The 2020 26th Man

As most of you know, MLB is planning to implement a few rules changes in 2020, one of which is the addition of a 26th man (who cannot be a pitcher) to the active list rosters Opening Day through August 31st. 

Because all MLB clubs carry 13 pitchers (usually five starters and eight relievers) during the regular season, clubs have been limited to a four-man bench (National League) or a three-man bench (American League where there is a DH), and there just isn't room on the roster to carry a speclialist or a player with a limited role or function until rosters expand in September.

But back in the day it was typical for clubs to carry only ten or eleven pitchers, so a six or seven-man bench was common, and some of the players on the bench could have a very specific role or specialty that we don't see as much today (at least not until rosters expand in September).   

In deciding who might make a good 2020 26th man, it's possible that we could see a throwback to the old days of roster construction. 

Here are the three types of bench guys we might now see for a full season with the implementation of the 26th man rule:  

1. TYPE 1: Ace pinch hitter. 

This type has to be able to hit "cold" off the bench and be able to handle high velocity FB and high-spin breaking balls from the best relievers in the game (both lefty & righty). Ideally this player can play defense, too (at least passably), but it isn't necessary. Mainly he just needs to get a big hit in a game situation when his club most needs one. 

This type generally would have more value on a National League club (where there is no DH), but he could be a fit on an American League team that features a defense-first player (most-likely a SS or a catcher) with limited offensive skills in the lineup. 

EXAMPLES: Tommy LaStella circa 2018, but also guys like Lenny Harris, Manny Mota, Smoky Burgess, Jerry Lynch, and Moose McCormick from bygone eras. 

2. TYPE 2: Pinch-runner who can steal bases pretty much at will. 

Like the type 1 player, it is helpful if this player can also play defense (usually OF), but his main job is to pinch-run and steal a base (maybe two) in a game situatiion where a run is needed to tie or win a game.  

This is the type of player clubs will often add in September (when rosters expand) or in the Wild Card game (when only one starting pitcher is needed), but now it can be for the entire season.   

EXAMPLES: Terrance Gore (acquired by the Cubs in 2018) and Quintin Berry (acquired by the Cubs in 2015). 

3. TYPE 3: #3 catcher. 

Like the pinch-running specialist, a third catcher is the type of player who is added when rosters expand in September, but now a third catcher can be available for the entire season. This type of player can be a plus if a club's top two catchers are both good hitters (as is the case with the Cubs right now) and the manager wants to be able to use the #2 catcher as a pinch-hitter without a second thought whenever necessary.

It is a bonus if the #3 catcher can play other positions as well, but it isn'r absolutely necessary. Ideally the third catcher would also be the "emergency" pitcher in a blow-out or in extra innings after all of the available relievers have been used.  

Comments

A Competitive Balance draft slot can be traded only during a period of time starting on December 2nd and extending up until two hours prior to the MLB First-Year Player Draft (MLB Rule 4 Draft), so don't be surpised if these draft picks are traded during the off-season.

Keep in mind that the slot cannot be traded for cash unless it is a financial adjustment made to offset the salary of one or more of the players involved in the trade.

Also, a Competitive Balance draft slot can be traded only once (only by the club that was awarded the pick). Once traded, the slot cannot be "flipped" to a third club.

Prior to 2017, a Competitive Balance Draft slot could only be traded during the MLB regular season, but that rule was changed with the new CBA. 

The "26th man" who was added for doubleheaders will now be the "27th man" and he can be a pitcher. 

And then the active list roster limit will expand from 26 to 28 on September 1st (max 14 pitchers in September). 

The active list roster limit changes scheduled to go in effect in 2020 have not yet been officially approved. Same goes for the three-batter minimum (or else record the third out in the inning) for relief pitchers. 

There seems to be a lot of player movement so far. Too bad the Cubs aren't involved.

AZ Phil, thank you as always for the detailed information.  How is the "cannot be a pitcher" part of the rule to be enforced?  With a few two way players and the increasing amount of mop up innings being handled by position players it seems like there could be a gray area there.  What is preventing a team from stashing an athletic relief pitcher as a "5th outfielder" that could be a pinch runner and play a passable OF when needed but could also provide them with extra relief pitcher.  Anytime I hear of a new rule I always think of how Bill Billichek would circumvent it to his advantage if he was a baseball manager. 

