The 26th man debate

The new collective bargaining agreement that took effect in December did not touch the idea that the agreement would increase the roster size from 25 to 26 that many thought would be in the deal. League sources said that discussions were underway but the union objected because of service-time implications for September call-ups, but no agreement came about as both sides ran out of time.

The trade-off, still makes sense. Fox Sports MLB insider Ken Rosenthal has argued that the league and union need to revisit this idea partly because an extra man would provide extra depth in an era where player health is a major issue. The roster limit would end baseball’s practice of having a completely different playing field when the postseason chase heats up. The goal is to prevent teams from using all 40 players on a roster in September.

One of the biggest issues with the 26th man is that most teams would fill that spot with a relief pitcher, which would extend games even longer. Any changes would likely come only in conjunction of pace-of-play rules. Service time issues would need to be resolved too.

Under the current system, a player can not be optioned after the minor league season has concluded. Some want a 28 man limit in September and league sources estimate that would give teams almost three weeks to option players, but potential manipulation made the union think again.

Rosenthal concludes by saying that this issue is not easy but not impossible and is worthy of further discussion after the end of the season.

In November, Sports Illustrated columnist Tom Verducci wrote than teams should not be allowed to expand their rosters without limitations on pitcher usage, “it will be the worst thing to happen to the sport since Astroturf and threaten to end the game’s period of record growth.”

Asked if a roster expansion needs a governor on pitching a GM said last fall, “No doubt. It seems like they want to address the lack of offense and they want to address pace of game.” The GM went on to say that a 26 man roster with no restrictions would be counterproductive and that people are too wise to solve September issues at the detriment of the last few weeks of the season.

He cites some interesting stats regarding the use of many pitchers in games. In 2016, teams used 742 pitchers, which was double the number that was needed in 1977. This equates to an average of nearly 25 pitchers per team, that number was 16 in 1986.

It is going to be extremely difficult for the league and union to come to an agreement that expands the rosters from April-August to 26 without any pitching restrictions. Furthermore, I don’t see any solution that has been offered that can work, especially when some starting pitchers don’t make it to the sixth inning or even earlier.

The 40 man roster rule that takes affect in September is too much. The limit should be in the range of a 33- 35 man roster because if it’s reduced too much, the downfall is jeopardizing September call-ups to get experience to see what it is like playing in the major leagues. The best solution to conquer games that go four hours with both teams sending six pitchers to the mound is to enforce the pace-of-play initiatives more rigorously. The league and union can implement some of the pace-of-play initiatives that are in effect in the Arizona Fall League, such as only three-time out” conferences per game. This is what the MLB and union should focus more on in the offseason.


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