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The Royals' 14-Man Pitching Staff: The Future?

The Royals have added a pitcher to their bullpen. Now they have 14 of them. Is this where baseball is heading? And could it lead to 26- or 27-man rosters?

Ned Yost of the Kansas City Royals signals the bullpen as he takes out Nate Adcock during a game against the Boston Red Sox at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)
Ned Yost of the Kansas City Royals signals the bullpen as he takes out Nate Adcock during a game against the Boston Red Sox at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)
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After the Kansas City Royals' bullpen threw 15⅓ innings combined over the weekend, including seven different relievers on Sunday alone, the team knew it had to do something to stop overtaxing all those pitchers. Manager Ned Yost was worried:

"If we start abusing these guys, we're going to kill them. We can't," Yost said. "We have to be smart about our usage with them without abusing them. They've all been worked to a high degree here, especially in the last week."

So what's the answer to this overtaxing? Why, add another pitcher to the bullpen!

The Royals placed infielder Chris Getz on the 15-day disabled list Monday with a lateral strain in his lower leg and optioned right-handed reliever Nate Adcock to Triple-A Omaha.

Kansas City recalled right-handed pitcher Louis Coleman and left-hander Tommy Hottovy from Omaha. Both will be available for Monday's series opener with the Astros at Minute Maid Park. The transactions give the Royals a 14-man pitching staff.

A 14-man pitching staff. Since they use a designated hitter in every non-interleague game, that leaves the Royals with two position players on their bench. But Ned's got it covered:

Yost said [Tim] Collins and [Greg] Holland are athletic enough to play in the field. He also mentioned that [Jonathan] Broxton could be used as a pinch-hitter. For his career, Broxton is 0-for-5 at the plate with two walks.

Right. Because, you know, you'd love to see a couple of your relief pitchers in the outfield in extra innings, or have a key hitting situation where you have to pinch-hit someone who has eight major-league plate appearances.

When I first heard about this, something about "14-man pitching staff" popped up in my memory and I knew it had happened before, not so long ago. Guess who the manager was?

Ned Yost likes a big bullpen.

About this time last year, the Brewers had a 13-man pitching staff, and all year long, Yost complained about his starters not going deep enough into games. This year, a 12-man staff lasted only until April 17, when Milwaukee sent utility man Hernan Iribarren back to Triple-A and called up LHP Mitch Stetter in his place.

The key event, though, occurred the following day, when Ben Sheets left his start with triceps tightness. That put his next start in doubt, so when Yovani Gallardo was activated from the disabled list to make a start on the 20th, bench bat Joe Dillon—and not a pitcher—was optioned to the minors. Voila! Fourteen pitchers.

That 14-man staff was in place for a few days in May 2008 before the Brewers came to their senses and reduced it. Perhaps this speaks more to Yost's inability to manage a bullpen than any actual need for that many relief pitchers, but with the specialization of relief roles becoming more and more prevalent (some might say mindless and reflexive), could or should this lead to MLB expanding rosters?

The MLB-MLBPA collective bargaining agreement signed last offseason allows for 26-man rosters for doubleheaders, to allow (for example) a team to recall a pitcher to start a doubleheader game without having to send someone out. The Pirates and Rockies took advantage of this rule in April.

But what if MLB expanded rosters permanently to 26? This would allow teams to add an extra position player and still maintain the current 12-man pitching staff that most teams carry. That would permit teams flexibility; you could carry a third catcher, or a player who would be mostly a pinch-runner/defensive replacement. Teams used to have players like this all the time during the 1960s and 1970s, when pitching staffs were nine, 10 or 11 men. Baseball's roster sizes fluctuated for decades, as you can see here, and was fixed at 25 from Opening Day only in 1968 (and codified in the collective bargaining agreement in 1990).

Presumably, an expanded roster would have to be negotiated between owners and players, but given that it would create 30 new MLB jobs, it doesn't seem as if players would object if owners proposed it. Rockies GM Dan O'Dowd even was quoted by ESPN's Jerry Crasnick as saying he'd be in favor of a 27-man roster.

As noted by some in the Crasnick article, an expanded roster might help offense, too, which is something that could help balance out the pitching dominance that appears to be asserting itself in 2010s baseball.

At the very least, it could help save Ned Yost from himself.