I like Terry Collins. He's mellowed since his Angels years and seems to be doing a bang-up job with the Mets, after years of having a roster assembled on the cheap. So let me be clear, when I say that Terry Collins' idea to expand rosters to 28-30 players is the most idiotic thing I've ever heard, I do it not out of malice or personal enmity toward Collins. I just hate the idea. I hate it so much. I want to strangle it with my bare hands and bury it in a shallow grave in the desert. Please, God, do not expand rosters to 28-30 players.
Collins's plan would have starting pitchers deactivated in games they were not pitching, but teams would still be able to carry 25 active players. It's not an original idea, as something like this, or simply adding a 26th roster spot, has been bandied about for some time. "If you had a couple extra players every night, it saves you. You don't have to panic to get somebody in," Collins told Jared Diamond of the Wall Street Journal. "It's been talked about and talked about."
The Mets are bad at roster construction
The panic Collins references was his decision on Tuesday to put Anthony Recker at third base after David Wright left with a leg injury. This decision wasn't born out of a roster crunch, it was born out of poor roster construction. Do you know what else would have saved Collins from panicking and putting backup catcher Anthony Decker at third base? Having one less pitcher and one additional infielder on the roster, which the Mets rectified over the weekend. The Mets carried eight relievers until Friday. Eight guys in the bullpen, plus five starters. More than half of their roster has been pitchers. This isn't just a Mets problem, mind you. They are simply the latest in a disturbing trend that has teams pushing their pitching staffs out to 13 members.
At 10-3 on the young season, it's hard to argue that the decision hasn't served the Mets well. But just look at how those pitchers have been used (or not used, as the case may be). Erik Goeddel has faced just four batters this year in two games. The Mets had three lefties in the bullpen until Jerry Blevins broke his arm on a comebacker on Sunday. And four members of that bullpen are on pace to throw fewer than 50 innings. Just one of them is averaging at least an inning per appearance.
Expanding rosters is really only a 'need' in the NL
Even if this was a problem, it's solely an issue in the National League, where teams are forced to pinch hit more often for their pitchers. American League clubs pinch hit about two and a half times less than in the NL. In 167 games, AL teams have used pinch hitters just 113 times. There simply is no need for this kind of drastic expansion of the rosters in the Junior Circuit.
Expanding rosters would profoundly change MLB roster strategy
It would also encourage all kinds of roster shenanigans. Think about how easy it would be to stash a Rule 5 player on a 28 man roster, or keep an injured player off of the disabled list so that they're available to pinch hit or run or play defense. Think about all the extra LOOGYs and ROOGYs and pinch runners we would see. It will resemble the game we love, but it will also be profoundly different.
Expanding MLB rosters would unfairly punish poorer clubs
In addition, this kind of rule would only benefit the higher revenue teams over the lower revenue clubs. The Major League minimum is around $500,000 at the moment, meaning that without a reduction in the minimum salary (which the union won't agree to), clubs would have to add $1.5-2.5 million in salary at a minimum. Not only are higher revenue clubs better set up to absorb that bump in the salary floor, but they are also better equipped to fill those extra spots with better, more expensive players.
Current roster setup is intentionally difficult -- and a good thing
Finally, I hope we can all agree that one of the things that makes baseball most interesting is seeing how clubs react to unexpected scenarios. Sometimes Drew Butera will pitch an inning. Sometimes a pitcher has to hit for himself. Sometimes clubs run out of players. This isn't a bug in the system, it is a feature. And it's a feature that smart managers can often avoid if they construct their rosters in a way that don't leave them shorthanded at a crucial time.
I'm sorry that this is inconvenient for Terry Collins, but expanding the rosters just doesn't make as much sense as walking back the specialization and encouraging teams to value flexibility on their squads.