Orioles manager Buck Showalter doesn't hide the fact that he doesn't like Major League Baseball's September roster expansion, when teams can increase their rosters from 25 players to as many as 40.
Of course, there's some humor in his complaints considering the Birds have regularly taken advantage of having a greater quantity of players (pitchers in particular) available to them in September during Showalter's tenure.
Showalter has recognized the irony of his success with expanded rosters when juxtaposed with his opinion about the topic. Earlier this year, Showalter said, "If the rules are the rules, you're going to take advantage of them. What do you do? [I'm not going to tell Major League Baseball], 'Listen, I don't like it, we're only going to have six or seven [pitchers in the bullpen].'"
So Showalter plays along despite his frustration with the rule. And in true Buck Showalter fashion, he tends to use all of the players at his disposal. Unfortunately for Showalter, most of the pitchers he's had at his disposal this season have not been good enough to succeed at the major league level.
But it's far past time for MLB to take this issue out of Showalter's hands. It has never made sense for a sport to play with a certain set of rules for five months of a season and then suddenly drastically alter the rules of the game for the sixth month, which also happens to be the most important one of the season. You just can't get around how weird the whole thing is. In fact, "weird" might not even fully explain it.
"It's beyond weird," ESPN's "Sunday Night Baseball" analyst Jessica Mendoza said in a Glenn Clark Radio interview Sept. 8. "Weird isn't even, to me, the right word. To me, it's wrong. I will stand by the statement, and I would bet if you were to poll managers and players in baseball right now, they don't want it either. You're talking about the most important month of the season, and now you're dealing with teams who aren't even who they are."
Consider this hypothetical situation: Team A and Team B are both fighting for a wild-card spot. Team A faces Team C on the final weekend of the season. Team C was only recently eliminated from playoff contention and is still largely made up of its typical roster of players. Team B is facing Team D, who was also recently eliminated but has decided to essentially field a Double-A roster for the rest of the year to give players some exposure. Why is that fair to Team A?
There are plenty of positives for players and teams regarding September call-ups. For the players, it's a chance to get the taste of the major leagues (like Orioles outfielder Austin Hays this year and outfielder Trey Mancini last year) before they may be called upon as regulars the following season. For the teams, it provides fresh options at the end of a grueling season.
But if we're trying to solve fatigue, couldn't we simply trim the schedule by 18 games? Or if we're willing to wildly change the rules of the game, why not make September games only seven innings long? It's about as logical as roster expansions.
As ESPN's Buster Olney said during a Glenn Clark Radio interview Sept. 8: "It's awful. It slows down the game. It's a product, as one Major League Baseball official said to me, ‘that's beneath us.'"
Olney said MLB thought it was close to an agreement with the Players Association last year that would provide some long-term change to the silly rule, but things came apart. He could not provide the specifics of what an agreement would entail, but there are a number of options.
Perhaps the 25-man roster could be expanded for the entire season. Teams could be allowed a 28-man active roster over the course of 162 games, which would allow for an additional arm or two. While it may still slow games down a bit, at least there would be no team with a particular competitive advantage at any point in the season. Or teams could designate one "extra arm" they could use in September to help combat fatigue. Or teams could still be allowed to use all players from their 40-man roster in September but no more than 28 could be on the big league club at the same time.
All are possibilities and all are better options than the current system. Buck Showalter is right. Changing the rules of the game in September is stupid, and it needs to end.
Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox
Issue 237: September 2017