Sports

NICK CAFARDO I Sunday BASEBALL NOTES

It’s time for MLB to expand teams’ rosters

Yankees ace Masahiro Tanaka broke down midway through his outstanding rookie season
Reinhold Matay/USA Today Sports
Yankees ace Masahiro Tanaka broke down midway through his outstanding rookie season

It’s time for Major League Baseball to go to an expanded roster, one that makes sense for the way the game has evolved. Make it a 25-man game roster, but expand the overall roster to 28.

Major League Baseball spokesman Pat Courtney said there have been discussions on the topic but nothing has been advanced. Yet the dialogue continues, and as the game evolves into one in which players keep getting hurt, in which the 162-game schedule has started to become too much for the average player’s body to handle, it would behoove MLB to create a roster that fits the times.

Yes, it would be costly. The salaries and the insurance costs to protect those players are rising every year.

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Pitchers’ shoulders and elbows are taxed and this would allow teams to manage the health and well-being of their players more efficiently. A team could go with a six-man rotation because you could then keep an extra starter and also keep the same number of relievers on your daily 25-man roster.

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Every team would likely have its own plan as to which three extras to keep. A big-market team may have a higher-salaried player than a small-market team, but generally teams would want to keep their costs down and employ minimum-salaried players — either youngsters from their farm system or players who might be out of options.

This is an idea that’s been kicked around for a while. Some even go as far as to think all 28 players should be active, as they were after work stoppages and shortened spring trainings, perhaps for the first month of the season.

Let’s face it, unless you’re the pitcher starting that day, there’s no reason to keep the other four starters active. So you could deactivate three starting pitchers and use those roster spots for bullpen or positional depth.

You’re probably not going to use the reliever who has pitched three straight days. If you have a player who is nicked up but not bad enough to go on the disabled list, you can have him inactive for as long as it takes him to recover.

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The game evolving into six-man rotations is not what many of us want to see, since many of us remember four-man rotations. But that’s how it’s evolving. The extra day would likely — although nothing is for certain — make a difference in the health of several pitchers who are sometimes taxed by the five-man rotation.

Japanese pitchers have gone every sixth day for years and they seem to have fewer arm and elbow injuries. Once they come to the United States that routine changes, with some notable injuries accompanying it. Yankees ace Masahiro Tanaka broke down midway through his outstanding rookie season, and Rangers ace Yu Darvish will have Tommy John surgery and be out until next season.

Yankees pitching coach Larry Rothschild will try to give Tanaka five days off before he pitches. When Ivan Nova returns to the staff, the Yankees could very well become a six-man staff by June.

The Red Sox could easily do this, by tacking on Steven Wright or one of their three young lefthanders — Henry Owens, Brian Johnson, or Eduardo Rodriguez — as the sixth man.

The added roster spots would still enable teams to carry the same number of relievers or more.

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Certainly, building a roster would involve new strategies. Teams would have to pick three extra players who would provide protection and depth to areas of weakness. Would they choose extra relievers? An extra bench player? A third catcher? A sixth starting pitcher?

How would the Red Sox, for instance, build their roster?

Would they carry Jemile Weeks as a second extra infielder? Would Wright be kept as a spot starter/long reliever or would both Matt Barnes and Brandon Workman make it in an extended bullpen?

There are many possibilities.

Orioles manager Buck Showalter isn’t endorsing or rejecting any plan, but he said, “I’d be for anything that helps keep us healthy. One of the most important things in baseball is protecting the health of our pitchers. Anything that does that, I’d be for.”

Showalter has been an advocate for a change in September call-ups. “Call up as many players as you want in September on your 40-man roster, but only 25 can play,” he said.

Showalter feels this would protect the integrity of the game so one team with a deep farm system wouldn’t have a distinct advantage over a team without one.

Think about it, baseball is played every day. Teams must endure 162 games per season. The way the game has evolved, pitchers need more downtime. Positional players need downtime. Only four major leaguers played all 162 games in 2014. The days of the ironman are over.

In 2005, 10 players played in all 162, and many of them are retired now. Since then, there hasn’t been more than six in any given year.

Pitcher-batter matchups are more prevalent than ever. The expanded choices on the roster could give managers more options.

The tough part would be for the players’ union and the owners to find common ground. The union would love the additional major league jobs and the owners would hate the added cost.

