Sept. 1 is swiftly approaching, heralding the impending end of summer and of baseball. Before we enter the long hibernation of a baseball-less winter though, we'll get to once again experience one of the strangest roster rules in professional sports: the expansion of rosters in September. For one month only, as some teams enter the home stretch of a division or wild card race and others play out the string, MLB allows the use of the entire 40-man roster in its games, provided that teams want to activate all 40 players.
It's a rule that sometimes leads to the strange scenario of one team, playoffs on the line, playing with close to that full 40 against another team, out of it, that is fielding a 25-28 man roster. The Rockies are obviously closer to the latter team than the former in the above example, so I suspect we'll see quite a few unbalanced games against playoff contenders like the Dodgers and Giants next month.
Here are some arguments for and against calling up some extra September help for a team that is out of contention:
PROS: Teams can reward prospects for a great year in the upper minors. This enables them to get their feet wet at the big league level after their regular seasons end (usually a little bit into September). If the player hasn't yet been in the Show during the year, the September call-up doesn't count against their option years or against their Rookie of the Year eligibility status for the next year. It also allows teams to evaluate their minor league talent against major league caliber (in most cases) competition in preparation for the process of deciding how to build the team for next year.
CONS: Players called up in September still accrue Major League service time, which erodes the amount of time they are under team control. For many call-ups this isn't much of a concern - they'll be fortunate to make it all six years to major league free agency. Still, anything approaching three years of service time makes players more expensive to teams via salary arbitration - earning those players raises in some cases well above the league minimum.
Speaking of expense - it's more expensive to pay a player a major league minimum salary for a month. Players at Triple-A typically make less than $100,000 a year (sometimes much less), but at the major league level players must earn at least a prorated $500,000 annual salary. Since ballplayers are paid for work during the season, a month of a $100,000 Triple-A salary is about $17,000 and a major league minimum salary for a month is closer to $83,000. Paying an extra $66,000 to players who probably won't contribute very much incrementally to a team's success often doesn't make sense financially.
So with all of that said, let's examine some candidates to be called up to the Show next month.
Players not currently on the 40-man roster
- Jon Gray
- Tyler Anderson
- Dustin Garneau
- Jason Pridie
- Rafael Betancourt
Obviously the first two names are the most intriguing, but both are quite unlikely to happen. Gray and Anderson were recently placed on the seven-day DL, reportedly to rest them for the Texas League playoffs. I wouldn't expect to see either top prospect with the Rockies. Other Drillers that were potential candidates, like catcher Ryan Casteel, will be playing not only in the playoffs but also in the Arizona Fall League that runs in September.
There are a few Sky Sox players not on the 40-man roster that could be called up in case of emergency, but the pIayer I think has the best shot to make a September cameo is a catcher like Garneau (reportedly the best defensive catcher the Rockies have in the system). MLB managers like flexibility and a third catcher is an easy way to provide that flexibility while giving the major league catchers a lighter workload. Still, there are technically four catchers already on the 40 man roster (more on that in a little bit), making this a little unlikely.
Pridie was up with the big league club already this year and might be a good candidate if the Rockies need another outfielder next month. I'm not sure that there will be enough space for him though.
Meanwhile, the 40 year-old Betancourt has been rehabbing since undergoing Tommy John surgery last year and appears ready to contribute to a major league bullpen again. He obviously isn't going to help much this year, but a Betancourt call-up might be a good chance to audition for next year's bullpen (hopefully on another minor league contract). At least LaTroy Hawkins would have someone else to talk about the 1970s with.
40-man roster players
I'll just list the 40 man roster players not currently on the active roster by tiers of likelihood to show up next month:
On the 15-day DL, on the roster if healthy
- Michael Cuddyer
- Tommy Kahnle
- Ben Paulsen
- Yohan Flande
- Chad Bettis
- Christian Friedrich
- Kyle Parker
- Cristhian Adames
- Jackson Williams
- Chris Martin
- Rob Scahill
- Eddie Butler
- Kraig Sitton
- Jayson Aquino
- Rosell Herrera