Yeah, I've made myself familiar with a lot of the changes, but AZP's posts have both added more information and cleared up stuff I didn't fully grasp.  I appreciate the hell out of it.  Thanks Phil, thanks TCR.

SONICWIND: As the rule is proposed, prior to the start of each MLB regular season a club must designate all players on its Opening Day 26-man roster as either a "pitcher" or a "position player." A maximum of 13 can be designated as pitchers (14 pitchers max when rosters expand from 26 to 28 beginning on 9/1). 

For players who come up during the season, the club must designate the player as either a pitcher or a position player when the player is placed on the MLB active list roster. 

A postion player can pitch in a game only if the club is winning or losing by more than six runs at the time he enters the game or if the game has gone to extra innings.  

A position player can be designated as a "two-way player" (and does not count against the maximum 13 pitchers allowed) if the player has thrown at least 20 IP during the course of the current MLB season or threw at least 20 IP in the previous MLB season - AND - has started at least 20 games as a position player (including DH) and with at least three plate appearances in each game started in the current MLB season or started at least 20 games as a position player (including DH) and with at least three plate appearances in each game started in the previous MLB season. (Presumably the in-season qualifying as a "two-way player" would only apply in the first season of the rule's implementation). 

Since there is no restriction on pitchers playing other positions, a "two-way player" would probably first have to be designated as a pitcher (and throw at least 20 innings) while playing other positions (including DH) as well (at least 20 games started as a position player with at least three PA in each game started) in order to qualify as a "two-way player."  Then once established as a "two-way player," the player would no longer count as a pitcher as far as the maximum number of pitchers allowed on the active roster is concerned. He would effectively become a 14th pitcher (prior to 9/1) or a 15th pitcher (beginning on 9/1).  

But if a player who was designated a "two-way player" prior to the start of a season because he automatically qualified as a "two-way player" by virtue of meeting the "two-way player" requirements during the previous season were to fall below the IP and/or G/PA threshold by the end of the current season, he would not automatically qualify as a "two-way player" again at the start of the next season (he would count as a pitcher until he could re-establish himself as a  "two-way player").      

What I don't know is how an Injured List assignment for an extended period of time might impact a player's ability to maintain "two-way player" status into the next season, or if what a player did in the minor leagues will count toward the 20 IP and 20 G/PA required to be designated an MLB "two-way player."

Ptchers would also be treated differently under the new rules as far as the Injured list and Optional Assignment to the minors is concerned, with pitchers having to spend at least 15 days (up from 10 days) on the Injured List before being eligible to be reinstated and at least 15 days (up from 10 days) on Optional Assignment before being eligible to be recalled (inless the pitcher is being recalled to replace a pitcher on the 26-man roster who has been placed on an MLB inactive list).  

Again, none of these rules (including the one that requires a pitcher to face a minimum of three batters or else record the final out of the inning) have been officially approved.  

I think one possible caveat that might be added to the three-batter minimum rule would be that the pitcher can be replaced prior to facing three batters or recording the final out of the inning if the other team puts up a pinch-hitter. 

The list of 4/5 starting pitchers is being reduced.

Another possibility for a "26th man" in 2020 would be a young pitcher selected in the Rule 5 Draft who has big league upside but who is clearly not yet "big league ready," or a pitcher who is out of minor league options who might not be quite MLB ready.

Back in December 2016 the Cubs selected LHSP Caleb Smith from the Yankees in the Major League Phase of the Rule 5 Draft, He came to Spring Training needing to make the Cubs Opening Day 25-man roster, but he was just not ready, so he was re-claimed by the Yankees, and then was eventually traded by NYY to the Miami Marlins where he is now a solid MLB SP.

But if the "26th man" roster slot had been available in 2017 and the Cubs were satisfied with carrying just four bench guys, the Cubs could have designated Smith a "position player" on Opening Day (all players on a club's 26-man Active List roster will need to be designated as either a "position player" or a "pitcher" on Opening Day with a maximum of 13 players designated as "pitchers," with the designations remaining in effect for the balance of that season unless the player subsequently qualifies as a "two-way player" or the player is traded, released, or claimed off waivers).

