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Examining the idea of expanded rosters for the MLB season

With the prospect of a coronavirus-shortened season, might adding more players to the roster be a fair solution?

Washington Nationals v New York Yankees Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images

Sometimes, the best ideas are proposed in the most dire of times. The absence of sports and entertainment has done a number on the Pinstripe Alley group Slack chat, but two of our writers, Dan Kelly and John Griffin, combined to contribute one of the best ideas for baseball to adopt upon resumption that I have heard yet.

The premise is simple: should MLB start the season with expanded rosters in order to provide extra arms in an effort to prevent injury? When you think about it, it makes perfect sense and will allow the season to pick up in full swing without causing any risk for the players.

When the season was postponed, teams were still in the final two weeks of spring training. This is the period where starters are gradually expected to play full games before the regular season begins. However, we never really reached that point – Yankees position players had still been playing about five-to-seven innings, while starting pitchers were throwing no more than four frames. This is the case around most of baseball too – the players had trained for four weeks and played exhibition games, but were just beginning to near their peak conditioning when the season was suspended.

So, a proposition. What’s the harm in having a few extra players on the roster for the first month of the season? It will provide flexibility and allow for ample rest so that all of the players around baseball are eased back into the regular-season grind. The Yankees have some of the worst injury luck in baseball, and with so many key players coming back from injury, quick acceleration into a full-time workload might only re-aggravate prior injuries. Instead, expanding the bench and bullpen to encourage more spring training-style rest for the first two weeks might not be the worst idea.

Whenever baseball resumes, it presumably won’t completely restart spring training. It’s easy to envision the league giving teams some time to ramp up before the resumption of play, but working through another seven weeks of camp seems unlikely. Should clubs have a period of time to ramp up, plus expanded rosters to begin the season, teams and players can more closely approximate a full spring exhibition slate, as more players on hand will allow for more flexibility and rest in the early going.

Formerly, teams were allowed to recall up to 15 extra players in September as rosters expanded to 40 players. This was set to be reduced to 28-man September rosters in 2020, an increase of two over the regular limit of 26 (which was also boosted from 25 before this season). This is done to provide rest before the postseason, as well as a chance to look at prospects in the organization.

If there are going to be expanded rosters in the last month of the season, why not also for the first month of this season? To be clear, I’m not advocating for full-season expanded rosters. But, letting teams carry an extra two players in the first few weeks or month of the 2020 season given the current extenuating circumstances seems like a fair tradeoff.

For the Yankees, this might look like one extra position player and one extra pitcher. The bench seems set right now with Kyle Higashioka, Tyler Wade, Rosell Herrera and either Thairo Estrada or Mike Ford. This would allow the Yankees to keep all five of them on the bench, and spell their starters a little more frequently. For the pitchers, the back end of the bullpen is unsettled right now, but this could let that competition continue into the regular season and give each pitcher a fair chance to stake his claim for the job.

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, everything is changing all around the world. This might result in a few tweaks to baseball when it comes back. Effectively extending the benefits of a spring training roster by allowing an extra roster player or two for a couple of weeks might be an effective solution to allow starters to get up to full speed, and to allow those invested in incomplete spring training competitions to prove their worth on the big league roster on the biggest stage.