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How will MLB’s proposed roster limits change the way ‘roster games’ are played?

Roster limits might change in 2020. What would that mean for the Cubs system?

Jared Young
Larry Kave/Myrtle Beach Pelicans

It was bit inevitable. For years, teams had been allowed to load their rosters with up to 40 players in September. They didn’t, because there was very little reason to have extra players in the MLB dugout if they weren’t going to contribute. As time progressed, the 29 or 30 players advanced to 32 or 33, and the eventual 40 and “I wish we could add a 41st and 42nd.” It appears that trend will now be in the rearview. If the rosters are adjusted to 26 through the season and 28 after August, as recently proposed by MLB, what adjustments will front offices make in roster management?

Some of these things are a bit about being logical. As starting pitchers were possibly going to get fewer than fifteen outs, and relievers were often best served facing same-sided hitters, the 12-man September bullpen became almost necessary. Having eight usable pinch-hitters on the bench became useful, as well, since managers wanted to flip relievers promptly. With that going away, which gimmicks will be employed?

Back when, the goal would have been “using the best 26 players” or “the best 13 hitters and 13 pitchers.” Those concepts are long gone, now. Until ownership is financially (against spending levels) rewarded by hurrying players to the MLB level, that isn’t likely to happen in many cases. Similarly, a Brian Duensing type will likely be given an edge over a Randy Rosario type, as Duensing’s contract is guaranteed. Rosario will get a chance before Dakota Mekkes, who isn’t on the 40-man roster. Is that proper or wise? I’m not sure, but it’s protocol.

It’s possible a team will opt to go with 14 hitters and 12 pitchers. However, 13 and 13 looks like it might become rather standard. With an extra bat almost required, bat-first college players will be of more draft value. Why? It’s been rather difficult to keep a place on a roster recently unless he could play “up the middle” defensively, or have power in the National League. Upon the changes, players like Mark Zagunis will have bonus value.

However far your memories go, you may have a favorite pinch hitter. The age of the pinch hitter might be ready to be rekindled, even with DH expansion. Teams will start to load up in their pipeline with guys who can hit off the bench. No, you can’t tell until three or four years into a player’s career if he’s able to handle MLB pitching. But, if a hitter in college can hit against quality pitching, he becomes a reasonable gamble as a pinch hitter.

Whether skilled defenders or not, and potentially aided by the designated hitter also being added in the National League’s near future, players that hit add to their value. Every team has hitters that can hit in their pipeline. As “toward the bottom” as the Cubs are, a Jared Young would be a useful 26th man in the future. You can look for a bit of a tag-team at Triple-A for the spare pinch-hitter type, even as the designated hitter spreads. The 26th spot might as well be used and abused as the twelfth reliever in September.

As for September, look for a mild adjustment in the Arizona and Florida compounds. It’s what I’d do. The player rotations that take place all season long? They’ll continue as long as they can. Some pitchers will be optioned to Iowa after Iowa’s season is done. If James Norwood is more ready to help a team for a day or two than Dakota Mekkes, why shouldn’t the move be made?

Executives love being able to bring in relievers for short spurts. The Cubs facility in Mesa will probably have dozens of players keeping ready well into September. Just because a pitcher or hitter isn’t on the 28-man September roster doesn’t mean a move isn’t pending. Which might eventually lead to more rule changes. Executives like making roster moves that are legal, and don’t especially add to the seasonal spending grand total.

With the changes, different players will be valued. Based on which players are going to be valued, organizations will edit their player development plans. Perhaps, relievers able to throw 40 pitches without becoming batting practice machines will be manufactured. Bench pinch runners will likely still be valued in September, but they’ll likely need to be able to perform another facet of the game, as well.

Rule changes bring unintended consequences. If you think about it, some of the consequences can be predicted. Changes will create adjustment in the game. My guess is the Des Moines shuttle is here to stay. It should continue into September. With the limitations on pitchers, length from pitchers, and a moderate shuffle on the thirteenth hitter seems to make sense.

Whether you want it to be so or not, getting “the right guys” in the draft will remain virtually paramount. Owners want quality talent on the cheap with long-term cost control. June and July are fantastic times to add eventual depth. All 30 teams are getting really good at development, through their own methods. Regardless what rule changes happen, having players developed internally is preferable to not having internal talent. Which might create more changes. Hopefully the players get paid because of it.


What are you most looking forward to with MLB’s proposed roster changes?

This poll is closed

  • 6%
    Actual pinch hitters
    (9 votes)
  • 11%
    40 pitch relievers
    (15 votes)
  • 26%
    September bench limits
    (36 votes)
  • 52%
    Starters going six innings again
    (71 votes)
  • 3%
    Something else (leave in comments)
    (5 votes)
136 votes total Vote Now