How increased roster flexibility would help baseball

Editor's note: In the days leading up to Rob Manfred's one-year anniversary as commissioner on Jan. 25, we asked our writers what one change or innovation they would make to improve baseball if the sport started over today.

The change: Expand active rosters to 28 players, with the manager designating 25 eligible players for each game. This is a rule that exists in Japan and should be brought over here.

Currently, major league rules allow teams to bring up a 26th player for doubleheaders, so the 25-man roster limit isn't ironclad. Teams also use many more players during a season now than even a generation ago, in large part because of the incessant bullpen shuffle of relief pitchers -- you know, when a team plays a long extra-inning game and taxes its bullpen so it calls up a new guy the next day, or if too many relievers are used on consecutive days somebody gets sent down even if he's been pitching well. In 2015, teams used an average of 25 pitchers for the season; in 2000, that number was 20; in 1985, it was 16.

The 25-man roster size was first established in 1914 and made permanent in 1920 -- except for the 1986 to 1989 seasons, when teams carried 24 players to cut costs. It's time to acknowledge the game has changed: While pitching staffs once consisted of maybe nine pitchers, now teams carry 12 or even 13, limiting the number of position players.

How it would work: Pretty self-explanatory. Obviously, the inactive players would almost always consist of the most recent starting pitchers. But maybe a manager wants to sit a player for a few days to nurse an injury or sit a reliever for one night if he has pitched three or four games in a row. The Giants might want to keep Madison Bumgarner active as a pinch-hitting option.

Why it would help baseball: More than anything, it would bring more strategy into the game. By carrying so many relievers, the modern game has decreased managerial flexibility on offense. For example, back in the 1970s and even into the 1980s, teams usually carried three catchers, allowing a manager to pinch-hit for his starting catcher with a better bench option, knowing he had two backups in reserve. Now, managers are afraid to hit for their catcher and burn their only backup (let alone, you rarely have the flexibility to use a pinch hitter and then bring in a reserve).

The pinch runner has essentially become extinct, except in the postseason when teams can carry fewer pitchers due to all the off days. Platoons? In 2015, batters had the platoon advantage 54 percent of the time; in 1995 it was 57 percent, and in 1985 it was 60 percent. More relievers and fewer bench players means managers more often get the platoon edge when going to the bullpen -- which, as a side effect, cuts into offense.

The fear might be that teams would simply use the three extra spots to carry more relievers and god knows we don't need more pitching changes. Sure, that might be a popular notion at first, but I think teams would soon realize they would be operating at a disadvantage by carrying 15 pitchers. But here's the thing: If a team wants to do that, that's OK. Managing the roster itself becomes a form of strategy. Carry that third catcher. Give a roster spot to the pinch runner or defensive replacement. Add an extra platoon player. If you want to try a six-man rotation, you can do that. Giving front offices and managers more toys to play with would be a good thing, as would allowing teams to build rosters in different, creative ways.

How realistic is it: My first thought is that small-market teams would be against it. More roster spots would mean more money to spend on payroll, which would help the rich teams. The Rays would have to fill their three extra spots on minimum-salaried players, but the Red Sox or Dodgers could sign higher-priced veterans.

But you know what? I don't think this would hurt small-market teams at all. Look, for starters the Rays could pay James Loney $9 million instead of $9.67 million and not increase their payroll at all. Aside from that, a larger roster should help the small-market teams, at least those that build quality organizational depth.

Think about it: Stars are expensive and they play every day. The Red Sox aren't going to pay David Price all that money to pitch less often. The Tigers aren't going to give Justin Upton more off days just because they have an extra outfielder on the roster. Well, a team like the Rays or A's can't sign those types of players. But an expanded roster could allow them to platoon at a couple of more positions than they can now -- improvement through depth as opposed to finances. Instead of signing that expensive free-agent starting pitcher, maybe they sign an extra reliever to build more bullpen depth and require less work from their starters.

I also like that it benefits smart front offices, those that can kind find those quality 4-A players who might have a limited overall game but can contribute in a more confined role.

If anything, the biggest fight might come from the players themselves. We're talking about 90 additional roster spots from April through August -- that's about $45 million in new salary if all those are minimum-salaried players, a small percentage of the players' overall take but money that is coming out of somebody's pocket.

But, really: Joe Blanton just got $4 million. I think the players will be fine.