Take a close look around at baseball games this September, because this is the last time you’ll see 18-man pitching staffs and 13-man bullpens.
In 2020, MLB is changing roster limits. There will be 26 players allowed on rosters prior to September 1. In addition, only 13 of those can be pitchers, so in effect, MLB is forcing teams (most of whom carry 13 pitchers now) to have an additional position player throughout the season.
The bigger change is that there will be only two additions allowed to active rosters after September 1, 2020, for a limit of 28. This seems a drastic change, as many teams now carry as many as 35 active players in September. It wouldn’t surprise me if MLB revisits this in the offseason and increases that September 2020 limit, perhaps to 30.
But since teams can now still have up to their entire 40-man roster active this September, let’s take a look at who the Cubs might activate for the roster expansion 19 days from now.
There are five players returning from the injured list who will likely be ready to play by September 1, and some are probably back before then: Craig Kimbrel, Steve Cishek, Brandon Kintzler, Willson Contreras and Daniel Descalso.
Here are five players currently at Triple-A Iowa who could be promoted: Addison Russell, Taylor Davis, Robel Garcia, Randy Rosario and James Norwood. Keep in mind that the I-Cubs are currently in first place and leading their division by 10 games. They haven’t been in the PCL playoffs since 2008, and will need players for postseason play. Some of these players might stay there for the playoffs after the PCL regular season ends September 2.
Presuming his tour through the Cubs minor-league system continues as it has, I would expect Ben Zobrist to be activated September 1. Since he is currently on the restricted list, he must be added to the 40-man roster by August 31 to be postseason-eligible. That means someone on the current 40-man will have to be removed. I’m honestly not sure who that would be. Tim Huwe posted some thoughts on this here last week.
That would be 11 more players in addition to the 25 currently on the active roster. I can’t imagine the Cubs want more than 35 players around. This means guys like Adbert Alzolay and Mark Zagunis might not get recalled.
Lastly, there’s the case of Brandon Morrow, who “still has a lot of work left” if he wants to return to the active roster. He’s currently on the 60-day injured list and so would also need to be added back to the 40-man roster. Unlike Zobrist, in Morrow’s case the 40-man spot would not necessarily have to happen before August 31.
So I can see the Cubs having up to 36 active players in September. As noted earlier, look closely, because you won’t see active rosters like this after 2019.