As the regular season winds down in Major League Baseball, there has been talk about what for fans is often a fun aspect of this month of play: roster expansion from the minor leagues. And that talk has been around the idea that this might not be A Good Thing the way many of us imagine it to be.
Jerry Crasnick highlighted some of this in a recent article on ESPN.com, and I have heard it talked about in recent national TV broadcasts. Not all teams use this month the same way, and now some are sounding a concern about competitive balance for September. In more recent times, some have spoken of the September call-ups being problematic in the sense that teams who are out of the playoff picture might play their recent call-ups much more, meaning their opponents aren’t playing against the same kind of competition they would be if the game were in, say, May.
And all of it has me thinking there ought to be a simple solution, as well as a little of this being overblown.
The season is over for minor league teams, so parent clubs can call up players without disturbing the minor league team along the way. Teams don’t usually call up just anyone – they tend to call up players who they think are the closest to being ready to contribute to the big club, especially teams in a playoff race as those call-ups may see spot duty unless and until a team clinches a playoff spot.
In the recent past, some have complained about teams who are out of the playoff race and play more of their call-ups, something you can hardly blame them for, as it’s a chance to have early auditions for the following season and gain players who might almost be ready a chance to experience playing at the big league level. It’s become a point of contention at times when two teams in a pennant race have to play vastly different schedules, with one team playing more games against teams out of the race and thus playing more of their call-ups. But this is simply the nature of the beast, for one, and in fact, a team whose lineup and/or pitching staff consists of several recent call-ups might be a little tougher to take on because you’re not likely to have much, if any, film or other material to go on in preparing for them.
The more pressing issue of late with this is something else: teams call up a different number of players, meaning that roster sizes are often not even. One team might have 27 players, while another might have 35 on a given day. One team might have its top farm team in their league playoffs, meaning they would be more likely to keep their top prospects on the farm to finish out the season.
Crasnick’s article talks about a few things being discussed. I think one way to solve this might be doing something along the lines of what NFL teams do – teams can expand their rosters up to 40 players, but on any given night in September, they can only designate a certain number – say, 30 or 35 – as being available, with anyone else on the active roster being inactive for the night. Who is active or inactive can change every game, just like in the NFL.
For now, we can enjoy seeing the young guys in September as they get a taste of the MLB experience. They will likewise give us a taste of what they can do, and fans can hope they help their favorite team. Ultimately, there may be an agreement on how to do this better get reached. We can only hope it will be one that makes sense.