for every righty I bring in and vice versa. That’s what makes it so difficult. There’s no moves you can make that can’t be countered. So, what are you going to do?”
Gelb notes that September roster expansion could be part of this winter’s round of CBA negotiations. One possible solution would be a rule that allows teams to expand their active rosters in September, as they do now, but to declare a 25-man roster for each game. Such a rule might somewhat limit substitutions and pitching changes, thereby reducing game times, although it would do little to address Spilborghs’ concern about veteran role players losing out on playing time.
MLB commissioner Rob Manfred, for his part, agrees that roster expansion rules should be reformed. “I’m not looking to take away service time or anything like that, but I do think it would make sense to get to a situation where we played out September games closer to the rules that we play with the rest of the year,” he says. “I don’t think 18 pitchers in a game is a good thing.”
Of course, the benefits of expanded rosters are almost as easy to see as the drawbacks. Young players, particularly those on non-contending teams, can get their first tastes of big-league action, while managers and executives are more easily able to watch their young players against top competition. Also, the sheer number of bodies available helps teams get to the end of a lengthy 162-game season, by which point many established players are struggling with nagging injuries.
So what should MLB do about roster expansion? We’ll begin with a simple poll question about whether the rules should change. If you have a suggestion for how the rules should change, share it in the comments.