MLB and the Players Association agreed to a new collective bargaining agreement this afternoon, in time to preserve a 162-game regular season. The work stoppage dragged on long enough to deal a pretty significant blow to Spring Training, though, which will be shorter in 2022 than it is in a typical year.
With only four weeks until Opening Day, there’s some concern about the early-season workload players will have to assume. One possible solution would be to expand the active rosters a bit early in the season, and it seems that’s on the table. Joel Sherman of the New York Post noted this afternoon that while expanding rosters wasn’t part of the CBA, the parties could circle back to that possibility. Kevin Acee of the San Diego Union-Tribune tweets that some in the industry expect an enlarged active roster early in the regular season.
That move wouldn’t be without precedent. Rosters were bumped to 28 players for the entirety of the shortened 2020 season. That followed a three-week exhibition “Summer Camp” and also came with greater concerns about teams losing players to COVID-19. Still, it suggests the league and union aren’t opposed to adding a little more depth to teams’ rosters if they’re concerned about the shortened ramp-up.
Complicating matters further is the return on the limit of the number of pitchers teams may carry. Over the 2019-20 offseason, MLB passed a rule that capped teams to 13 pitchers at any given time. Under pandemic protocols, that rule was suspended in both 2020 and 2021. However, Bob Nightengale of USA Today reported last May that MLB was planning to reinstitute the 13-pitcher limit this season. That seems to have come to fruition, as Cardinals president of baseball operations John Mozeliak acknowledged it was in place when speaking with reporters this evening (via Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch).
Were active rosters to expand for the season’s first few weeks, that limit on pitchers would probably be relaxed. Whenever teams are faced with a permanent cap of 13 hurlers, though, there figure to be greater challenges for managers in handling their staffs. The CBA also limits teams to optioning players to the minor leagues more than five times in a season, so management won’t be as simple as shuttling fresh arms on and off the roster daily. That could compel teams to lean more heavily on their starting pitchers than they have in recent years (particularly with the introduction of the universal DH removing the need to pinch-hit for pitchers depending on the game situation).