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Here’s why shortening the disabled list makes sense — and why it doesn’t

The new CBA is tentatively agreed upon and its details are still trickling in. Let’s start a series on what we know.

MLB: World Series-Chicago Cubs at Cleveland Indians Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Finished with hours to spare, the new Collective Bargaining Agreement is tentatively agreed upon. With details still trickling in, you can check here for everything we know to be included so far.

Over the next few days, we’ll be getting more detailed reports on what has changed in the new CBA. Knowing what has changed and how it affects the players, the league, and your team is the next step; and this series will help keep you informed.

There is plenty of good coming out of the preliminary reports of the new CBA, and we’ll get to those. However, we open the series with one of the bigger misses: shortening the length of time on the disabled list.

The Original Rule

The now-expired CBA doesn’t explicitly split disabled list stints into two 15-day and 60-day categories. Instead, it suggests all injuries are to be re-evaluated every 15 days retroactive to the player’s last game being played. The Standard Form of Diagnosis has three check boxes for the club physician to choose from however; 15-Day DL, 60-Day DL, and Transfer to 60-Day DL.

ARTICLE XIII: C. The Disabled List

... The Club physician will also complete and submit the Standard Form of Diagnosis for recertification of a Player on the Disabled List at the date when he first becomes eligible for reinstatement to active status and then every fifteen days following the date upon which the Player first became eligible for reinstatement (except for Players placed on the 60-day Disabled List)...

The Amendment

The 15-day disabled list has been shortened to a 10-day disabled list. Therefore, there will now be 10-day and 60-day disabled lists as well as the 7-day concussion disabled list.

Here’s why that makes sense

How many times do players get dinged with a minor injury that isn’t worth resting for upwards of 10 games? During the rigor of a 162-game season, players get bruised up enough to warrant a game or two off every once in a while. Sometimes, it’s a small pull or strain—something that would keep a guy out of the lineup for maybe seven games, but not 15 days.

That gave teams two options before: burn a bench spot with a guy that’s basically unable to play but maybe able to pinch hit or DH. Or, place that player on the 15-day DL, add a player to the roster, but lose the injured player for more games than necessary.

Introduce the 10-day DL: Now there’s more flexibility for teams to call-up a replacement player while also resting injured players for the right amount of time.

Here’s why that doesn’t make sense

The ‘right amount of time’ is a scary proposal. Considering we’re coming off of a season in which a team actively suppressed player wellness data, teams are not particularly trustworthy when it comes to knowing whether a player is healthy or not. Even further, they’re also probably not to be trusted about resting players for the ‘right amount of time’ anyways.

Take, for instance, the concussion disabled list. MLB ushered in a special disabled list just for concussions; presumably a step in the right direction for brain health. But they inexplicably made it shorter than a normal DL stint. Concussions are not less serious injuries because they involve the brain; in fact, the exact opposite is true. We know so little about brain health, but what we do know is that prescribing a shorter time to rest and get better is likely not the answer. Other sports are just starting to take concussions seriously, and with baseball becoming even less of a contact sport it’s nice to see any measure installed to reduce brain injury. Shorter DL stints are not it though.

Instead then, we’re likely to be left with unintended consequences. The most important unintended consequence is that players are likely to be rushed back from injury more often. Teams don’t want to put players on the disabled list. A replacement player just isn’t as good.

Next, players who would normally fill in—players who may be deserving of a spot on the 25-man roster anyways—will now get less service time on an active roster. This might be a tad overstated and we’ll have to see it play out in practice, but covering for players moved to the 10-day DL will lead to more travel between minor league and major league stadiums, and is likely to lead to less actual playing time in the majors.

Instead, this likely could have been resolved without any of these unintended side effects with an expansion to a 26-man roster. Lengthening the bench would give more players more regular time off, likely leading to a reduction in injuries as well. Of course, a 26-man roster would have its own consequences—like the continued growth of bullpens, more pitching changes, and possibly slower pace of play—but pace of play is a tertiary subject to be dealt with only after player health is taken care of.

But baseball’s continued affinity for nice numbers likely kept us from expanded rosters. The record books like nice round numbers and owners like their roster rules divisible by five. There’s the 25-man roster, the 40-man roster, the 60-day DL and the 15-day DL is now shortened to a 10-day DL. All very nice numbers that have no real reason behind them.

There are nine players on the field at a time; maybe a 27-man roster would make more sense because 27 is divisible by nine. Anarchy.