With initial active rosters picked, we’ve seen a few of the same long-term trends perpetuate themselves in terms of roster set-up. Despite the less crowded April schedule that might seem to make carrying seven relievers, let alone eight, unnecessary, 23 of 30 teams went with the now-standard 13-12 split between position players and pitchers.
If you’re one of those people who loved the more aggressive brand of in-game management from the ’70s and ’80s, with managers reaching into deeper, well-stocked benches to pinch-hit for defensive specialists or pinch-run for basepath slugs, you might be ready to rail against the seven-man bullpen. But you can do that for only so long before you have to come to the grudging concession that it’s here to stay like other unpleasantries like interleague games, 10 playoff teams per season or Simon Cowell.
The extent to which conformity to the 13-12 is a fact of life is reflected in who most of the odd ducks were. The old school 14-11 spread -- "old" if you can hardly remember the ’90s -- is being used by just five teams: the Tigers, Angels, Athletics, Pirates and Rockies. If you think this means any one of their managers want to create more opportunities in their lineups or any of their general managers have elected to let them, guess again. All five clubs are just exploiting the lighter schedule and not carrying their preferred fifth starter of the moment. Give them a week or so, and they’ll more than likely be down at 13-12.
That leaves two teams who weren’t at 13-12 or 14-11: The Astros and Red Sox, who have both gone with eight-man bullpens. In April. That’s while the Sox get to play 12 games in the first 16 days of the season, while the Astros play just six in their first nine days. Even allowing for the questions both teams have about their rotations, that’s a lot of guys standing around in the bullpen instead of the dugout, and the body account alone might seem to be a logistical challenge for Bobby Valentine in Boston and Brad Mills in Houston. Pitchers need work to stay sharp, the same as any other kind of ballplayer, and giving guys reliable time on the mound might not wind up being the highest priority for the two skippers.
The Astros have the excuse of carrying a Rule 5 pick, hard-throwing Rhiner Cruz from the Mets’ organization (as well as shortstop Marwin Gonzalez from the Cubs). That’s a straightforward reflection of new GM Jeff Luhnow’s priority: adding talent to an organization short on it, by whatever means necessary.
But the Red Sox situation is obviously a reflection of the injury stack they’ve endured. Closer Andrew Bailey out for months, reliever Bobby Jenks still hurt, and lefties Andrew Miller and Rich Hill are also on the shelf. To some extent, the early weeks might represent a form of live-fire extended spring training, as Valentine gets to sift through what he has left to pick his seven relief keepers once left fielder Carl Crawford is ready to come off the DL.
From among the opening rosters, here are a few situations that should be interesting to follow to see how they work out in terms of playing time.
A’s first base: Daric Barton vs. Kila Ka’aihue vs. Brandon Allen vs. Chris Carter is going to start playing out to some sort of conclusion. Carter’s in Sacramento, DHing and raking, but he’s not an immediate concern. Barton could come back from the DL as soon as Monday. Putting Allen in against Felix Hernandez for his two starts while the Kila Monster drew Jason Vargas in his two seems like no way to make an informed decision about which one of them should alternate with Barton while he proves he can play with his bum shoulder.
Twins infield: Seeing former first-round flop Sean Burroughs resuscitate his career is worth a warm fuzzy, especially if you think Ron Gardenhire should spot the veteran’s lefty bat at the hot corner for Danny Valencia now and again. Now that we’re 1200 at-bats into Valencia’s career, his .655 career OPS vs. right-handers looks like the sort of handicap to a lineup that should consign him to part-time play. But rather than invest too much hope in what Burroughs might do, keep an eye on what Luke Hughes and Trevor Plouffe get to do with undefined utility roles.
The Pirates: Quite simply, they’ve got a bunch of players who could be valuable, here and into the future or now and then on a contender in August. Nobody gets hardware for notching holds, but Evan Meek and Juan Cruz make for a potentially outstanding pair of set-up men for Joel Hanrahan. Utilityman Yamaico Navarro’s a 24-year-old switch-hitter with career minor league .778 OPS; with the athleticism that kept him in the middle infield most of the time, he might be just an injury (or a Pedro Alvarez slump) away from catching a break.
Cub platoons: New managers are always interesting to follow, to see what they do with what they’ve got. Dale Sveum’s decision to platoon David DeJesus and Reed Johnson in the leadoff slot from right field is interesting, but his decision to give journeyman Joe Mather a shot at platooning with Ian Stewart at third might prove inspired. Add in the potential for a Bryan LaHair-Jeff Baker platoon at first base (at least until Anthony Rizzo is ready), and you’ve got busy box scores if nothing else.
Christina Kahrl covers baseball for ESPN.com. You can follow her on Twitter.