A Modest Proposal: 30-Man Rosters

Every day, the roster carousel spins in Major League Baseball. Players are sent down, called up, placed on various disabled and inactive lists and so forth. It’s part of the modern game – thanks to managers wanting to grab each and every edge they can in every game and better diagnosis and injury care. Old-timers may not want to hear it, but it’s better to go on the DL for 15 days to rest a pull or strain than keep playing and miss 3-6 months later on.

With this roster flucuation, one avenue that teams are using more and more is designating players for assignment. Yes, baseball waiver rules are complicated (overly so, probably because if there’s one constant in baseball from its inception, it’s that teams will bend every rule they can when it comes to rosters). But the concept is simple. You have a 40-man roster which includes active major-league players, those on the 15-day, concussion or bereavement lists and protected minor league players. Players on the 60-day DL are not included.

To move a player onto the major league roster who’s not on the 40-man (if it is full), a team would need to remove another player from that roster. To do that, teams need to make a procedural move – designating the player for assignment.

This is a small holdover from the old ’10-day notice’ where a team had to give 10 days notice before releasing a player. When you DFA someone, it removes the player from the 40-man roster and you expose the player to waivers. A team can claim the player, or you can trade him within a 10-day window. After the 10 days, you must either have traded the player, outrighted him to the minors or release the player. This was instituted to allow the player to be sent to another organization instead of having a team hoard good players in the minors.

With the size of the major league DLs, and the need to protect young players in the minors from waivers or the Rule V draft, many fringe players go through this process every year. Sometimes, it leads to interesting transaction trails (the waiver fights for players like Tim Pugh and Adam Rosales, for example, or when Casey Close went through four organizations in two months) that instead of protecting the player it puts a burden on these fringe players who probably lead the league in room service and apartment deposits.

Baseball is the only sport to have a rigid roster requirement for each game. The NFL, NHL, MLS and NBA all have inactive players that are part of the rosters for each game. At times those spots are taken by injured players, but also in many cases they are ‘healthy scratches,’ as it were.

Baseball doesn’t allow that. After years they finally allowed a 26th player for doubleheaders. But the 25-man roster is your 25-man game-day roster on most days, except after September 1st, of course, where you can expand your roster to your entire 40-man if you desire.

What I propose is simple. Allow 30 players on the major league roster, with five healthy scratches per game. Most likely teams will inactivate their starting pitchers that aren’t up on the rotation. But with these extra spots, players may not be on the DFA train as much. Rosters would be more stable. Plus, managers would have more flexibility during games to make moves.

So why not, MLB? Join this century, and allow a five-man inactive list for each game? The paperwork savings alone would add up to one man’s salary, no doubt.


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