Nine days from now, September 1, major-league teams can expand their active roster to as many as 40 players.
In reality, most teams don’t go much beyond 30-32 players, unless they have a lot of young players they want to see have playing time. That’s not the case for the Cubs.
There’s been talk the last few years about modifying this system. The argument is that teams play with one type of roster for five months, then suddenly — and especially in the case of playoff-contending teams, perhaps unfairly — there’s a different number for the final month of the season.
With bullpens already bloated, expanded rosters can lead to 14-man bullpens and an endless parade of relief pitchers, like what Giants manager Bruce Bochy did in this ridiculous game September 23, 2015, using nine relievers in the last three innings, including six mid-inning pitching changes:
Cory Gearrin, Josh Osich, Hunter Strickland, Sergio Romo, Javier Lopez, Michael Broadway, George Kontos, Jeremy Affeldt and Santiago Casilla all made appearances. Only Osich threw as many as 20 pitches. Only Romo and Kontos otherwise threw double-digit pitches. Five of the nine relievers faced just one batter. Affeldt threw two pitches. Lopez came in only to issue an intentional walk.
Anyway, the Cubs aren’t likely to have that many extra players around and almost certainly won’t recall that many from Triple-A Iowa. First, because there simply isn’t enough playing time for all of them in a pennant race, and second, many of the players who might otherwise have been called up are already here.
That’s because the Cubs currently have four players on the disabled list: Jon Lester, Justin Grimm, Addison Russell and Willson Contreras. All of them will be eligible to return on September 1, and I suspect Lester, Grimm and Russell should be ready to go by then. Contreras might not return until a week or two later.
With those four activated, that would bring the active roster to 29 players (15 pitchers, five starters and 10 relievers).
The Cubs already have catching covered with Alex Avila and Rene Rivera on the active roster. Victor Caratini, who was with the big-league team until Rivera was acquired, will certainly return to provide protection for the others as well as a switch-hitting bat off the bench.
That makes 30.
All the other Cubs infielders on the 40-man roster are already on the active roster, so there aren’t any others who can be added.
The Cubs have two outfielders on the 40-man who aren’t currently on the active roster, Mark Zagunis and Jacob Hannemann. I don’t really see any pressing need for Zagunis, who went 0-for-14 with four walks in a brief callup in June. Hannemann has 24 stolen bases in 29 attempts between Double-A and Triple-A this year and could be recalled strictly to be a pinch-runner.
That would make 31 active players.
I’ve already mentioned the Cubs will have 15 pitchers active when Lester and Grimm return from the DL. The only pitchers on the 40-man roster who could really be of any help to the Cubs in September would be Eddie Butler, who had some decent outings both as a starter and in relief with the big-league club earlier this year, and Rob Zastryzny, who’s been up and down a couple of times, appearing in one major-league game this year. (Rob Z’s numbers at Iowa have been less-than-stellar this year.) That would give the Cubs a 17-man pitching staff, which is, I’d think, more than enough. Other pitchers who are on the 40-man and who have already appeared this year in the big leagues for the Cubs: Pierce Johnson, Seth Frankoff and Jack Leathersich. I’m pretty sure you’ll agree the Cubs don’t need those three to return.
So in September, the Cubs will likely have 32 or 33 active players, and just one (Hannemann) who hasn’t already played for them earlier this year.