Are expanded rosters fair for all?
Brewers GM Melvin pushing for a change in rules
ATLANTA -- Whenever Brewers general manager Doug Melvin has suggested to his peers that Major League Baseball needs to amend the usage of September's expanded rosters, he has felt like a man on his own island.
Melvin's arguments have fallen on deaf ears so frequently, he opted not to even bring up the subject during last year's GM Meetings.
"You play 80 percent of your season with even rosters," Melvin said, "and then all of a sudden, you throw that out. It's like playing three-on-six in basketball or 11-on-18 in football. I don't know of any sport in the world that does it like ours, with this kind of imbalance of rosters. I'd like to find out if there's any other sport that does that at the most important time of the year."
Baseball is certainly unique, with its time-honored tradition that allows clubs to expand their active rosters once Sept. 1 arrives. Instead of dealing with the normal constraints of a 25-man roster that were present during the season's first five months, managers spend the stretch run with the added resources that come from the varying number of Minor Leaguers getting a taste of the big leagues.
"They expand the roster for two reasons," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said. "For Minor League players who have had successful seasons, good seasons, and we want to look at them -- we figure they deserve to be given a look the last month of the season, and also to help if we have a weakness.
"Teams that aren't in contention, they can use those players to beat somebody who is in contention. That can stop somebody from getting into the playoffs. That doesn't bother me. That's baseball. It should be that way. If I've got better players than you, that's good. That's the whole name of the game."
With Minor League seasons ending during the first week of September, many think that the only logical time to expand the rosters is during the season's final month. This has caused some to counter that it isn't a good time to allow a rule to affect the way a game can be managed.
Other managers and players have suggested that the addition of too many players can prove to be distracting.
Still, the grind endured during 162 games causes some to reason that clubs should have the ability to use extra resources late in the season. Some even argue that there could be advantages to expanding the rosters at other times as well.
Braves manager Bobby Cox believes that Major League Baseball could adopt a rule allowing clubs to carry an extra pitcher or two in April. He says this could reduce the stress placed on arms and possibly reduce the amount of pitching-related injuries a club encounters during the season.
Major League Baseball used a similar setup from 1958 to 1967, when clubs could begin the season with 28 players on their active rosters. But since 1968, clubs have used 25-man active rosters, with the only exceptions occurring to account for the circumstances of strike-related stoppages.
"I think it would help, even if you just added one pitcher to just get you through the first month," Cox said. "When you lose your starter after just one inning because it's cold and rainy, you're really scrambling for the doubleheader, or when you resume that game, you end up using the whole bullpen."
In addition, Cox is among the managers who share Melvin's belief that once Sept. 1 arrives and clubs activate varying numbers of players, the playing field could be leveled if managers were forced to make just a certain number of players available before each game.
Melvin fully understands the benefits clubs can receive by giving some of their bright-eyed prospects a chance to experience the big league lifestyle they could be living the next season. Thus, his crusade isn't to abolish the opportunity to expand rosters.
Instead his focus is on providing a competitive balance within this same setup by asking managers to present an active roster of 30 players (15 pitchers and 15 position players) before every game during the season's final month.
"Pennants are won and lost by one game all the time, and when you compare us to all the other sports, it doesn't make sense," Melvin said. "It's like a Spring Training game. At game time we should have to designate a certain number of active players. When you exchange lineup cards, it should be 30 versus 30. It's five-on-five in basketball, 11-on-11 in football and it should be 30-on-30 in baseball."
Clubs are provided the opportunity to promote any member of their 40-man roster. The Rockies and Giants, who are fighting to claim the National League's Wild Card entry, have 36 players on their active rosters.
The two teams with slimmer hopes of gaining that Wild Card slot chose to fortify their respective rosters at differing levels. The Marlins are carrying 35 players whereas the Braves chose to add just six players.
"It is a level playing field in the sense that everybody can bring their players up," Phillies GM Ruben Amaro said. "They can bring up as many players as they want. It's a choice that every organization makes. We all play under the same rules. If it was different for one team than the other, then it would be different. But I think, as it stands, everybody is on the same playing field."
|"At game time we should have to designate a certain number of active players. When you exchangelineup cards, it should be 30 versus 30. It's five-on-five in basketball, 11-on-11 in football and it should be 30-on-30 in baseball."|
|-- Brewers GM Doug Melvin|
"I actually don't like it," Red Sox manager Terry Francona said. "I think there needs to be some amendments to the rules. I understand why you call up players. I think that's great. But you play all year under one set of rules and then, all of a sudden, Sept. 1, and it's vastly different.
"I just think that you could maybe every night turn in an official roster. That would still allow a lot of teams to call up young prospects but not have a lineup full of names where you're double-spacing players. You could maybe have 30 players available. I understand you need to expand, but not crazy numbers."
The Tigers, who are battling the Twins to win the American League Central, arguably gained their 6-5, 10-inning win against the Blue Jays on Sept. 14 with the benefit of using 16 of their 18 available position players.
One of the four players they inserted into the ninth spot of their lineup was Aubrey Huff, who entered the game in the ninth inning and hit a game-tying three-run homer.
Still, Tigers manager Jim Leyland is among those who believe that it would be best for Major League Baseball to adopt a system similar to the one that Melvin has proposed.
"I just don't believe you should expand it to whatever you want," Leyland said. "I don't think that's good. You play six months to get into a position to win something, and all of a sudden, you can't get matchups or anything because you have six guys over there to pinch-hit. If you pinch-hit a guy, you don't have to be worried about using another guy all of a sudden, because you've got so many extra guys. I don't think that makes sense, to me, but that's just my opinion."
Throughout his long tenure in Major League Baseball, Braves president John Schuerholz has heard numerous debates about the use of expanded rosters. Still, over the years, he hasn't gained the belief that this system produces an unjust impact.
"That option is available to everybody if they choose to use it," Schuerholz said. "It's not that half the teams are allowed to use it. There are some constraints. But we all have those constraints throughout the year. We can't operate a $140 million or $200 million budget, but some clubs can. There's disparity all year long."
Melvin isn't upset that large-market clubs possess the financial resources that allow them to have no concerns about the number of players they promote in September. Nor does he have a problem with the reality that the Major League Baseball Players Association wouldn't allow MLB to simply erase the opportunity that gives additional players a chance to accrue service time and earn a prorated portion of the minimum big league salary.
Instead his focus rests primarily on the belief that clubs should be working with an equal deck before the start of every game played throughout the entire season.
"It's the most ludicrous thing I see in sports," he said.
"I'm pretty adamant on this. I don't get too excited, but this is one thing that I just think gets completely overlooked every year. It's brought up at GM meetings every year, and the large-market teams don't want to touch it.
"Really, it's the large-market teams. I'd like to see a large-market team lose the pennant once because the team that's chasing them wins an extra-inning game with all of their extra players."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.