MLB just rid itself of the stupidest rule in baseball, so, of course I want some version of it back. It is that kind of year.
I think rosters should expand to 30 for September.
This season, the roster rules for the last month were changing. Teams were going to be able to carry 26 players through Aug. 31 (up from 25) and go to 28 in September. I was all for that. I had railed in this space for years about how ridiculous it was that teams could expand to 40 and that no rule was in place to make sure both teams had the equal amount of players to begin a regular-season game from Sept. 1 onward.
At its most absurd, one team could begin a game with 40 players and the other with 25. You know how you know a rule has outlived whatever usefulness it ever had? Act like it never existed and imagine pitching it to a room and recognize that you would be booted out — what do you mean one team could play with 40 and the other with 25?
In recent years, the expansion fed into MLB’s pace problems as clubs loaded up on pitching the last month and grinded the game down with one matchup-related bullpen foray after another. So hurrah that MLB and the players association agreed to the change. And here is hoping we go back to it in the next standard season, whenever that is.
But this year, MLB should bump again from 28 to 30. Remember this season began with rosters at 30 moved to 28, and rather than drop to 26, MLB decided to keep it at 28, acknowledging all the pitching injuries and accumulating doubleheaders. But the injuries have continued to mount. So have the doubleheaders.
And here is something MLB should brace for: As teams fall out of the race, you might have veteran pitchers who in the past pushed through a minor injury or meaningless game thinking why do that this year, and just shut it down or even opt out. Clubs very much might be reaching for unprepared castoffs or youngsters to try to cover innings. Volume will be needed to cover the innings in place of high-level skill.
“We can see some unusual September games,” one front office executive worried. “You are going to have players you do not recognize and probably should not be on a major league field.”
Contenders will not be exempt either, not in a season that is playing out like “Survivor” with so many injuries, doubleheaders and games in general in so few days.
If MLB is determined to keep active rosters at 28, then relax the option rules (and maybe for September, even the 40-man roster rules) and let teams use their five-man taxi squad to augment their roster. So if a reliever or two has been overused, let them not be on the active roster and install two fresher arms in their place.
It is imperfect. It will promise a continuation of the pitching conveyor belt in games. But this is an imperfect season, and the first priority has to be to protect bodies (especially arms).
Brew Crew need more late magic
Perhaps no team has capitalized recently on the expanded rosters like the Brewers. Manager Craig Counsell has proven adept at manipulating an enlarged pitching staff. In each of the past two seasons, Milwaukee went 20-7 after Sept. 1 to rally into the postseason. In Counsell’s four full seasons, the Brewers have a .649 winning percentage in the final month, by far the best in the NL (the Dodgers’ .604 is second).
The calendar flips to September on Tuesday, but is it September as baseball has known it or just the second month of this bizarre season?
“Part of [the September success] is that in a normal season there are structural changes [the expanded roster] that we won’t have this year, and we have to be cognizant of that,” Brewers GM David Stearns said by phone.
Before Sept. 1 comes Aug. 31, and the Brewers are among the majors’ most fascinating clubs. They were 14-17 entering Saturday, yet just one game out of the final playoff spot. The organization has never made the postseason three straight years and has to feel it has more offense coming than it has had so far. At .212, the Brewers have the majors’ worst offense, and, shockingly, star Christian Yelich was hitting just .190.
Conversely, they have a poorly regarded farm system. Trading star closer Josh Hader could do a lot of replenishing. Every contender would be interested, in part because the lefty cannot be a free agent until after the 2023 season. Still, the expectation within the industry is that if the Brewers do trade Hader, it is more likely to come in the offseason. If Milwaukee sells, it is more probable to be a veteran starter who can be a free agent after this season like Brett Anderson or a reliever like David Phelps who has a 2021 $4.5 million option.
Or it is very possible that the Brewers stay pat or make a small buy and see if they have September magic again.
Expect fewer Angels in the outfield after deadline
While the Brewers were one of many teams on the fence, the Angels were among the few defined sellers. They traded one of their walk-year players, Tommy La Stella, to the A’s on Friday, and it would not be surprising if they traded their other notable free-agents-to-be, catcher Jason Castro and defensive maestro shortstop Andrelton Simmons. Lefty-swinging Brian Goodwin, who can play all three outfield spots, also is in play.
But will the Angels go further? No current GM’s job appears in more peril than Billy Eppler’s. Will owner Arte Moreno let him deal starters Dylan Bundy and Andrew Heaney and closer Ty Buttrey? With Mike Trout, Shohei Ohtani and Anthony Rendon, the Angels are not going to rebuild. They need pitching, and Bundy and Heaney are controlled through next year, which is when Buttrey first becomes arbitration eligible.
Could the Angels try a “have your cake and eat it too” by, say, trading Bundy and Heaney now, add prospects and then, in what is expected to be a depressed free-agent market this coming offseason, reasonably sign a starter combo such as Kevin Gausman and Brett Anderson? Again, that would take letting Eppler do at least part of that chess move.