And as a "position player," Smith could only enter a game as a pitcher in a game where the Cubs were more than six runs ahead or more than six runs behind, or if the game went to extra innings. And those are actually probably the only circumstances under which the Cubs would have wanted Smith to pitch back in 2017... in a blow-out, or in extra innings where the Cubs were out of pitchers. And that's how the Cubs would have been able to carry Smith as a Rule 5 Draft pick for the entire 2017 season  and still have a 13-man pitching staff and an eight-man bullpen above and beyond Smith. 

This past December the Cubs selected RHRP Trevor Megill from SD in the Major League Phase of the Rule 5 Draft and he is in big camp in Mesa as we speak, vying for a spot in the Cubs Opening Day bullpen. However, Megill is a bit different than Caleb Smith was at Spring Training 2017 in that Megill has more experience than Smith did when the Cubs drafted him and is probably MLB-ready (or very near-ready), so with Megill it's probably more a matter of whether he has MLB talent, and thus the Cubs would probably not want to designate him as a 26th man "position-player" and just use him blow-outs or in extra innings jusy to prevent the Padres from re-claiming him. 

But the Cubs could designate another pitcher with upside who is out of minor league options who they do not want to lose off waivers at the end of Spring Training (like maybe Duane Underwood Jr) as a "position player" on Opening Day and then only use him in blow-outs or in extra innings if the Cubs run out of pitchers (he's very athletic so could also be used as a pinch-runner). It would limit the Cubs to a four-man bench, but it would allow the Cubs to essentially keep 14 pitchers (with Dunderwood only available to pitch in certain circumstances, but it would allow Ross to use his eight-man bullpen a bit more liberally because he would know that he has a 9th RP available in extra innngs).  

And then if it gets to the point where they want to replace him on the 26-man roster with an actual position player (a legit 5th man on the bench), then they can try and get Dunderwood through waivers at that point in time. (BTW, if this were to happen and he is claimed off waivers by another MLB club, the claiming club could keep him as a "position player" or re-designate him as a "pitcher").    

Just something to keep in mind as we get into MLB Cactus League game action later this week.   

That would be so devious!

Let us know if you see Dunderwood shagging flyballs in the OF... 

AZPHIL, has there been official word as to whether the 26-man roster has been extended down to the minor league levels that previously had 25-man rosters? Can't really think of a reason why that shouldn't be the case...

Owners might not want to spend the extra coin. Which would be about like a dime to us.

Nice on the Cubs for upping MiLB pay.

Solid % improvement for minor leaguers and nice to see the Cubs among the first organizations to break ranks to the upside.  Three comments: 1. Yes, the bonus babies have already BEEN paid but that is the minority of these young men.  2. Minor league players are not INTERNS in real life.  You've got some guys with families, while others have four-year college degrees and could be making high-five figures in the real world.  3.  As welcome as the increases are, I still made as much per week in my summer job between grad school years as a Cubs AAA player will make now.  That was in 1982!  There's a long way to go.

jdrnym: No word yet on 2020 minor league active roster limits, but I doubt they will do anything new since the minor league 7-day IL with no doctor's note required (sometimes called the "phantom IL") allows clubs to easily rotate guys (especially pitchers) back & forth/on & off the active list. 

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  • Arizona Phil 38 min 16 sec ago (view)

    In addition to 40 players signed to 2020 MLB contracts, after releasing 22 minor leaguers this week the Cubs now have 279 players signed to 2020 minor league contracts (plus one minor leaguer on the Restricted List), for a total of 320 players in the organization (181 pitchers, 30 catchers, 60 infielders, and 49 outfielders).   

     

  • JustSayin' 9 hours 52 min ago (view)

    Years of over-drafting pitching shown here.

     

  • Dolorous Jon Lester 11 hours 41 min ago (view)

    Some of the players cut I am not too surprised by. Some of them I think are definitely victims of the minor league pay thing and being squeezed out.

    That said, I am very surprised they gave up already on Riley McCauley and Niels Stone.

     

  • Hagsag 13 hours 21 min ago (view)

    Baseball America is showing a big group of players that have been released.

