In Showalter's mind, expanded rosters create 'different game'

With ability to use 40 players in September, noncontending clubs can affect playoff races

September 03, 2014|Peter Schmuck

Perhaps Buck Showalter protests too much, and for once we're not talking about video replay here.

Showalter looked at the big crowd of Cincinnati Reds stretching in front of the visitors dugout at Camden Yards on Wednesday and — for the umpteenth time — made his case against the unrestricted 40-man roster limit in September.

"It's just a different dynamic," he said. "It's like we're playing a whole different game now."

Of course, for those who have watched for the past three years as the Orioles found creative ways to stretch their 25-man roster to the point where it sometimes looked like it contained 40 players, this might seem like a strange complaint.

But Showalter isn't just looking at the pros and cons of roster expansion through orange-tinted glasses. He has played the game with an expanded roster on both sides of the competitive fence, which is why he is so sensitive to the impact of those extra players on the pennant race.

"Boston would have made the playoffs three years ago if we didn't have roster expansion," he said.

The whole idea is a bit outdated, which isn't surprising when you consider that Major League Baseball has been playing under the same basic roster rules since Babe Ruth joined the New York Yankees.

The late-season roster expansion made a lot more sense before the multitiered playoff era, back when there were two leagues and no divisions and lots of teams were way out of the pennant race in September. The ability to add a handful of promising players at the end of the season allowed those teams to evaluate their minor league depth and show off some of their hot prospects to maintain fan interest.

That's still the case, but the impact on the pennant races is far more pervasive now that so many teams remain viable in the wild-card era.

Which brings us back to Showalter and why he says he would tweak the system to allow for the rosters to expand, but require teams to declare a 25-man roster before each series. That way, the managers would still be able to match up within the same parameters as they do during the first five months of the season.

"After the seventh inning, you're never going to get a matchup that's in your favor necessarily," he said. "It's just a different game. I would make every team designate 25 guys before a series — not each game — so it's fair to everybody. Here are the 25 guys you can use during those three games, and if someone gets hurt during that series, and you can verify it, you can replace him."

Since Showalter is so deft at manipulating a roster, it might seem counterintuitive that he would prefer to limit his own options. But when you think about it, it's a little like expanding a chess board by 60 percent and having to account for all the additional strategic possibilities.

"I think it makes some teams that have been scuffling a lot more lethal," he said. "I know it has happened for us, being on the other side, too."

Showalter is referring to the 2011 season, when the Orioles defeated the apparently playoff-bound Boston Red Sox in five out of seven head-to-head games during the final 11 days of the regular season, with several of those wins impacted by September additions.

"It brings a lot more versatility to a [struggling] club," he said. "Instead of having 13 position players, a lot of those teams have to carry 12 position players and 13 pitchers, because their pitching has been a bit of a struggle. So now, you go from having three guys on the bench to having nine guys on the bench. And you can have 11 guys in the bullpen instead of having six or seven. It's just a different dynamic. It levels the playing field."

Maybe so, but judging from Showalter's 67-52 record (.563) through Tuesday as Orioles manager in games after Aug. 31, a level playing field the rest of the way will be just fine.

peter.schmuck@baltsun.com

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Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here," at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog.

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