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Even without massive September rosters, teams have opportunities to rest players

The drawbacks outweigh the benefits of an expanded roster, and clever roster manipulation brings those same benefits anyway.

Baltimore Orioles v New York Yankees Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

Look, it’s not ideal. The Yankees and Rangers don’t play an absolutely meaningless game today; they play two of them. Thanks to a quirk of the scheduling (read: Major League Baseball’s lockout greed), a four-game set originally intended to be played across four days in early April was shoved into a three-day period at the beginning of October, resulting in a doubleheader between one team that is locked in as the No. 2 seed and another that has been playing out the string for awhile now.

To some extent, the Yankees are probably fortunate that these games are here. DJ LeMahieu and Giancarlo Stanton need some plate appearances down the stretch, the former to see if he’s healthy headed into the postseason, the latter to get him in a groove. Scott Effross and Miguel Castro are just two of the numerous relievers who need to throw some innings to see if they can contribute out of the bullpen after missing significant time with injuries. Had these games been played in April, the season would be already over, and the Yankees would have just four days of workouts in Yankee Stadium to make a decision; now, they have four games.

Still, games are opportunities for injuries, and doubleheaders even more so. It might even make somebody pine for the days of the 40-man expanded rosters. But let me tell you, returning to those 40-man active rosters would be a big, big mistake.

For starters, bringing back those massive rosters would help undo a major goal that the league has been focusing on: pace of play. While, in my opinion, the overall length of the games has been overblown, its central premise — namely that there’s a lot of unnecessary dead time — is pretty valid. The growing parade of relievers has massively contributed to this the issue. Think about it: Is there anything more dull than the commercial break when a reliever enters the game in the middle of an inning?

Thanks to the expanded 40-man rosters, this effect was at its worst in September, during the most important games of the season. As much fun as “let’s see who* remembers all the random relievers on the annual Sporcle roster quiz” could be, it’s better for baseball that this parade has largely ceased.

*The answer is Matt Ferenchick.

Just as significantly, the smaller roster prevents teams from “punting” games. Imagine, for a moment, if the Yankees sent out this lineup during tonight’s game:

1. DJ LeMahieu, 1B
2. Giancarlo Stanton, DH
3. Oswaldo Cabrera, 2B
4. Oswald Peraza, SS
5. Isiah Kiner-Falefa, 3B
6. Estevan Florial, CF
7. Tim Locastro, LF
8. Marwin Gonzalez, RF
9. Ben Rortvedt, C

Now, would I, a Yankee fan who loves watching the minor leaguers, enjoy watching this lineup? Yeah, I probably would. But you know who I can almost guarantee wouldn’t? Texas Rangers fans who bought tickets to see Aaron Judge and the New York Yankees, but who were instead treated to LeMahieu, Stanton, and the Scranton RailRiders. (Yes, Cabrera and IKF are technically starters, but outside of New York, they don’t exactly hold any cache.) Had this lineup been sent on the road in spring training, there’s a non-zero chance the Yankees would be fined for it.

The smaller roster hasn’t stopped the Yankees — or any team, for that matter — from being creative in order to give meaningless innings to meaningless pitchers. Just this weekend, with rain pretty much constant and Zack Britton on the shelf again, the Yankees signed Jacob Barnes, a veteran journeyman, on October 1st, and had him throw 1.2 innings in relief of Nestor Cortes. After the game, they designated him for assignment, added Chi Chi González to the active roster, and had him start on Sunday so that Luis Severino would not make his third start back from the IL in the remnants of a hurricane.

Simply by adding Britton to the 60-day IL on Saturday morning, the Yankees were able to get 6.1 innings pretty much for free, and González was cut when Castro was activated yesterday. Clever roster manipulation gave the team a small workaround to virtually expand their roster for a couple of days.

See, there’s no reason to bring back those insanely large rosters. That guy who was waxing poetic in a column earlier in the day has no idea what he’s talking about!