There would be plenty of roster reinforcements for contending teams, including extra pitchers and a few more position players on the bench down the stretch. Teams out of the playoff chase got an opportunity over the final month to take a look at lots of prospects while giving them a taste of the big leagues.
Now those roster expansions are much smaller, far from when teams could use their entire 40-man rosters once the calendar flipped to September.
Each team will get to add only two players to their rosters, from 26 to 28, on Wednesday.
“In previous years that number probably would’ve been a little bit higher in terms of guys we’d want to bring up in order to rest guys or even just provide some big league experience down the stretch for some young guys. So we’re going to have some decisions to make,” said Chicago White Sox general manager Rick Hahn, whose team has a big lead in the AL Central.
“I don’t think two is enough, and I think 15 is too much because some teams will call up all 15 and some teams will call up four or five. You’re either outmanned, or you’ll outman them,” said Dusty Baker, manager of the AL West-leading Houston Astros. “We’ve gone from one drastic measure to another one,”
Even before COVID-19 altered and shortened the 2020 season to only 60 games, MLB had decided to reduce the September call-ups while adding a 26th player to the roster fulltime last year.
This will be the first full 162-game season with so few players available late, with every team required to have 28 on their rosters. Through 2019, teams had 25-man rosters until Sept. 1, and could then increase to as many as 40 — though they could settle anywhere in between, often creating unbalanced matchups.
“I’ve been outspoken in the past. I thought it was very unfair that teams played with different numbers of players in September,” Seattle manager Scott Servais said. “Everybody should have the same number to play with. And some teams that were maybe fighting for a playoff spot, you’d look up and there’s 36 guys on the roster, and other teams there might have been 28 or 29.”
Teams have less flexibility with only two additional roster spots, which can make for difficult decisions even concerning players beloved by an organization.
That played a part in the way out-of-contention Pirates last week releasing veteran outfielder Gregory Polanco, the last remaining player from the group that helped guide Pittsburgh to three consecutive postseason berths from 2013-15.
“The rosters will expand, but they’re not expanding the way they have in the past,” Pirates manager Derek Shelton said. “It’s a shortened roster, so we have to make sure that we maximize the opportunities and the innings or at-bats for guys, and this is why we deemed this to be the right time.”
While veteran slugger Khris Davis had a recent resurgence with nine home runs in a stretch of 37 at-bats for Oakland’s Triple-A team, he is no sure bet to be a September call-up. He re-signed with the Athletics organization Aug. 4, two months after he was released by the Texas Rangers, where he had been traded last spring for shortstop Elvis Andrus.
The fading A’s might not have room in the big leagues for the 33-year-old Davis, whose AL-leading 48 homers in 2018 made up the last of his three consecutive 40-homer seasons.
“I have noticed Khris Davis is doing pretty well here. It’s great, the guys are excited,” A’s Oakland manager Bob Melvin said, unsure it meant much when it came to Davis’ chances to join them.
Another significant change this summer is that minor league teams are playing well past Labor Day, when they used to end their seasons. Triple-A games go through the first weekend of October, the same as their parent clubs.
With his team in last place, Arizona manager Torey Lovulllo would want as many players as possible to evaluate. But he does like more manageable shortened rosters, and is mindful that players can still go back-and-forth between Triple-A and the Diamondbacks.
Minnesota Twins manager Rocco Baldelli favors the 28-man rosters in September and operating in a more traditional way, including the ability to make roster moves involving players still active in minor league games.
“The system right now makes a lot more sense than potentially bringing up 40 men, making 10 pitching moves a game, having three pinch-runners and two defensive replacements every game,” Baldelli said. “It was a little circus-y at times the way games would be played in September and it doesn’t even resemble the game we play all year long and now it will. I think that’s a good thing.”