For the good of the game?

The Yankees pulled out of negotiations with Yoan Moncada after the Red Sox offered him $31.5 million.
AP
The Yankees pulled out of talks with Yoan Moncada after the Red Sox offered him $31.5 million.

IN POSITION TO WAIT

Red Sox won’t be in a rush with Moncada

The Yankees did exhaustive scouting on Yoan Moncada for years and came away taking a pass. If any team needed such a big prospect it was the Yankees, who lost second baseman Robinson Cano to free agency before last season and have not properly replaced him.

In their eyes, Moncada was a prime candidate to be Cano’s replacement. All of New York’s international scouts loved Moncada’s athleticism, bat speed, and hand/eye coordination. He got checks in all of the boxes, including intangibles such as love of the game.

But is one player who projects as a major leaguer worth moving out of your financial comfort level to sign?

“We scouted him extensively for years,” Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said. “I feel we put him through the highest level of scouting and medical evaluation. I just wasn’t comfortable offering what we actually offered [$25 million], let alone going any higher.”

So, when agent David Hastings came back to the Yankees after the Red Sox went to $31.5 million — exceeding their own $25 million cap — Cashman said he was out.

The team that really needed Moncada didn’t think he was worth stretching its budget for, and then paying a 100 percent penalty on its international signing pool. The team that didn’t need him, the Red Sox — second baseman Dustin Pedroia is signed through 2021 — thought he was worth it, and was willing to pay $63 million for the total outlay.

We’ll see in the years to come which team was correct.

The Red Sox likely will hold off for a couple of years before determining where Moncada will play. He plays second base now because that’s where he feels most comfortable. Third baseman Pablo Sandoval has a deal through 2019. Outfielders Hanley Ramirez and Rusney Castillo are signed through 2019 and 2020, respectively. Mookie Betts isn’t going anywhere. Xander Bogaerts is in Boston’s control for five more years.

Where does Moncada play if he’s two years away?

David Ortiz could retire by then and Ramirez or Sandoval could ease into the DH role, creating an opening at one of the other positions.

Sandoval has said he wants to stay at third for the remainder of his contract, but his weight and conditioning will dictate that.

It’s Moncada’s bat that’s the selling point, so does he wind up at first base or DH? In his early batting practice sessions, Moncada has been very impressive. The Red Sox will take baby steps with him, getting him accustomed to the Red Sox Way.

Apropos of nothing

1. Baseball should convene a panel of players who spent all or most of their careers healthy just to see if there are patterns that allowed them to stay upright. Tigers manager Brad Ausmus, for instance, caught 1,938 games and was on the DL once, at age 41, with a pinched nerve. Tom Glavine made 682 starts and only got hurt in his final season in Atlanta at age 42, when he had an oblique strain. Bronson Arroyo had Tommy John surgery last season after making 369 consecutive starts. Javier Vazquez, Randy Winn, and Derek Lowe spent more than 10 years in the majors without a DL stint.

2. Saw Phillies scout Dave Hollins the other day at a Blue Jays-Red Sox game in Dunedin. He was the only man ever traded for David Ortiz, or David Arias as he was known then. Hollins was with the Twins, but Seattle lost third baseman Russ Davis to an injury late in the 1996 season. So Hollins, who hit .351 with three homers and 25 RBIs (a .916 OPS) the remainder of the season over 113 at-bats, was dealt for this pretty good young hitter, Arias.

3. It’s always tricky sledding for teams who are trying to replace injured players for this reason: When the player comes back, what do you do with the player who replaced him? The Giants inquired on Allen Craig over the winter, but would he make sense for them now? The Giants have been scouting the Red Sox for weeks and are looking for a righthanded outfielder until they get Hunter Pence back. We’ll see if they ask again.

Blake Swihart.
Kathy Willens/AP
Blake Swihart.

4. Another thing I love about Blake Swihart — he doesn’t wear batting gloves.

5. The Joe Maddon/Alan Nero/Theo Epstein tampering charge brought by Rays owner Stu Sternberg is still alive.

6. When you see a guy walk into camp buffed and saying he’s in the best shape of his life, don’t be surprised to see an injury. It’s happening all over baseball. Maybe Pablo Sandoval has the right idea.

