Active rosters in Major League Baseball have been set at 25 players since the end of the Wilson administration (Woodrow, not Willie). But with the collective bargaining agreement set to expire on Dec. 1, there have been talks about potentially adding a 26th player to the active roster.
Is this a good idea? What would be a good way to use the new extra spot? Would there be any drawbacks?
We asked three of our writers these questions about adding a 26th player, and they answered.
1. Do you think adding a 26th roster spot is a good idea?
Bradford Doolittle: I love it, though I have to admit that the knee-jerk source of that feeling is the idea that the switch will be tied to stricter September roster limits in the CBA talks. But even if you remove that factor, the 26th spot should help improve strategic options and offense off the bench. Sure, some teams will simply add another situational reliever. Some teams aren't very imaginative.
Sam Miller: In April 2003, a few months after David Ortiz was released by the Minnesota Twins and picked up by the Boston Red Sox, he went 0-for-6 in his first game of the season. Playing only part-time, he went hitless in four of his first five starts, and through six weeks of the season he was hitting .208/.310/.347. As a DH. In a hitter's park, on a big-market team, while fighting for playing time, at age 27. Maybe the Boston front office was absolutely in love with him and would have let him slump for months until he figured it out, but knowing just those details -- a not-very-young DH who wasn't hitting and had just been released by another team -- it's easy to speculate that we came just that close to David Ortiz not having any sort of career with the Red Sox, or with anybody else. Baseball would be far worse off if that had happened.
There are 750 players on active major league rosters every day, and about 6,000 playing in affiliated ball broadly, and yet there's still a permanent roster crunch across the sport. Players who are good enough to play in the majors get overlooked, buried, go undrafted, end up in independent leagues. We know the near-misses, because they didn't, ultimately, miss. David Ortiz was a near-miss. But surely there are players who we've never heard of who missed entirely, and not because they were capable of any less than Ortiz was.
What we know a 26th man will definitely do is add 30 opportunities to play in the majors. Minor league rules tend to follow the majors' lead, so it seems likely -- at least possible -- that immediately, or in time, the minors will add 26th spots, too, which would add hundreds of other opportunities. I consider baseball to be almost a public utility, a vehicle for every child to dream of and aspire toward, and adding more opportunities is as much a public good as nationwide broadband access or the Butterball Turkey Talk-Line. I, therefore, love it.
David Schoenfield: I definitely love it more than that canned cranberry sauce everyone serves on Thanksgiving, though maybe not quite as much leftover turkey sandwiches on Friday. With the way teams constantly shuffle the back end of their rosters -- go check out the transactions file this past season for the Dodgers or Mariners -- it makes sense to add another guy since teams are essentially playing with 26-man rosters anyway. I've actually advocated for a 28-man taxi squad, which is a system used in Japan, where you activate 25 guys each game. I like the idea of spreading the wealth around and seeing more pinch-hitters and pinch-runners.