Rule changes and the White Sox: The 26-man roster

Having already tackled the three-batter minimum required by pitchers and the single trade deadline, we now turn our attention to the other major change Major League Baseball is throwing its way: tweaks to roster sizes.

They’re coming in 2020, so all clubs have a year to gird their loins for the possibilities. The wording, as of now:

The active roster limit from Opening Day through August 31st and in Postseason games will increase from 25 to 26, and the minimum number of active players will increase from 24 to 25. The current Major League Rules allowing for a 26th player for doubleheaders will be amended to allow for a 27th player.

The league also says a joint committee will cap the number of pitchers an active roster can carry, and it’s expected to be 13.

I already did a lot of the historical heavy lifting for this change back on South Side Sox in 2016, when a 26th man was a part of the collective bargaining agreement negotiations. Going year by year to figure out who might’ve made the best use of that spot, I came up with:

  • 2016: Matt Davidson, Jimmy Rollins
  • 2015: Yolmer Sanchez, Junior Guerra, Moises Sierra
  • 2014: Marcus Semien, Adrian Nieto, Paul Konerko
  • 2013: Angel Sanchez
  • 2012: Eric Stults
  • 2011: Lastings Milledge, Jeff Gray, Alejandro De Aza, Dayan Viciedo

Only a handful of these are scintillating, although remembering the context of specific yeras makes the cases of Semien, De Aza and Viciedo jump out more.

I projected Adam Engel to be the best use of a 26th man roster spot in 2017, and that still feels about right. Yoan Moncada, Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez and Nicky Delmonico were all able to barge in and make regular starts by season’s end, and their delays were more about graceful timing than room, at least after the customary nods to service time. Engel, meanwhile, posted a .517 OPS while making 97 starts in center. It would’ve been nice for the White Sox to take advantage of what he offered without getting saddled with what he couldn’t do.

With the league adding a 26th man — and making sure it won’t be used on an extra arm — it seems to want to return to specialized bench player to prominence. Between Engel and Daniel Palka, the White Sox have a couple excellent test cases already using 25-man spots. Back in August during the week Engel robbed three homers during a homestand, I mourned in an Athletic column that rosters used to reserve spots for BENCH SPEED AND DEFENSE and LEFT-HANDED THUMP. The return of four-man benches allows these guys to have jobs on teams that maybe aren’t terrible.

The other benefit of a 26-man roster is that it becomes ever so harder for a team to deny a top prospect a roster spot based on service time. I don’t think it would’ve stopped Rick Hahn from pretending Eloy Jimenez’s defense took him out of the running, but he might’ve had to report to The Hague for the prolonged logic torture required to carry Trayce Thompson-, Charlie Tilson- and Ryan LaMarre-grade outfielders instead.

We’re probably a few years and a new CBA away from traditional service time tension being alleviated, but if four-man benches are back, there should be easier inroads for guys like Nick Madrigal and Luis Robert to make their debuts without forcing another eminently rosterable player out of the picture. That assumes that the Sox have the player development and health luck required, but I don’t think there’s a rule change MLB can enact to protect prospects from injuring thumbs on routine slides, getting hit by pitches, or succumbing to Tommy John surgery.

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Jim Margalus
Jim Margalus

Writing about the White Sox for a 16th season, first here, then at South Side Sox, and now here again. Let’s talk curling.

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No reason now for him to start the season in Charlotte.

As Cirensica

Interesting. Teams are now heavily invested in paying for players from their 20s to early 30 yrs of age while not allowing elite talent to reach free agency. Players are seeing what free agency means to stars, so they are hanging to these extensions.

Conclusion is that the White Sox will be forced to arm a contending team pretty much from within as the pool of impact players from free agency is getting smaller.

Another conclusion: the window of contention (I am starting to hate that term) keeps getting further away

karkovice squad

The extension trend is old. It’s the reason this offseason was being hyped so far in advance. The new thing is what the Sox seem to have done and Astros tried to do by locking down extensions before major league promotions.

Removing free agency as a source of impact players doesn’t mean the Sox are stuck with who they’ve got. It just means they’ll have to pay off other front offices not just the players when acquiring talent.


Rosenthal says 6 years, $43MM with 2 club options. So buying 3 arb years for $43 plus option for first 2 FA years (don’t know the price).


Regardless, this is going to make Eloy one VERY valuable trade piece.

karkovice squad

Passan reported $40m/6 guaranteed with 2 club options. Sox really leaned into the reported trend of applying service time leverage to get early extensions and maxed what they got.

I have conflicting feelings about it. I wonder why Jimenez and his agent agreed.


Same reason anybody agrees to an early extension. You want guaranteed money now.


This looks like a win-win for Eloy and the team the Sox trade him to in three years.


yep – hopefully we’ll be able to flip him for a young power bat.

karkovice squad

He’s paying a steep price for that guarantee, probably a much bigger reduction in max earnings than the odds he’d underperform and come out worse just going through arb.


Well yeah, that’s why the Sox were willing to offer it. Who knows what he’s going through – maybe his family desperately needs money now. As it was, he had no money for 3 years and no leverage for 6 years. Now he has what by any standards is a lot of money, and chance to make a lot more at a relatively young age.

karkovice squad

Also bigger than what the Astros offered Springer.


Can’t imagine a team being able to afford Manny Machado plus $10 million per year for its one above average player. Great call by Kenny to set the Sox up for the future. Just 2 or 3 more years until we can flip Eloy and his great contract for some prospects.


I’m not sure what to make of this, barely a week after optioning him to AAA. Was this not in the works until after that happened? Was optioning him a negotiation ploy on the part of the Sox?

karkovice squad

Yes to the last.


I would hope that in the next few days Hahn will say that Eloy has figured things out since being sent down and will be brought back up in time for Opening Day.

lil jimmy

They didn’t send him to Charlotte, just the back fields.( Which look just like the front fields, but they are in the back)