Updates on nine

1. Hank Conger, C, Astros — Not sure what drew the Astros to Conger, who is good at framing pitches but has a hard time throwing out runners and receiving. He can hit, but Mike Scioscia is pretty smart when it comes to the catching game, and the Angels dealt Conger without any reservation.

2. Tyler Moore, 1B, Nationals — He’s a righthanded power bat that seems to be atop the list of teams with that need. Moore, now 28, had big power numbers (31 homers twice) in the Nationals’ system. He’s out of options, so the Nationals have to make a decision whether they can keep him while Jayson Werth gets healthy, or get something for him while he’s hot (started 10 for 28, seven RBIs).

3. Allen Webster, RHP, Diamondbacks — In assessing Webster and Rubby De La Rosa, you’d say the Red Sox got away with unarmed robbery in acquiring Wade Miley. According to scouts, Webster, who allowed 13 hits and six runs in his first 8 innings, hasn’t really flashed the power arm the Diamondbacks were hoping to see. De La Rosa has been better out of the pen than as a starter, but he’s walked 10 and struck out 11 in 12 innings. Miley has had his own struggles, but so far the Red Sox have gotten the better of it.

4. Brian Matusz, LHP, Orioles — Matusz was certainly on display as he pitched four shutout innings against the Red Sox on Friday, and there were a lot of scouts to watch him. The Orioles are filled up in the rotation with six starters and are showcasing him to free up a bullpen spot and add some offensive depth.

Jemile Weeks.
Joe Robbins/Getty Images
Jemile Weeks.

5. Jemile Weeks, INF, Red Sox — Weeks is drawing some interest from teams in need of a utility player. The Tigers are one of those teams on the lookout for a jack-of-all-trades. With the Red Sox using Brock Holt in that role, Weeks would likely have to play in Pawtucket. The Red Sox have introduced him to third base and the outfield. They may be able to sell fairly high on him.

6. Miguel Castro, RHP, Blue Jays — Nobody with the Blue Jays has actually said he’s on the team, but when you mention Castro to their field personnel, including manager John Gibbons, there’s a look that leads you to believe that once roster meetings take place in 10 days or so, Castro, 20, who has never played above Single A, is going to stay at the back end of the bullpen. He has shown high velocity (97-100 miles per hour) with good command during spring training.

7. Kris Bryant, 3B, Cubs — The little war of words between team president Theo Epstein and agent Scott Boras was entertaining last week. Epstein is deciding whether to keep Bryant in the minors to “work on his defense,” while Boras is declaring they’re keeping his client down because of service time control. Well, Bryant has eight homers after hitting two Saturday. The kid is ready, and everyone, including the hungry Cubs fan base, knows it.

8. Johnny Cueto, RHP, Reds — The problem with the Red Sox waiting for a deal for Cueto rather than Cole Hamels is that Cueto can walk after this year and Hamels is under full control for the next four years. If Cueto has another 15-20-win season, one GM estimates that he “will get a Max Scherzer deal.” Of course, any team would have to give up a haul of prospects to get him. If the Sox trade for him, they’d be faced with the possibility of two starters walking (Rick Porcello is also up after this season). Also, Cueto turns 30 on Feb. 15. Would the Red Sox pony up a Scherzer deal for Cueto? And if Porcello has a good year, would they give him a Jon Lester deal?

9. Felipe Paulino, RHP, Red Sox — Paulino, 31, is 13-34 with a 5.22 ERA in 97 major league games. He is 24-31 with a 4.51 ERA in 119 minor league games. So, how does a guy with those records stay in baseball for 11 years? Because scouts look at stuff. They look at how his ball moves and how hard he throws. And when discussing Paulino the other day, three scouts said their jaws dropped after watching him throw.

Extra innings

From the Bill Chuck files — “In Mark Teixeira’s five years in Texas, he had 499 RBIs. In Teixeira’s six years with the Yankees, he has 499 RBIs.” . . . Also, “According to the new Fielding Bible, over the last three seasons there have been 15 bunt hit attempts against Pablo Sandoval and all have been successful.” . . . And, “Two pitchers last season led the majors with 23 straight starts in which they allowed no more than three earned runs: Clayton Kershaw and Cole Hamels.” . . . Happy birthday, Justin Masterson (30), Ramon Martinez (47), Sean Berry (49), and Dick Ellsworth (75).

Nick Cafardo can be reached at cafardo@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.