MLB Opening Day Roster Limits
NOTE: This is an abridged version of a story I posted here about nine years ago, but in the archives it is attributed to Christian Ruzich, but actually I wrote it...
The 25-man Opening Day roster limit and clubs having to cut their 40-man rosters down to 25 by Opening Day is one of the “Rights of Spring Training,” in some cases the “last rite” (so to speak) for many players. But the 25-man Opening Day roster limit is a fairly recent invention.
I used to have an extensive Sporting News collection that went back many, many years (unfortunately it was destroyed in a flood about 25 years ago), and it was fun for me on a rainy day to go back and look at how managers would handle the transition from Spring Training to Opening Day back in the olden days. I noticed that managers were not particulary worried about making “final roster cuts” at the end of Spring Training, because the worry would come later, sort of incrementally.
While the idea that clubs can activate their entire 40-man roster for the last month of the season--giving young players a “cup of coffee” or “full trial” after the minor leagues close on or about Labor Day--goes back about 100 years, the idea that clubs must operate with only 25 players from Opening Day through August 31st does not.
A guy named Clifford Blau has actually compiled the history of roster limits, and it is interesting to note the changes over the years on his chart.
1968 was the first season in MLB history where clubs had to cut their 40-man roster down to 25 on Opening Day. That was when managers started to hear the question “How many pitchers are you going to take north, skip?” I believe Jim Bouton refers to that question in Ball Four, because it was still a new thing in 1969.
During the years 1957-1967, MLB clubs had to cut their 40-man rosters to 28 by Opening Day, and then to 25 by the 31st day of season. If you look back at the Opening Day rosters from that 11-year period, you would note that at least two of the three “extra” players carried during the first month of the season were usually pitchers (and that was before the days of starting pitchers having their workloads limited by arbitrary pitch counts!).
Most clubs circa 1957-67 normally carried nine or ten pitchers May through August, but they would often carry 12 pitchers during the month of April. It was recognized even then that pitchers needed more time than position players to get ready for the start of the season, and having an extra couple of arms available during the first month was understood to be advisable. By May, all starting pitchers were expected to be ready to handle a full work-load (pitch a complete game, if possible), and the three extra guys (including usually a couple of pitchers) were optioned or outrighted to the minors, traded, or released.
Prior to 1957, the roster limit remained at 40 until the 31st day of the season. That doesn’t mean all clubs would carry 40 players during the month of April, just like clubs today do not activate their entire 40-man roster on September 1st just because they have the right to do so. When the roster limit remained at 40 until the 31st day of the season, clubs would (in reality) carry maybe five extra players, with the other ten players usually being young players who weren’t ready to play in the big leagues, and they would be optioned to the minors to get a chance to play every day.
The type of player who would be kept around during the first month back when the 40-man roster cut-down date was the 31st day of the season would be veterans at the end of their careers trying to remain in the big leagues for a little while longer, 4-A type minor league players (that is, guys who had “mastered” AAA but who were having difficulty making the transition to MLB), Rule 5 Draft picks, “bonus players” who couldn’t be sent to the minor leagues without first clearing waivers, and players who were out of minor league options.
In the 1920’s, 30’s, and 40’s, the 40-man roster (or 48-man reserve list with a 30-man active roster limit during the “heart” of the season in 1945 and 1946 as player returned from WWII) “cut-down” date was even later than the 31st day of the season, in some cases as late as May 15th, or even June 15th in some years!
And prior to 1977, clubs had no 25-man “minimum” roster requirement as they do now. Clubs having financial problems could play with 22 or 23 players if they wanted to do that, and some did. Beginning in 1977, the CBA required clubs to maintain a 24-man minimum active roster during the regular season, and the owners tried a half-year experiment (April through June 1978) where clubs rosters were set at 24, but it was abandoned.
