I was going to write this as a rebuttal to all the national folks who say that the Indians have gotten an unfair advantage by loading their bullpen with fifteen guys for September. These are the guys who keep saying that the Indians have an unfair advantage because of their schedule.
First of all, the Tigers have the exact same schedule – technically easier, because the Indians are playing the Tigers and the Tigers are playing the Indians. Second, claiming it is unfair that the Indians play the easiest part of their schedule in September doesn’t pass the most basic test of logic. We stayed in the race while we played the tougher parts of the schedule; now it’s time for that to pay off. Third, for the Yankees with their zillion dollar payroll to talk about other teams having an unfair advantage would be like Donald Trump wanting to tighten up the bankruptcy laws. If you want the competition for the playoffs to be entirely fair, either have a completely balanced schedule or do away with the wild card. No takers? I didn’t think so.
About the bullpen, though. It is a stupid rule. I can think of no other sport where the rules change this dramatically at any point in an uncompleted season. There’s a reason for that: when you put quirky rules into place it leaves an opening for teams to manipulate those rules to their advantage so that winning is based on something other than skill. Another recent example is the fiasco in NASCAR. They tried to create some extra drama by creating the “Chase For the Cup,” and some drivers found a way to work it to their advantage. That’s what competitors do.
I look for MLB to tweak this next year so nobody can do what the Indians are doing. It has been suggested that teams be allowed to put as many guys on the roster as they want, but only dress 25 each night. That would be too easy to get around. Just dress seven relievers on Tuesday, the other seven on Wednesday.
While I understand the advantage of giving your best minor league players a taste of the Show after their season has ended, and the teams out of contention use this as an opportunity to whet their fans’ appetites for next season by giving them a glimpse of the future, the impact on the pennant race is too great to allow it to continue. I can see the Yankees paying major league salaries to guys to sit in Triple-A and wait for Labor Day, then they could just overpower everyone.
I must admit, I don’t see a great solution. Perhaps they could limit it to two or three extra guys, and only one pitcher. The idea of expanding the rosters but only dressing 25 at a time would make more sense if they did it for the entire season, especially in an era of thirteen man pitching staffs. The NHL and the NBA have gone that route. It would eliminate the constant roster manipulation of one guy suddenly pulling a groin muscle the day another guy needs to come off the DL and of Nick Hagadone making the journey up and down I-71 to Columbus more than a highway patrolman.
Since the rule is in place, you have to give the Indians props for using it to their advantage. It may seem like just fortuitous circumstances that we have all of this minor league depth when most of the rotation is on strict pitch limits, but I think that is not the case. Remember last winter, when the Indians were moving people on and off the 40-man roster on a daily basis to accommodate free agent signings and other moves. Over and over again, they released position players instead of pitchers.
Guys like Russ Canzler, Thomas Neal, and Ezequiel Carrera were cut loose at a time when the Indians were dreadfully thin in position players. I personally ripped them for it on these very pages. (Remember, this is before we thought Ryan Raburn was going to be a useful major league player, let alone a candidate for team MVP.) Is it possible that the Indians did that with September in mind, that Francona and Antonetti saw this loophole and maximized the pitching depth on their roster to take full advantage of it? That would be crediting them with a level of evil genius of epic proportions. If that’s the case, keep it up, guys.