More than three weeks after 26-man rosters were expanded by just two players per an agreement between Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association, Nationals manager Davey Martinez still isn’t sure what to make of the new rules and the tighter stretch-run rosters.
“I haven’t decided yet, honestly,” Martinez said via Zoom before Saturday’s game against the Reds in Cincinnati. “Because in situations where you’re fighting for a playoff spot, and all of a sudden you can expand your roster to 30 guys or whatever it is, you’re playing guys (and) facing guys that you’ve never seen. Now that we’re not in playoff contention, for me, I kinda wanted to see some other guys just have the opportunity to come up here and see what they can do up here.”
Gone are the days when a second-division club watching its pennies didn’t supplement the September roster, but played contending teams that had most of their 40-man roster in uniform. Aside from causing some cramped clubhouse quarters, significant roster expansion created a competitive imbalance where the rules that governed the first five months of the season were suddenly tossed aside for some of the campaign’s most important games.
And with more players available, more moves could be made, meaning increased length of games - something MLB has been trying to cut down for several seasons.
To be honest, the Nationals were never one of the teams that packed their clubhouse with extra guys in September. They might promote a third catcher, add a couple of bullpen arms or give some promising youngsters a brief look-see based on need and opportunity. Maybe add a versatile player who could give some veteran starters a breather. But especially when they were in contention, the Nats focused more on the guys that got them where they were.
Now that they’re fighting to stay out of last place in the National League East, Martinez might have liked to get a look at the future. But the new rules - which were supposed to be put into place last year, only to be affected by COVID-19 and the truncated 60-game season - have limited those opportunities.
“Unfortunately, we’re only down to 28, so it’s one-half of one side and one-half of the other,” Martinez said. “I have seen some guys that I wanted to see. ... We’re moving guys around, bringing guys up because we want to see them play. But I haven’t really decided whether I like it or not.”
Given their current standing, a few more roster spots might have given Martinez an opportunity to get an advance look at the club’s future.
“There’s a few guys, especially on the pitching aspect, that we could have given an opportunity to see,” Martinez said. “But once again, what I do like about all this stuff is Triple-A Rochester is playing all the way through September.”
Now, if the Nats need to replace an injured player or swap out someone who’s been ineffective, they can make a roster move to get a guy who’s been playing regularly. Previously, when Triple-A teams finished the regular season in early September, the Nats had to send a handful of players to their spring training complex to stay ready in case they were needed.
“They’re going to finish the season when we finish, so that’s awesome that these guys are still continuing to play,” Martinez said.