August 31 is sometimes referred to as the “waiver trade deadline,” and, although it’s true that today is a deadline and waiver trades are the only way to make deals right now, the name is something of a misnomer. That’s because tomorrow – or the next day or the next day – trades can still proceed via the waiver system, as we discussed earlier this month.
So what is today’s deadline, then?
Well, it has to do with eligibility for a playoff roster, if a team should be so fortunate as to make the postseason. Today is the deadline by which a player must be in your organization – not necessarily on the 25-man or even 40-man rosters – lest he be ineligible for the postseason entirely. If you’re going to acquire someone externally via trade, and you want them to be able to help you in the playoffs, today’s the cutoff.
Trades can (and very occasionally do) happen in September, but the players involved can help through the end of the regular season, and that’s it.
So what about those playoff rosters, anyway? Being that the Cubs haven’t been in a position to deal with these issues any time in the last half-decade, you might not be aware of how playoff rosters work – and you’ve probably heard some inaccurate things along the way.
First and foremost: if a player is on the 40-man roster as of today, he’s eligible to be selected for the 25-man post-season roster. Full stop. The rule used to be a little more complicated, but we needn’t worry about it. As noted here by Ken Rosenthal, among others, as of last season, MLB changed its post-season eligibility rules to flat-out include anyone on the 40-man roster. On the 40-man but not called up until September 3? No worries. You’re still eligible for a post-season roster.
What about players in the organization but not on the 40-man roster? Well, if you weren’t on the 40-man as of August 31, you’re not eligible for the postseason unless you wind up replacing an injured player (guards against teams being screwed by a rash of injuries in September – imagine if a team lost a few catchers and had to try and win with a third baseman behind the plate in the postseason). Under the new rule system where every player on the 40-man is eligible, this injury replacement stuff is less likely to come up, though, since most of the guys you’d even consider putting on a 25-man playoff roster are probably going to be on your 40-man anyway.
Playoff rosters are set for each postseason series, which means the Cubs – if they win a Wild Card – would have a 25-man roster for the Wild Card Game, and then would get to re-set the roster for the NLDS.
To that end, then, you’re going to see at least one of recently-signed speedsters Quintin Berry or Emilio Bonifacio added to the 40-man roster today so that they’ll be eligible to be speed/versatile defensive weapons both down the stretch and in the playoffs. The 40-man roster is presently full, so we should see some activity on that side of things today, as well. Unless Jorge Soler’s oblique injury is looking bad or Jason Motte’s shoulder isn’t recovering and the Cubs put one of them on the 60-day DL, effectively ending his season, someone’s going to be designated for assignment.
All of that stuff is distinct from the concept of “September Call-Ups,” something with which I’m sure you’re far more familiar. In short, there’s the 25-man roster (big league active roster during the season) and the 40-man roster (active roster plus guys who’ve been optioned to the minors). From the start of the season through August, the 25-man roster is the only roster available to play in big league games.
On September 1, that changes. The available big league roster expands to include anyone on the 40-man roster, which means a team could play with 26 or 27 or 35 players on any given September (and, this year, early October) day. Teams often use this as an opportunity to bring up near-big-league-ready youngsters whose minor league season has ended. The talent pool in September is thus somewhat diluted, especially for teams out of the race.
For teams in the race, though, the month becomes less about development and more about maximizing the bench, bullpen, and on-field production. Again, this is a foreign concept to Cubs fans in recent years, but you’re going to see the Cubs bringing up a handful of guys to buttress the roster and give Joe Maddon more options in-game. In theory, now is when you’ll see his strategic mind shine through even more.
Who will the Cubs bring up? Well, as mentioned, eventually they’ll probably bring up one or both of Bonifacio and Berry. We also know Javier Baez is coming soon. It’s not clear whether guys like Mike Olt or Christian Villanueva or Arismendy Alcantara will get a chance to come up and be on the bench for any part of the month. It seems like the Cubs could use at least one more bat on the bench, just in case, but you also want to make sure those guys are getting appropriate development, as each could still, in theory, have value to the Cubs after this year.
On the pitching side, Rafael Soriano will be back at some point, as likely will Zac Rosscup. The Cubs have been noncommittal on whether Carl Edwards, Jr. could come up and pitch out of the pen down the stretch (he’s already on the 40-man, unlike Pierce Johnson, who will almost certainly not be added). There’s also Tsuyoshi Wada, who’s on a big league deal, and, if healthy, you’ve got to believe will come up at some point. Neil Ramirez is rehabbing in Tennessee (more on that in a moment), so he’s a possibility, too. Yoervis Medina and Dallas Beeler are also on the 40-man, but I’m not sure if we’ll see them.
I suspect lot of guys who don’t come up immediately will finish out the minor league season (September 7), and then head to Arizona to stay ready in case the Cubs need them.