The 8/31 Exemption (and How to Use It)
August 31st is an important date for contending MLB teams, because that’s the date that determines eligibility for post-season rosters.
To be eligible to play in the MLB post-season, a player must be on the club’s 25-man roster or 15-day or 60-day DL as of 8/31. However, any player (regardless of position) who is a member of the organization on 8/31 is eligible to replace an injured player on the post-season roster as long as the injured player is placed on the DL prior to the start of the post-season series. (If the “replacement player” is not already on his club’s 40-man roster, he must be added to the 40 before he can be added to the post-season roster). NOTE: If a player suffers a disabling injury DURING a post-season series, the club can (with approval of the MLB Commissioner) replace the player with any player who was a member of the organization on August 31st, although in this case (replacing an injured player DURING a post-season series), the replacement player must play the same position as the injured player, and the injured player is ineligible to return to the active list at any later point in the post-season.
Essentially, the more players a club can stash on its 15-day or 60-day DL on August 31st, the more post-season roster exemptions for the club. And more post-season roster exemptions gives a club greater flexibility to tweak its post-season roster from series-to-series.
Using post-season roster exemptions, a club can alter its LDS, LCS, and World Series rosters at the start of each series, adding players who were not on the 25-man roster or DL on 8/31. And since projected match-ups are one of the prime influences in determining how a post-season roster is to be constructed, the ability to add an extra lefty reliever in a series where the opposition has a left-handed heavy batting order, or an extra lefty bat off the bench when the opposition has a right-handed heavy bullpen, could give a club an edge. And in a short series involving two quality MLB teams, any little bit of an edge could make the difference between moving on to the next level and going home.
But to add a player or players to a post-season roster, a club needs post-season roster exemptions, and the only way to ensure having the exemptions when they are needed is to have a couple or three players riding the 15-day or 60-day DL on August 31st.
So how did the Cubs go about creating their post-season roster last season?
2007 CUBS 25-MAN ROSTER AS OF 8-31-07:
PITCHERS (11): Ryan Dempster, Scott Eyre, Rich Hill, Bob Howry, Ted Lilly, Carlos Marmol, Jason Marquis, Sean Marshall, Kerry Wood, Michael Wuertz, and Carlos Zambrano
CATCHERS (2): Henry Blanco and Jason Kendall
INFIELDERS (6): Mark DeRosa, Mike Fontenot, Derrek Lee, Aramis Ramirez, Ryan Theriot, and Daryle Ward
OUTFIELDERS (6): Cliff Floyd, Jacque Jones, Craig Monroe, Matt Murton, Felix Pie, and Alfonso Soriano
DISABLED LIST (4): Pitchers Angel Guzman (sprained elbow ligament), Roberto Novoa (fractured shoulder) and Mark Prior (shoulder surgery) on the 60-day DL, and outfielder Angel Pagan (colitis) on the 15-day DL
Because Guzman, Novoa, Prior, and Pagan were on the DL on 8/31, all four were eligible to be included on the Cubs 2007 post-season roster.
Note that the Cubs went with 11 pitchers for four days (8/28 through 8/31), as LHP Carmen Pignatiello was optioned to Iowa on August 28th when OF Alfonso Soriano (strained quad) was activated from the DL. But then RHP Sean Gallagher and LHP Will Ohman were recalled from Iowa on September 1st, and RHP Steve Trachsel (acquired from the Baltimore Orioles on 8/31) was also added to the Cubs active roster on 9/1, giving the Cubs 14 pitchers right at the beginning of September (increased to 16 pitchers when Pignatiello and Kevin Hart were brought up on 9/4).
Trachsel was acquired from the Orioles on 8/31 but was not added to the Cubs active roster until the next day, so he was not automatically eligible for the post-season roster. However, he was eligible to be a post-season “replacement player” because he was a member of the Cubs organization on 8/31.
During September 2007, the Cubs recalled pitchers Sean Gallagher, Will Ohman, and Carmen Pignatiello, catcher Geovany Soto, infielder Ronny Cedeno, and IF-OF Eric Patterson from AAA Iowa (Patterson was subsequently optioned to AA Tennessee for disciplinary reasons), and selected RHP Kevin Hart and OF Sam Fuld from AA Tennessee, as Hendry & Piniella opted to go with a 34-man roster over the last month of the season. (Neal Cotts, Jake Fox, Juan Mateo, Billy Petrick, and Jeff Samardzija were not recalled from their minor league optional assignments).
