With 30-plus games to play, it might be considered tempting fate for a front office to start planning for the postseason. But seven clubs have improved their odds of making the postseason to 90 percent or better, according to the Playoff Odds Report. And baseball’s calendar demands that GMs and managers begin planning for October now.
Off the field, the next marker on the road to the postseason comes Tuesday night, the deadline for post-season roster eligibility. Under Major League Rule 40 (a), the pool of players eligible for the postseason consists of the 25 players on the active roster and any players on the disabled, bereavement, suspended or military lists before midnight ET on August 31.
The final 25-man playoff roster must be set a day before a club’s first Division Series game, and a team that advances has the right to change its roster for both the League Championship Series and World Series. A rule change, new under the current Collective Bargaining Agreement, allows a team to replace an injured player during the middle of a series, so long as another player at the same position replaces him. Additionally, a player replaced in one post-season series may not be brought back for the following series.
At this point in the season, most clubs have several players on the disabled list. Some, like Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez, are certain to return soon. Others, like Atlanta’s Chipper Jones, won’t see the field again until spring training in 2011. If an eligible player cannot play in a post-season series because of injury, his club may petition the Commissioner’s office to replace him with any player who was in the organization on August 31, provided the replacement was included on the roster of a minor-league affiliate at the end of the major-league season.
So a player on the disabled list as of Tuesday actually gives his club some valuable flexibility in building a roster to win in October. The Angels masterfully exploited the injury loophole in 2002, when they received permission to replace reliever Steve Green on their post-season roster. Green had made his major-league debut in April of 2001 before a shoulder injury put him on the disabled list for the rest of that season and all of 2002. The Angels replaced him on the post-season roster with Francisco Rodriguez, who became a hero in the Halos’ championship run despite the fact he was not promoted to the majors until September 15.
Since then, clubs on the way to the playoffs have used the disabled list to expand their options in setting rosters for October. The Indians, for example, recalled outfielder Brad Snyder in August of 2007 and placed him on the 15-day disabled list. There is a price, of course. The player occupies a slot on the 40-man roster and, with the promotion, he earns a month of service time and a major-league salary. So for clubs with designs on a championship this season, the roster juggling acts have begun.
In Chicago, one looming roster question has been resolved with the White Sox being awarded Dodgers left fielder Manny Ramirez on a waiver claim. Ramirez has played in only five games since returning from a DL stint of his own because of a calf injury, and the Sox will have to clear a space on their 40-man roster for him. Chicago currently has four pitchers on the 15-day DL: starter Jake Peavy and relievers J.J. Putz, Matt Thornton, and Erick Threets. Though Putz and Thornton should return this month, Peavy or Threets could be shifted to the 60-day disabled list to make room for Manny. So the White Sox have some flexibility, though their post-season odds grew longer this weekend.
The Twins have options with seven players on the disabled list, including a trio of relievers on the 60-day DL. With Clay Condrey and Joe Nathan out for the year, the Twins have a month to decide how to fill their spots. Possible September bullpen reinforcements Glen Perkins, Anthony Slama, and Pat Neshek could have the chance to win a spot on the post-season roster with strong performances in the final month.
In the AL East, the Yankees will not be activating A-Rod, Lance Berkman, Andy Pettitte, and Alfredo Aceves until after September 1. A recent setback in Damaso Marte’s rehab makes him a question mark for the postseason. But Nick Johnson’s presence on the 60-day disabled list gives the Bombers an extra spot in their pool of players for the postseason. That should prove useful in the likely event the Yankees need to employ a fourth starter at some point during this year’s postseason.
The Rays face a 40-man roster crunch. Recent acquisition Brad Hawpe must be added to the roster to play in October, and Grant Balfour and Gabe Kapler will return from the 15-day disabled list soon. Tampa Bay can create space on the 40-man roster by transferring reliever J.P. Howell to the 60-day DL, but possible September contributors like Rocco Baldelli and Brian Shouse would require a place on the 40-man roster.
A couple of minor-leaguers could have an impact on the National League stretch drive and postseason, even if, like K-Rod, they arrive in the bigs as September callups.
The Reds are hoping fireballing Cuban Aroldis Chapman can provide a boost to the Cincinnati bullpen, and with Jose Arredondo and Mike Lincoln on the 60-day disabled list, GM Walt Jocketty has the roster power to make it happen. The Reds also are considering activating Aaron Harang to start Tuesday, which would make him eligible for the postseason.
In Atlanta, first baseman Troy Glaus is completing a rehabilitation assignment and is eligible to come off the disabled list Thursday. However, first base prospect Freddie Freeman is all but certain to be promoted after hitting 18 home runs and compiling a .323/.382/.529 slash line at Triple-A. With Chipper Jones out and Kris Medlen undergoing elbow ligament replacement surgery this month, Braves GM Frank Wren has the flexibility to give manager Bobby Cox the roster he wants for his final October run.