The Mets have 39 players on their expanded active roster. That’s tied with the Dodgers for the most in baseball. That’s also literally every player on their 40-man that isn’t recovering from some surgery or another. That’s a lot of players, and the dugout and bullpen are crowded with guys looking to get some kind of playing time down the stretch.
Expanded rosters are thought of fondly in a sense, depending on the situation in which your team finds itself in September. If your team is out of it, it means that you get to see the kids come up and take their first sips of that cup of coffee they’ve been working so hard to get. It’s a taste of the future in a lost season made more bearable by what could be. If your team is in the thick of the playoff race, it means vital reinforcements for a broken, beaten down roster that’s been duking it out for five months.
It also means a lot of players and a lot of in-game substitutions. Does a game where the teams combined to field almost 50 players sound like a lot of fun? That’s what happened during the Mets-Phillies 11-inning game this past Thursday. Sure, the Mets won in exciting fashion, but they did so by using a franchise record 27 players (including 10 pitchers).
The lengthening of games can be an annoyance, and having to watch 19 different pitchers belabors that point, but it’s not the worst that can come from having so many players available to an MLB manager. The Mets’ Terry Collins demonstrates great examples of overthinking your strategy in a game where you had players to burn.
He’s managing like every game counts, which is exactly what you generally want your manager to be doing in the situation in which the Mets find themselves. When asked about the possibility that he wouldn’t be able to line his best pitchers up for the Wild Card game, he made it a point to note that they have to qualify for that game in the first place. That’s encouraging to hear, especially considering how often we see managers making decisions based on tomorrow’s game rather than the here and now. It also may have a weirdly synergistic effect on his in-game decision making when combined with his roster having so many players.
Look, we all have our issues with how Collins manages games. Sometimes we may make more out of his decision-making than need be, but there’s no question he’s had his moments where he left us scratching our heads (at best). The combination of expanded rosters and the pressure of the Wild Card race has led to some “interesting” decisions on Collins’ part. It also has seemed to exacerbate things like his obsession with same-handed matchups regardless of the context.
Take the recent Braves series, for example. In what world is replacing Addison Reed, the Mets’ best reliever this season, with Josh Smoker in a tight situation to face Freddie Freeman remotely a good idea? It only makes sense if you can’t break yourself away from the lefty/lefty matchup mindset, and even then if you also just completely ignore track record and actual numbers. The same mindset leads to having Eric Campbell hit for Kelly Johnson and Kevin Plawecki at the plate instead of James Loney. The sheer number of players on the roster seemingly makes it easier for Collins to burn them in nonsensical ways. Without the expansion, Plawecki and Campbell wouldn’t have even been on the roster at all.
We also have to look at some of the upside of expanded rosters, of course, especially as it pertains to the Mets’ bullpen. The Mets are 17th in the league in relief pitcher innings with 492 innings, but they’re seventh in total appearances with 505 games. That’s all on Collins and his bullpen management. They’ve certainly been valuable with 5.7 fWAR, good for fourth in baseball, but the back end of the bullpen is second (Reed) and fifth (Jeurys Familia) in relief appearances. Hansel Robles is seventh in relief innings (76.1). The added reinforcements are a boon to a team that has had to rely on so many pitchers because of injuries.
Just because you have a thousand players available doesn’t mean that they should be used, particularly in the incredibly important games the Mets will be playing for the rest of the season. There are several notable reasons why rosters expanding has been shown to be an issue. Arguments have been made elsewhere as to why the MLB should reduce the number of players allowed. For Mets fans, the most important reason may be to save Collins from himself.