As Major League Baseball continues to adapt to the unprecedented circumstances of the 2020 season, it is considering a notable change to the present 60-man player pool system. Per Josh Norris of Baseball America, a proposal under consideration would add something like 15 more slots to each team’s alternate training site.
It doesn’t sound as if this evolution is a done deal, or even a firmly hammered out system under consideration. But developments have come far more rapidly than usual during this ad hoc, covid-addled campaign. If the league is to implement it, we’d presumably see things come together in rather short order.
As with the alternate site information sharing plan that is set to go into effect, this latest development reflects observations from the early functioning of a modified season and an effort to anticipate issues to come. First and foremost, as Norris explains, the current approach has left too few players around to participate in alternate site games. And teams would surely rather have more flexibility to get players in action, both to enhance development of younger players and to build out veteran depth.
There’s also an interesting potential trade deadline tie-in here, as with the enhanced scouting that would come from video and statistical sharing. Bigger player pools would give much greater flexibility to teams looking to structure mid-season deals. (Remember, only players in the 60-man pool may be traded.) Teams would have more room for prospects in their pools, thus making it easier to put trade candidates into play without unduly sacrificing the ability to supplement the active roster as needed.
With just over two weeks to go until an undeniably bizarre trade deadline, this could be quite the wild card. It’ll be especially interesting to see how quickly the changes are agreed upon and implemented. If teams are to wheel and deal at anything approaching their typical levels, they’ll want to have some advance notice to hash out potential agreements.
There’s a tie-in to a broader matter within the baseball operations landscape. In the past decade or so, roughly the span of MLBTR’s existence, we’ve seen analytics (in the broadest sense) grow from a niche element of the roster-building meta game to a more-or-less universal, rather uniform philosophical framework. Thinking about the game critically and shrewdly applying analytical resources is the base state for the contemporary front office. Doing more and better remains the goal, but the returns are necessarily diminishing. What we’re seeing now is something else entirely: an entire new set of challenges with human dimensions; ever-changing rules regimes and economic circumstances; information gaps that technology can’t really solve.
Navigating this world to construct a winning MLB team presents a new — or at least heavily altered — challenge. Particularly for those of us who’ve observed the evolution to this point, it’ll be fun to sit back and see which executives thrive in this new era of the hot stove.