And so it begins. The last month of the baseball season has begun. This is a time when the most ridiculous rule in baseball kicks in. I’m referring to “roster expansion.” During the month of September major-league clubs are free to expand their active rosters and include any player on their major-league bench that is on their 40-man roster.
How does that make sense? Teams play an entire season, five months of baseball to get to September. They used an active roster of 25 to get there. Of course, players come and go from that roster, but no more than 25 players are active at any time. The only exception is that an additional player may be added for double-headers, of which there are few.
One set of rules for five months, another set of rules for one month. Hello!
The final month of the season is when the standings seem to tighten and pennant races are decided. Pitching coaches in pennant races have planned and plotted their rotation months ahead for the month of September. They look at it in earnest once the All-Star Game is over. September is a month when some venues face strong winds, chilling weather and night games that allow us to watch summer turn to fall while we sit in our seats. It really is a great time for baseball. But it’s different. And one of the reasons is roster expansion.
September is not a time to alter the outcome of pennant races by bringing in a “designated runner” to steal bases or another type of specialist that can exploit a weakness of the opposition for just one month. Why should the rules change for such a short period of time?
Not all teams are playing with the same rules, either. Some teams choose to expand their rosters. Some want to see their prospects on the big league field. Some teams want to rest their aging or injured players without having to put that player on the disabled list. They simply add a guy here or there and make room for him in the dugout and the clubhouse. Some teams keep their rosters at 25. No expansion for them.
If rosters are going to expand in September, as they are, why not require every team to play with the same number of players on that expanded roster? How is it fair for some teams to have 30 guys on the roster and others have 25? That imbalance makes no sense. Everyone plays by the rule or nobody plays by the rule. Everyone expands to an agreed expansion number, or nobody expands. That’s how it should be. But it isn’t.
So along with the ridiculous system of having a designated hitter in one league and no designated hitter in the other, I have long felt roster expansion to be a potentially ill-timed pennant altering gimmick that makes no sense.
Fans are excited to see young, upstart prospects get their first major-league look. They want to see a player like Eloy Jimenez of the White Sox in September. But because of the ticking clock on service time, it is unlikely we’ll see Jimenez in Chicago in September. I hope I’m wrong. But we may also see a grievance filed by the Players Association. if Jimenez is not promoted. Stay tuned.
So on one hand expansion is acceptable. On the other hand it could start the clock too soon and expansion becomes unacceptable. I have trouble accepting that.
My solution to roster expansion? As I have said before, I believe active rosters should be expanded to 27 from the existing 25. That should happen on day one of a Championship season. Not for the last month. And certainly not for an indefinite number determined by each club.
PITCHING WOES FOR CONTENDERS
All teams suffer injuries. Injuries are a fact of baseball life. The pitching injuries suffered by the Oakland A’s at the end of August have been incredibly difficult. Brett Anderson and Sean Manaea were part of the team’s starting rotation. They would have been counted upon down the stretch as the A’s try to beat out the Houston Astros for the division. Now Anderson has a left forearm strain. Manaea has left rotator cuff tendinitis. The loss of Manaea is really a tough blow. He has tremendous upside and is probably their most important rotation starter. Things changed when he and Anderson went down.
There are other playoff hopefuls that are dealing with their own pitching woes. For example, Red Sox ace Chris Sale has been on the disabled list with left-shoulder inflammation. When I was a scout, my mentors told me over and over that a pitching shoulder is very tough to fix. Medical technology hasn’t come as far with shoulder repair as it has with elbow surgery. It is unlikely Sale will be out for the playoffs, but he may not be as effective. As if that wasn’t enough, LHP David Price was hit in the left hand with a line-drive come backer. X-rays were negative, but it could still have an impact on Price. Lefty Eduardo Rodriguez may feel the pain of his right ankle sprain for a while as well. Steven Wright, another guy counted upon by the team has missed time with left knee inflammation.
The Cleveland Indians are hoping Trevor Bauer, possibly still a candidate for the American League Cy Young Award, waits for clearance to pitch. He is recovering from a stress fracture in his right fibula. And Danny Salazar, once considered a potential rotation horse has been out all season after right shoulder surgery. Now lefty reliever Andrew Miller has hit the DL with a shoulder impingement. He is recovering from a bad knee and was just returning to form when he went down with the barking shoulder.
Yankees starter Jordan Montgomery caused a hole in the rotation all season with his requirement for Tommy John surgery. And reliever Aroldis Chapman suffers from left knee tendinitis. Can C.C. Sabathia last the season with his bum knee? How about the arm woes of Masahiro Tanaka? Can he last another two months?
The Astros Lance McCullers is hoping to be back strong after dealing with a right forearm strain. Now they have sent Charlie Morton to the DL with shoulder discomfort. While it doesn’t look like he’ll miss much time, Morton has been hurt in the past and any injury brings concerns.