     

  • Arizona Phil 1 day 2 hours ago (view)

    The Cubs have released minor league catcher Rafelin Lorenzo. He was selected from the Pittsburgh Pirates in the AAA Phase of the 2018 Rule 5 Draft and spent the 2019 season at South Bend. He was eligible to be a minor league 6YFA post-2020. 

     

  • JustSayin' 2 days 12 hours ago (view)

    The organizations will cut rosters down, as if the full-season teams were breaking camp to start the season, THEN pay the remaining minor leaguers $400/week or whatever.  That's similar to what costs would have normally been but the "one last chance" players who got spring training invitations this year and didn't have an obvious roster spot won't be getting their last chance.

     

  • crunch 2 days 13 hours ago (view)

    "According to Jeff Passan of ESPN, all minor league players will be receiving $400 per week from MLB through at least May 31."

    so that's where that promise landed.  the scary thing is that's still more than some in the low minors make on a weekly basis.

     

  • crunch 5 days 6 hours ago (view)

    "Jeff Passan of ESPN writes that the players and league agreed that the 2020 season won't start until "there are no bans on mass gatherings that limit the ability to play in front of fans, there are no travel restrictions and medical experts determine games will not pose a risk to health of teams and fans." Passan does add that the two sides "will consider the feasibility of playing in empty stadiums" and also at neutral sites.

     

  • crunch 5 days 11 hours ago (view)

    i miss baseball.  it could happen in june...it may happen in late may...it might not happen either way.

    there's so many things getting messed up right now i would get lost making a list.  there's some college guys making a serious "okay, we need to look at that guy" push that's dead.  former cubs draft pick russell smith (2017, LHP highschool) took last season off for injury (TCU college) and returned with a low 90s fastball, impressive control, and a MLB-quality changeup.  his "comeback" was 4 games and done thanks to this current situation...

     

  • JustSayin' 5 days 14 hours ago (view)

    COVID 19 + a short draft + Manfred's obsessive drive to shrink the minor leagues will change baseball forever.  It WAS still America's grass roots sport.  Where I live, from June through August, you could see a quality live game any day of the week, within an hour's drive.  I believe that era is over.  What's going on will have ripple effects, contracting serious college ball, college summer leagues and independent pro ball just as much as the MiLB systems.  With those changes, some of the game's charm will also go.  I've seen a kid from Cape Cod play in the Ca

     

  • crunch 6 days 12 hours ago (view)

    fyi for anyone who bought MLB.tv

    for "some reason" getting a cancel+refund via phone is like pulling teeth, but if you contact them via a webpage contact request many people are getting a cancel+refund confirmation within an hour or 2...

     

  • bradsbeard 6 days 19 hours ago (view)

    I imagine because the new labor agreement freezes rosters as of whenever the agreement is approved by the owners and it might affect what those guys are paid under the agreement. 

     

  • Hagsag 6 days 21 hours ago (view)

    AZ Phil. what was the reason that a whole bunch of teams optioned or assigned players to the minor leagues yesterday on March 26 ? Thanks.

     

  • Arizona Phil 1 week 1 hour ago (view)

    jdrnym: Ordinarily, players on an MLB Reserve List (40-man roster) who are on Optional Assignment to the minors do not accrue MLB Service Time, are paid at the minor league rate rather than at the MLB rate if the player has a "split" contract, and if the player gets hurt or becomes sick after being optioned, he can be placed on a minor league IL instead of on an MLB IL (so that he cannot accrue MLB Service Time or be paid at the MLB rate while he is on the IL). Also, a player who is optioned to the minors for at least 20 days will burn an option year.   

     

  • jdrnym 1 week 14 hours ago (view)

    AZPhil, what are the technical ramifications of optioning/not optioning guys during this period of no baseball? Seems like some teams are more eager than others to trim their roster down.

     

  • crunch 1 week 1 day ago (view)

    "Major League Baseball has agreed with the MLBPA to grant a full year of service time to players in 2020 regardless of how many games the schedule includes.

    Rosenthal adds, however, that the two sides have agreed to "table discussions" on how much service time the players would receive if the worst-case scenario plays out and the 2020 season has to be canceled entirely due to the coronavirus pandemic."

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