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Roster expansion can make for uneven playing field, Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon says

BALTIMORE — The Rays have added some extra bats, a third catcher, a pinch-runner and some arms to the bullpen, carrying 30 players right now, with at least a couple more to come.

With the rules allowing for up to 40 at this time of year, why not? In theory, they'd be wise to have every contingency covered, from having specialists for any situation (several lefty relievers, a good bunter, a strong outfield arm, etc.) to enough depth to rest/protect all their front-liners in a blowout.

It's another example, like the DH, of an only-in-baseball oddity: play the first five months with a 25-man roster, then for the most important month allow teams to expand their rosters — in essence changing the way the game is played when it matters most.

Manager Joe Maddon sees the good and the bad in that he, too, likes having more options but is also concerned of making the clubhouse "too crowded," creating distractions and disharmony because of the lack of opportunities.

"The way you think about the game changes a bit because there's more at your disposal, there's no doubt about that," he said.

He also acknowledges the differences between a team like the Rays that is battling to win every game and ones like the Orioles now — and the Angels, Mariners and Royals later this month — that are willing to experiment with prospects and unknowns.

What he doesn't like is having to deal with the extra contingencies that the expanded rosters present, such as the extra bullpen arms opponents can use to counter pinch-hitting moves, and vice versa when he calls to the bullpen, such as a team pinch-hitting for a pinch-hitter. Plus, having to process scouting reports on the extra players.

"It's tough," he said. "When you get these lineup cards, it's almost like looking at a spring training card. But it's not spring training — it matters. There's really a lot more to think about because of all these different names."

Maddon has a solution, and it's the same one others have suggested, and one he has used before in the minor leagues: limit the number of players "eligible" for each night's game, maybe to 30. That way, no matter how many players a team is carrying — as of Friday, some had as many as 32 — they are at least competing on equal footing.

With this much at stake, that would seem only fair.

Roster expansion can make for uneven playing field, Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon says 09/04/10 [Last modified: Saturday, September 4, 2010 9:26pm]
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