The Diamondbacks spent the entire season without Taijuan Walker, a starting pitcher that cost the team Jean Segura and Mitch Haniger in a trade with the Seattle Mariners. Walker had Tommy John surgery in April. And Shelby Miller, who has been awful in his time with Arizona went back on the DL this season after returning from Tommy John surgery.
The Braves have their share of quality pitchers dealing with injuries. Promising lefty Max Fried was set to launch his career, but a left groin strain has cost him time. Closer Arodys Vizcaino has right shoulder inflammation. Peter Moylan, Darren O’Day and highly rated prospect Mike Soroka, among others, are dealing with time away from the field with injuries.
Of course, Yu Darvish has not returned much value for the Chicago Cubs. He is out with right triceps and right elbow issues. Closer Brandon Morrow is likely to be able to return to his role after a bout with right biceps inflammation. Mike Montgomery, Brian Duensing and Tyler Chatwood have missed time as well. But Darvish has been the big loss. The Cubs spent lots of money on the coveted Darvish only to see the risk become greater than the reward in his case.
Dodgers pitchers have been on-and-off of the 25-man roster all year. Clayton Kershaw was the most prominent, dealing with a bum back again this season. But there are others still not 100% for Los Angeles. Reliever John Axford has a fractured right fibula. Tony Cingrani has a rotator cuff strain. Daniel Hudson is dealing with right forearm tightness. And Ross Stripling, a very important component of their pitching staff is trying to cope with lower back inflammation. We can’t forget that Kenley Jansen is still coping with his irregular heartbeat, claiming that it is possible medication is changing his body clock and chemistry. And of course, Hyun-Jinn Ryu had logged fewer innings than anticipated once again this year due to injuries. All will be well if Ryu and Rich Hill, who has dealt with blister issues in the past can take the mound in the rotation. And of course, as I noted above, what happens if Clayton Kershaw’s back acts up once again?
The Brewers are hoping to enter the postseason. They have played all year without Jimmie Nelson, probably their best overall starter. Nelson has been out with right shoulder surgery. He has thrown bullpens, but I wonder if he’s back in September? They are also without Brent Suter who has undergone Tommy John surgery.
The Phillies haven’t been hit quite so badly with pitching injuries. However, Jerad Eickhoff has been dealing with a right lat strain as well as a tingling sensation in his right hand. Reliever Aaron Loup has a left forearm strain.
Of course the Cardinals would have loved to have had righty Alex Reyes with them this season, but he is still recovering from surgery to reattach a torn tendon in his right lat. Michael Wacha is dealing with a left oblique strain while veteran righty Adam Wainwright can’t be counted upon with his right elbow inflammation.
Finally, the Mariners have to hope that lefty James Paxton, their new ace can return whole from his bout with a left forearm contusion. They have also lost David Phelps to Tommy John surgery while Marco Gonzalez, Dan Altavilla, and Juan Nicasio all reside on the disabled list.
The Minnesota Twins deployed four men in the outfield against the Indians Jose Ramirez. Now that’s taking “the shift” a little too far.
I think one of the biggest issues in the next negotiation between the Major League Baseball Players Association and MLB will be service time. How foolish is it, in a game scrambling to retain interest, to keep a top prospect in the minor leagues so his “service clock” doesn’t start? It would be great for Eloy Jimenez to be playing in Chicago during September. If rosters are going to increase, why not include Jimenez? Why not? His clock would start too early. Another ridiculous issue that should be negotiated away. But in every negotiation, the other side has to give something to get something. That’s always the rub.
The Brewers Christian Yelich had a game every player can only dream of. On August 28, Yelich went 6-for-6 and hit for the cycle. He had three RBIs and scored two runs. He also threw out a player at home plate. I have always said that Yelich is one of the nicest young men I have ever met. He’s a terrific, terrific baseball player. He was kind of under the radar in Miami, but he’s getting more ink now that more people are watching him play with the Brewers.
Yankees slugger Giancarlo Stanton is the 5th fastest player in history to reach 300 home runs. He did it in 1,119 games. Other players include Ralph Kiner (1.087), Ryan Howard (1.093), Juan Gonzalez (1,096), and Alex Rodriguez (1,117). There is no telling how many Stanton will hit by the time his career ends, but for now, he has accomplished a great feat.
If all goes according to plan, Angles pitcher/designated hitter should be back on the mound pitching. He is scheduled to start today, Sunday. I hope he is on the mound as you read this. It would be great if Ohtani can return and provide the type of quality performance all of baseball is excited to see.
Vlad Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette are just two of the exciting guys we’ll be seeing in this edition of the Arizona Fall League. Both are Blue Jays players, and they just may save the franchise from years and years of losing seasons. Next week I will profile the AFL in much more detail.
Follow me on Twitter @BerniePleskoff. I’ll be tweeting live from Arizona Fall League games and I welcome you to follow along once the season begins. Watch my twitter account and this column for AFL updates and commentary once the league begins Tuesday, October 9.