Because Guzman, Novoa, Prior, and Pagan remained on the DL through the balance of the 2007 season, their roster slots became available as post-season roster exemptions, allowing the Cubs to add Kevin Hart, Geovany Soto, and Ronny Cedeno to their NLDS roster. (Hart, Soto, and Cedeno were brought up from the minors in September, so they would not have been eligible to be included on a post-season roster if not for the roster exemptions).
But adding Hart, Soto, and Cedeno to their NLDS roster meant the Cubs had to "deactivate" three players who had been on their 25-man roster on 8/31, and so they dropped pitcher Sean Marshall, catcher Henry Blanco, and outfielder Craig Monroe. (Marshall stayed "stretched-out" as a starter during the NLDS, throwing 70+ pitches for the Cubs AZ Instructional League team in a “Camp Day" intrasquad game at Fitch Park while the Cubs were in Phoenix to play the Diamondbacks at Chase Field, and Monroe kept active by taking early-morning BP every day that week at Fitch).
Marshall, Blanco, and Monroe, plus Will Ohman (who also threw an inning in the Camp Day intrasquad game at Fitch while the Cubs were in Phoenix) and Sam Fuld, remained with the Cubs throughout the NLDS (Trachsel, Pignatiello, and Gallagher did not), serving as potential “replacement players” in case of a season-ending injury to somebody during the NLDS, and as potential Plan “B” options in the NLCS and World Series (if the Cubs had gotten that far). For instance, Marshall could have been an alternative to Marquis as the #4 starter in an NLCS, or Hart could have been exchanged for Ohman, or Fuld could have replaced Pie or Murrton, or Murton or Pie could have been switched with Monroe.
So knowing what the Cubs did with their September call-ups and post-season roster last year, what are Hendry & Piniella likely to do this year?
If Hendry & Piniella once again go with a 34-man September roster, I would think pitchers Angel Guzman and Jon Lieber will be reactivated from the DL, catcher Koyie Hill will be brought up from Iowa to be the 3rd catcher (the Cubs always add a 3rd catcher in September) and post-season fall-back in case Soto or Blanco were to suffer a disabling injury, and pitchers Michael Wuertz and Kevin Hart, 1B-OF Micah Hoffpauir, and outfielder Felix Pie will be recalled from Iowa. That leaves two spots for a right-handed power bat off the bench (probably either 1B-OF Jason Dubois or OF Jake Fox) and another bullpen arm (probably either Jose Ascanio or Randy Wells). K. Hill, Dubois, and Wells would have to be added to the 40-man roster. (At present there are 38 players on the Cubs 40-man roster, but if Angel Guzman is reactivated from the 60-day DL in September, he would take on of the two open slots).
At present, the Cubs have three players on the DL, with pitchers Chad Fox (sore elbow) and Jon Lieber (sore foot) on the 15-day DL, and pitcher Angel Guzman (TJS surgery rehab) on the 60. Guzman and Lieber will likely be activated from the DL in September, so probably only Chad Fox will provide the Cubs with a ready-made roster exemption for the post-season. (Fox could be transferred to the 60-day DL if an additional spot on the 40-man roster is needed in September).
Of course Lieber has the type of chronic foot problem that probably would allow the Cubs to place him on the DL any old time, so if the Cubs wish to replace a struggling and ineffective Bob Howry with Michael Wuertz and 5th starter Jason Marquis with Micah Hoffpauir, they should be able to do it just by leaving Chad Fox on the DL for the rest of the season and by placing Jon Lieber back on the DL before the start of the NLDS (since Lieber is unlikely to be on the Cubs post-season roster).
Also, LHP Rich Hill (on the Iowa DL with a back problem) and RHP Adam Harben (on the Daytona DL while on extended rehab from 2006 TJS) are both on the Cubs 40-man roster, so either (or both) could be recalled from his optional assignment on August 31st and then be immediately placed on the 60-day DL, giving the Cubs another post-season roster exemption (or two), as well as opening up one (or two) more slots on the 40 in September. (While Harben could get outrighted to the minors at any time, he would have greater value spending the rest of the season on the 60-day DL as a post-season roster exemption than he would by getting outrighted right away).
LHP Carmen Pignatiello and RHP Billy Petrick could also get outrighted if additional slots are needed on the 40-man roster in September, but it’s more likely that they will be removed from the 40 after the season.