On the latest South Side Sox Podcast, Josh and I briefly discussed the possibility of Major League Baseball expanding active rosters to 26 players as part of the collective bargaining agreement negotiations. My first instinct was to say I wasn’t a fan, fearing that:
- Most teams would add yet another pitcher to make games longer, and one who is unqualified at that.
- The Royals would use that roster spot to allow Terrance Gore to terrorize inexperienced White Sox pitchers for a full season, rather than just September.
But maybe this most recent White Sox season isn’t the healthiest frame of reference. Robin Ventura more or less limited himself to a 23-man roster, due to a heavy reliance on his better relievers and an unchallenged starting nine. Adding an extra player probably would’ve only served the purpose of giving Jason Coats, Carlos Sanchez and Latham’s Tommy Kahnle some company in the I Forgot He Was On The Roster Room. The best talent from Charlotte was already compelling enough to promote and get injured immediately.
In a normal season when a White Sox team is actively contending and rookies aren’t struck down by a vengeful god, that extra spot stands a chance of being rather valuable. Using Gore as an example, what about Adam Engel? Now that he’s on the 40-man roster, he’ll be using up an option this season regardless. Should his development stall during the first three months leaving him a hit tool short of a legitimate center field prospect, he might be a great 26th man — a late-inning pinch-running terror who can stay in the game as a defensive replacement.
Going back through the previous six seasons, this looks like the future of the 26th man — just as likely to muddle a roster as he is to help. In thin organizations, he’s merely an extra body that the tides of time will wash away. On better Sox teams, a 26th man could have helped the Sox preserve some MLB-quality depth.
2016: Matt Davidson? Jimmy Rollins?
Like I said, this is the argument against a 26th man. Maybe an extra bench spot would’ve enticed the Sox into giving Davidson an earlier audition as a right-handed bat with some pop, but he had to prove that his unprecedented respectability at Charlotte was more than a mirage. Otherwise, the spot might’ve been best used for a veteran with some pull, if he’d still be willing and able to exercise it from a non-utilized roster spot.
2015: Carlos Sanchez, Junior Guerra, Moises Sierra
Again, there isn’t a great crop of burgeoning talent. Trayce Thompson was called up at the right stage in his development, and he played when he arrived. Perhaps not having to choose between Micah Johnson and Sanchez would’ve given the Sox a more playable platoon at the start of the season, with Sanchez starts allowing Johnson to be available as a late-inning pinch-running option while his legs were in full working order.
Junior Guerra had surprising success in Milwaukee, so maybe a more forgiving roster allows him to throw a little more in Chicago? Even then, he might be a long reliever that seldom pitched.
The Sox conveniently disabled Sierra to get him through the 2014 season on the roster before waiving him goodbye after the season. His existence was always on thin ice, and time hasn’t proven the White Sox wrong for waiving him goodbye after the season, but maybe Sierra’s absence explains Conor Gillaspie’s sharp drop-off.
2014: Marcus Semien, Adrian Nieto, Paul Konerko.
Now here’s where the complexion of the roster changes. The White Sox cycled through a billion relievers before finding a few that worked, so an expanded bullpen would’ve been meaningless. On the bench, though, the White Sox were carrying two players out of obligation. If the Sox treated the Rule 5 pick Nieto as the 26th man, they could’ve used a legitimate backup catcher to stave off Tyler Flowers fatigue while eventually adding to their organizational depth. If the Sox treated Konerko as the honorary roster member he was, they could’ve given Semien the chance to unseat Gordon Beckham, and maybe the Jeff Samardzija trade doesn’t happen.
(Besides speed-first players, Rule 5 candidates might be the other group of minor-league types most directly affected by a 26th roster spot.)
2013: Angel Sanchez
Forget a 26th man -- five extra roster spots wouldn’t have kept the Sox from losing 99 games. The Sox already cycled through their infielder permutations around Beckham’s hamate injury and Jeff Keppinger’s ineffectiveness, and Marcus Semien was promoted at the appropriate time, so after that, you’re left with Jordan Danks looking OK as a defensive replacement in the outfield.
So ... Sanchez was another Rule 5 pick. He only played one game, replacing Beckham after his hamate injury and then getting taken out in a double-switch. He then went on the DL and was outrighted before getting the opportunity to return. Sanchez subsequent performance in Charlotte and elsewhere wouldn’t have offered the Sox anything, but at least we would’ve found out if it was roster shenanigans.
2012: Eric Stults
At the end of the White Sox’ last winning season, Ventura was guilty of using too many underqualified players, be they bench guys or relievers. A 26th man might’ve only exacerbated the manager’s issues in his rookie season.
That said, the White Sox had problems with the back end of their rotation after Philip Humber threw his perfect game. They eventually “solved” it by trading for Francisco Liriano, but they might have had more padding if they didn’t lose Stults to a waiver claim. The White Sox added him to the roster for an early-May doubleheader, and he threw a quality start against Cleveland. He hung around long enough for one low-leverage relief inning against Kansas City, but when Jesse Crain came off the disabled list, the White Sox needed the bullpen spot for him.
The Sox tried sneaking the out-of-options Stults back to Charlotte, but San Diego claimed him. Stults ended up giving the Padres a 2.92 ERA over 18 games (14 starts) over the rest of 2012, then topping 200 innings the following year.
2011: Lastings Milledge, Jeff Gray, Alejandro De Aza, Dayan Viciedo
Milledge lasted a week with the White Sox. His roster spot hinged on a six-man bullpen, and when Ozzie Guillen wanted to regain a seventh reliever, Milledge was DFA’d to Charlotte to make room for Gray. Had a 26th man been around, he and Gray would’ve been able to peacefully coexist.
Back when the White Sox used to play in blowouts, Gray had his uses. The White Sox called him up in between Jake Peavy injuries, and he earned Ozzie Guillen’s praise for finishing games in five of his six garbage-time appearances, three of which were 2+ innings.
When Peavy came off the disabled list, the White Sox wanted to ease him back into action. Or they didn’t want to make a decision between him and Humber. Either way, they expanded the rotation to six starters, and so the out-of-options Gray was DFA’d. The Mariners claimed him, even though they went an absurdly long time without using him. In his Seattle downtime, Gray became an accomplished author.
By July, the White Sox could’ve called up De Aza and/or Viciedo to theoretically replace the historically awful Alex Rios and Adam Dunn. “Theoretically” is the operative word, because history says Guillen would’ve been too busy trying to embarrass Kenny Williams to actually play them.