In 1987, as part of the Grand Ueberroth Collusion Plan of 1987-89, teams "coincidentally, individuually, and independently" decided to play with only 24 players (which they had had the right to do since 1977, but had only talked about doing for years). They continued to go with 24-man rosters for a total of three full years (1987 through 1989), until the lockout of 1990 resulted in a new CBA that permitted clubs to play with 24 players in 1990, but required clubs to go to 25-man rosters (minimum) in 1991. However, several clubs jumped the gun and went to 25-man rosters on Opening Day 1990, so all of the other MLB teams immediately went to 25-man rosters, too, so as to not be at a competitive disadvantage. And that was (apparently) the end of the 24-man roster. However, in a subsequent CBA the roster minimum was changed to give MLB clubs the option to operate with a 24-man roster. But no club actually does that (except maybe temporarily after a trade while waiting for a newly-acquired player or players to report) because it would be a competitive disadvantage if all teams don't do it.
So there is nothing “written in stone” when it comes to cutting the 40-man roster to 25 players by Opening Day, or even maintaining a 25-man roster during the regular season. The current roster limits and a cut-down to 25 players on Opening Day is a fairly recent invention, and it is totally arbitrary and could be subject to change in a future CBA.
With the current CBA set to expire after the 2016 season and with the possibility that MLB could (because of the increase in interleague play) choose to implement the DH league-wide beginning in 2017, it might be possible that MLB clubs could go back to expanded rosters (perhaps 28) for the first 30 days of the season (while starting pitchers are still getting "stretched-out"), then perhaps a 24-man roster up until September, and then only a limited expanded roster (maybe no more than 28 or 30 players) beginning on September 1st.
Rob Richardson 26 min 37 sec ago (view)
At this point are there any players on this team that you would make a qualifying offer to much less a long term extension.
Charlie 51 min 57 sec ago (view)
With a title like, "It's probably time to be worried about Javier Baez," I think TCR readers might be ahead of the game.
crunch 1 hour 59 min ago (view)
off-day tomorrow. ATL gets to come into town next to strike out 20 cubs and give up 2-4 hits.
we're trying to get at least 2 guys hitting .250 or move over here in cubs nation. i'm pretty sure this is still chili davis's fault.
Dolorous Jon Lester 3 hours 30 sec ago (view)
Arizona vintage Shelby today
crunch 3 hours 2 min ago (view)
shelby miller is dildos.
Arizona Phil 3 hours 59 min ago (view)
Shelby Miller's minor league contract opt out was probably 4/15.
Sonicwind75 4 hours 48 min ago (view)
Good and/or depressing article about Javy over on Fangraphs.
Dolorous Jon Lester 5 hours 6 min ago (view)
Shelby Miller selected, Alzolay optioned. Adam returns, Wieck optioned. Romine returns, Wolters DFA
crunch 20 hours 36 min ago (view)
wow, a cubs moment to root for. that's been a while.
crunch 20 hours 41 min ago (view)
pedro strop returns!
slider looks great, but (as designed) he rarely throws it in the zone...fishing for swings/misses and bad contact. he's got great command of it nibbling low and both sides of the plate.
fastball coming in 92-94mph without much movement. you could tell in the arias AB how much he didn't want to throw him a fastball (continuing to throw the slider on a 3-1 for a foul, and walking him with a slider on the next pitch).
1ip 1h 1bb 1k, 0 r/er
crunch 23 hours 1 min ago (view)
...and matt duffy placed on the covid list (no positive, possible contact)
crunch 23 hours 13 min ago (view)
hendricks scratched because he's "not feeling well."
a.mills steps in.
Charlie 1 day 6 min ago (view)
Back door firing all the players through COVID protocols? Better clear some shelf space for that manager of the year trophy.
crunch 1 day 6 min ago (view)
Patrick Mooney @PJ_Mooney
Cubs manager David Ross says none of the team’s players on the COVID-19-related injured list have tested positive: “We’re going to err on the side of caution.”
crunch 1 day 7 min ago (view)
-deleted, wrong thread-
crunch 1 day 1 hour ago (view)
they could motivate the team with a full sized cutout of a nude tom ricketts they reveal a little bit at a time when they win.