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The Case Against a 30-Man MLB Roster

Former Cincinnati Reds and Washington Nationals general manager Jim Bowden (who was among this past week’s ESPN layoffs, by the way) recently wrote that he is in favor of 30-man rosters with 25 players designated active for any game and no September call ups.

Valera-200The latter issue – September additions allegedly disrupting playoff races – is a common rallying point for larger rosters as is the increasing relief specialization in today’s game. Personally, I don’t have a problem with either, but I get that some others do.

It seems Bowden is resigned to not being re-hired as a GM in the future. After all, no owner would likely ever agree to a 30-man roster because of the significant increase in labor costs. One would have to multiply that challenge x-fold to assemble the large quantity of owners needed for such a change to be ratified.

I think the Players’ Union would hop all over the idea, but I am not sure it would be good for position players to be part of a group of five sitting every day – because it would probably always be the same ones – the very ones who would benefit most from playing daily at Triple-A.

Let’s take a Cardinals example. Even if Matt Carpenter was getting a day off, manager Mike Matheny would still want him on the bench to pinch hit over having a Breyvic Valera available for the entire game. (Valera is the only 40-man roster infielder at the Triple-A level.)

For relievers who work on a schedule of rest (at least for some teams!), the larger roster could be an advantage, but by definition, the change would put pressure on the 40-man. For the Cardinals, the only relievers currently on the 40-man who are not already in St. Louis are Sam Tuivailala and Rowan Wick, and the latter is clearly not ready for the majors. That is it.

So, where do the extra five from 26 through 30 come from?

Right now, assuming three pitchers and two hitters, the likely additions would be Tuivailala, Wick, Mike Mayers, Valera and Tommy Pham. Not an apparent difference-maker among them.

To get around the lack of strong and available candidates to fill the proposed, new 30-man active roster, you probably would want to increase the size of the 40-man, too. In doing that, there is even more expense to be incurred. We will not even get into service time and pensions…

My point is that there are always more ramifications than first meet the eye and as much as anyone, Bowden should know that.

My personal opinion, for what it is worth, is that the bigger problem in St. Louis is NOT having more players. The problem is having more of them the manager trusts. We recently saw a healthy and stretched out Tyler Lyons not pitch for nine days. What good would an expanded roster be if left unused?

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Brian Walton

Brian Walton runs The Cardinal Nation and The Cardinal Nation Blog, covering the St. Louis Cardinals and minor league system.
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