Don Mattingly calls for changes to September roster rules

ByJerry Crasnick via ESPN logo
Sunday, September 16, 2018

PHILADELPHIA -- Miami Marlins manager Don Mattingly said Sunday that Major League Baseball should consider limiting roster sizes in the final month of the season, because "the game you play for five months is not the game you play in September."

Mattingly said expanded rosters change the fundamental nature of games in the final month of the regular season, and suggested that MLB requires clubs to name 25 active players for each game while relegating inactive players to a designated "taxi squad." Under the current rules, rosters can increase from 25 to 40 players in September, and teams have no limit on the number of players used.

Mattingly made his comments after the Phillies and Marlins achieved two statistical oddities in Philadelphia's 5-4 victory Saturday night:

It was only the fourth nine-inning game in history in which no pitcher was credited with more than two innings, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. Phillies starter Vince Velasquez and Marlins reliever Brett Graves were the only pitchers to record six outs.

Of the 15 pitchers who appeared in the game, none recorded a plate appearance. According to Elias, it was the first non-DH game since 1900 in which no pitcher came to the plate.

The Phillies, who are carrying 39 players on the roster this month, rallied after manager Gabe Kapler took the unusual step of summoning pinch-hitters Asdrubal Cabrera and Justin Bour in the second inning. Mattingly said he understood why the Phillies and other teams still in contention would want to take advantage of the opportunity to use their extended benches down the stretch.

"If you're in the hunt and you've got a chance, you don't want to get to any situation and be like, 'Well, I could use a pinch-runner here,' and not be able to do it," Mattingly said. "As long as you're eligible to use 40, if you're in the hunt, there's no reason to have them here.

"But we're trying to prepare for 16 pitchers. And really, if you had four or five lefties in your bullpen, you could match up and bring in a new guy every time they bring up a [left-handed hitter]. You just can't do that during the first five months of your season."

Mattingly is the latest prominent voice to weigh in on an issue that has become an annual topic of debate in MLB circles. Former Milwaukee Brewers GM Doug Melvin first expressed concerns over the problems raised by disparities in September roster sizes in 2005, and MLB's competition committee has debated numerous potential remedies in recent years. The Players Association has also had an ongoing interest because of the service time accrued by additional call-ups in September.

In addition, MLB has closely monitored pace of play because of the increased use of relievers in recent years. This season, the average September game has lasted three hours, four minutes and 23 seconds, compared to three hours and one second for games through the end of August.

Phillies general manager Matt Klentak said he would personally have no objection to a change in the rules. But he emphasized that baseball needs to come to a resolution that satisfies the interests of all parties.

"I tend to agree with Don," Klentak said. "Baseball is played a certain way for five months of the year, with 25-man rosters. Teams can build organizational flexibility through optionable and recallable players, and there's a certain level of importance depth plays in the first five months. Then for the month of September, we radically change the way the game is played and managed, the way we pinch-hit in the early innings and the pitch count for our starters.

"I understand why there are some people in the industry that like it the way it is, because there are 39 guys on our 40-man roster who are getting major league pay and service time. That's important. But I also get the other side of the argument -- that 'it's not baseball,' or it's not the same style of baseball.

"It comes up every year at the general managers' meetings in our discussion forums. It comes up every few years in collective bargaining. We understand the pros and cons. Everybody understands. I don't think there's any mystery about this. It's just a matter of whether a deal can be reached to change it."

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