With the arguments against expanded rosters getting louder every year, the future of September baseball could change in the next collective bargaining agreement.
It's not necessarily the most important topic in negotiations between Major League Baseball and the players union, but it is definitely a topic on the table as the sides attempt to iron out a new CBA with the current agreement expiring in December.
On Sept. 1, teams can expand their 25-man rosters up to the 40 players on the organizational 40-man roster. While the premise of expanded rosters has its merits, like giving teams the opportunity to give prospects a taste of the big league stage once the minor league season ends, it has created a different strategy component to the final month of the regular season because more players means managers have the ability to match up to a nauseating degree.
When asked about expanded rosters during the American League wild-card game in Toronto earlier this month, commissioner Rob Manfred said amending September rosters might be a good idea.
"September call-ups were a noncontroversial item for many, many years," Manfred said. "I think the controversy has arisen because of the changes that have taken place in the game and the way the game's played, particularly the use of so many relievers, so many matchups, has made the presence of the extra players so much more visible.
"I do think it would make sense to get a situation where we played our September games closer to the rules that we play with the rest of the year. … I don't think 18 pitchers in a game is a good thing."
Orioles manager Buck Showalter has been a major proponent for changing the current system. He often says that the baseball season is divided into four distinct parts – spring training, the regular season from April to August, September baseball and the postseason. This year, he used an early September game against the New York Yankees as an example. On Sept. 2, the Yankees used six pitchers over eight innings in an 8-0 Orioles win at Camden Yards.
With only 25 players available, having to use that many pitchers would be devastating to a team for the remainder of a three-game series. But since expanded rosters allow teams to stockpile relievers, it doesn't matter. Showalter argued after that game that that shouldn't be the way the game is played in September, when playoff spots are on the line. The Orioles needed every one of their 16 September wins to qualify for the postseason.
Showalter has also made his solution well-known. He is an advocate for teams designating 25 eligible players before the beginning of each series with one caveat. If a player is injured, he would be able to be replaced on the team's roster of eligible players if his injury meets the standards of a doctor designated by MLB.
Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette said that he would like to see teams designate 30 players before every game.
The players union would have to agree to any changes to expanded rosters, and its concern would lie in maintaining that September call-ups still receive valuable service time, which dictate when players reach significant milestone paydays through the arbitration process and ultimately free agency after six years of service time.
Showalter has said repeatedly that that shouldn't be an issue. He said players should still get their service time in September, but rosters in the regular season's final month should be consistent with the rest of the season.