There’s still no baseball. And there’s still no timetable for when it’s going to return here in the United States. But that hasn’t stopped, nor should it stop Major League Baseball from at least trying to come up with plans to play baseball once that it’s safe to do so – even if it’s in a weird way that doesn’t allow 40,000 people to pack stadiums. We’ve seen plans about where teams could play that have differed. One plan was all 30 teams in Arizona. Another saw the teams split between the Grapefruit and Cactus Leagues – playing out of their specific spring training homes. And another one was that the season would take place over in Japan.
What all of those plans agreed upon was that the 26-man roster that was supposed to be in place for the first time in 2020 wasn’t going to be enough. Rosters would have to be larger and for several reasons. The first being that the plan to start play would probably not include a long enough “ramp up” to get starting pitchers ready to make normal “full” starts to begin the season – so you’d need a few extra pitchers on the roster. Then there was the idea that there would be regularly scheduled double headers in order to get more games in – and that would require a few extra position guys just to let guys have sort-of-normal rest periods and not risk injury over the long haul.
But perhaps the final part of it all is that every one of these scenarios there’s not a minor league season happening. That means that teams need to have at least a handful of players “at the ready” if and when injuries happen. If there’s not a Double-A and Triple-A season happening and injuries happen, there aren’t players ready to be called up. That is, unless there’s an expanded roster of both active players, and a group of players that are at least practicing with the active roster even if they aren’t necessary playing in the games.
There hasn’t been any “leaked” information on exactly what an expanded roster could or would look like. But there’s been plenty of speculation of how it would work. I’ve got some speculation, too. So let’s just pretend that for some strange reason that I’m put in charge of figuring out the right “numbers” of players.
We’re going to be working on the assumption that there’s not going to be a minor league season any time soon. That puts me into the camp that thinks adopting an NFL model with an active roster as well as a “practice squad” makes a lot of sense. Set the daily active roster at 30 players. Have the full 40-man roster practicing every day, and then have a “practice squad” of another 10 players of guys that would have been in Double-A and Triple-A who were “on the radar” but not necessarily on the 40-man roster.
It’s that group of players on the 40-man, and that extra group of players not on the 40-man roster that may see the biggest benefit among those players who wouldn’t have otherwise made the team in 2020. Obviously there’s the part where those guys are likely to be paid much better than their counterparts who aren’t playing and that alone is quite beneficial.
But the simple fact that they are playing, while much of the minor leaguers won’t be, is a huge benefit for these guys. Not only do they get active field time, they also get the chance to possibly get big league time that others don’t. And they get the chance to be seen by more people that get to make important decisions up close and personal more frequently, too. That doesn’t just play into their favor in 2020, but it plays into their favor into the future, too.
With everything being hypothetical, let’s pretend that this had all happened last spring. Do you know which players may not have been guys that never got a chance? Aristides Aquino and Josh VanMeter. Neither was on the 40-man roster when 2019 began. Aquino was at least invited to spring training, and he performed well in his 25 at-bats. But VanMeter didn’t even get an invite to big league camp. By the end of April he had an OPS of 1.204 in Louisville and was in the midst of a true breakout season that put him into the Major Leagues.
You never know who that player could be. But this year there may not be many opportunities for that player to even get a chance. We often talk about how if a certain player didn’t get injured when they did that they would have gotten their chance, or that if they had been one year older or one year younger that their opportunity for a call up would have been there for them because the organization needed it then, but not at the time it seemed they were ready. Maybe none of that matters now because maybe we don’t get any baseball this year. But if we do, it’s not going to be normal, and it’s probably going to cost more than a few players what would have been their chance.
Jumping back into the topic of which players could benefit the most from all of this, put yourself into the shoes of a general manager. Let’s say that baseball says you get to bring the full 40-man roster to your facility, and you get an additional 10 players on top of that. Who do you choose for those 10? How do you decide between taking the situation of trying to go with guys who may not be long term future pieces but could help you in the big leagues in 2020 if push came to shove versus getting valuable developmental time for non-40-man roster prospects?
Looking at the top 10 prospects in the farm system, Hunter Greene, Nick Lodolo, Jose Garcia, Jonathan India, Stuart Fairchild, Rece Hinds, Tyler Callihan, and TJ Friedl aren’t on the 40-man roster. You probably don’t bring Greene, Hinds, or Callihan in because of where they are in their development. Greene is still working his way back from rehab, while Hinds and Callihan were only going to be entering their first full year of professional baseball. The rest of that group, though, are guys you can look at and see a way that they could help the team in 2020 at some point. Maybe you look at guys like Packy Naughton and Vladimir Gutierrez and bring them in.
But how do you balance that with keeping around a guy like Derek Dietrich, Nate Jones, Alex Powers, Alfredo Rodriguez, or Matt Davidson? Where does a guy like Christian Colon fit in? It’s an interesting thought experiment. How every team’s 40-man roster breaks down, both in terms of balance between pitchers and non-pitchers, as well as the “not-quite big leaguers yet” group’s assumed readiness matters here.