Baseball’s new rules allow each major league team to carry 26 players through August. Clubs will spend spring training thinking about how to implement the rule. How should the KC Royals use their new roster spot?
In just a few days, Mike Matheny will manage an American League team in a live game for the first time. Matheny, Need Yost’s successor as manager of the KC Royals, will skipper his new club when it faces Texas Friday afternoon in both teams’ spring training opener.
The game’s outcome will have no real significance on anything but the Cactus League standings, which also have no real significance; for Matheny, however, such games allow him opportunities to evaluate players and become accustomed to the differences between the National League, where he used to manage, and the American League, where he never has.
In some ways, his new job will be easier than his old one with St. Louis. Generally, the designated hitter drastically reduces the need to pinch-hit; specifically, it eliminates the difficult choice between leaving a pitcher in when he’s doing well or pinch-hitting for him with a better hitter to get a shot at a run or two. In the AL, Matheny can save pinch hitters for high leverage, late-game situations.
Matheny will also work on the same new rules wrinkles as the rest of his AL colleagues, including the “26th man.” A new rule effective this season allows clubs to a 26th player to their regular season and postseason rosters (they must carry 28, and no more, throughout September). So Matheny and his staff will be contemplating the “extra spot” throughout spring camp.
There is, of course, more to the 26th man decision than simply identifying who that man will be–clubs must determine what kind of player the want for the job. Because another new rule limits pitching staffs to 13, 13 other spots–including the 26th man–have to be filled. Eight spots go to starting position players, one or two will be extra infielders, and another one or two (at least) will be extra outfielders.
For his 26th man will Matheny want another outfielder? A versatile utility-type player? A third catcher? A pinch-running specialist? “What” and then “who” are the questions Matheny must answer before the KC Royals open the season in Chicago on March 26.