MLB Expected To Expand MiLB Player Limit For Full-Season Clubs
During discussions over the future structure of the minor leagues, Major League Baseball has been consistent in laying out its desire to have no more than four full-season affiliated clubs per MLB organization.
But another aspect of MLB’s plans for the future of the minors appears to have been tweaked. Early in the talks between MLB and MiLB, MLB discussed a roughly 150-player limit for teams’ domestic minor league rosters. Players playing in the Dominican Republic would not be subject to this limit. MLB teams are already limited to two clubs in the Dominican Summer League.
A 150-domestic player limit would ensure each MLB team would be limited to one U.S. complex-based team in the Gulf Coast or Arizona leagues. When you include players on the injured list, restricted list and other non-active players, a 150-player limit would mean MLB teams have no choice other than to field only five domestic minor league teams—four full-season clubs plus one complex team. One size fits all.
Recently, multiple sources have told Baseball America that MLB is expected to put a 180-player limit on domestic US minor league rosters as well as a 190-player offseason limit. The two-team DSL limit is expected to remain in effect.
The increase from a 150-player limit to 180-player limit opens up possibilities for MLB clubs to try different developmental approaches.
Teams will still be restricted to four full-season clubs, but a 180-player limit means a team that wants to run two complex league teams could do so.
Multiple people with knowledge of the discussions have also said minor league team roster limits will likely be loosened. All full-season minor leagues have operated with 25-player active roster limits. In practice, MLB teams have figured out ways around those limitations for years by making paper moves where players are added and dropped from the roster depending on the day and circumstance.
In that way, a team has been able to cycle pitchers on and off the roster to carry a couple of extra arms. Especially early in the season, teams have found it was quite easy to ship pitchers to inactive short-season clubs while promoting others from those short-season teams. The players dropped from the active roster wouldn’t go anywhere, they just weren’t eligible to play until they returned to the full-season club’s roster.
Expanding beyond the current 25-player active roster limits would allow teams to carry a few extra bullpen arms at Triple-A, where many clubs restrict how many pitchers on the 40-man roster can pitch on a given day because of the potential needs of the MLB club. Other teams could opt to run a six-man rotation in low Class A without reducing the number of position players or relievers on the roster.
It could open up the door for additional options, none of which may be fully approved as of yet.
In their press release announcing the new, independent Pioneer League, the Missoula PaddleHeads said league rosters could consist of undrafted players, players who have been released by MLB teams or affiliated players who are under contract with an MLB team and on loan to a Pioneer League club.
The third aspect is not accurate. Multiple sources told Baseball America that no such agreement to allow loans has been reached. But Missoula’s release may end up being just premature. While no agreement on player loans has been approved by MLB, the idea becomes a possibility with a 180-player roster limit.
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If a loan agreement is reached between MLB and professional partner leagues, it could benefit both sides. A partner league team in Chicago would, in many cases, love to have a Cubs or White Sox minor leaguer playing for their team. The same could be said for a Yankees or Mets prospect playing for a team in the New York area. Independent league managers have said over the years they would be quite happy to accept player loans. The fact the loaned player would almost assuredly still be paid by their MLB team makes it even more appealing for the partner league team.
The MLB team could also see a benefit. Say an MLB team has 10 players it would like to continue to develop. It has no spots to give those players significant playing time at an appropriate level of competition. Instead of stashing them at their complex to wait for an injury or sending them to sit on the bench somewhere, the MLB team may find it more useful to send a player to a partner league team where they could play every day.
The experience of 2020 helped make this apparent. Multiple MLB teams allowed their minor leaguers to play in independent leagues because the minor league season was canceled. Feedback from both independent league teams and MLB clubs was positive on this impromptu experiment.
The agreement between the former independent leagues (now partner leagues) and MLB already assures these leagues and teams will be integrated into MLB’s systems for player movement, statistics and data collection.
Such loans are already a part of other sports’ systems, most notably soccer. They also harken back to what happened in the minor leagues decades ago when MLB teams, and even minor league teams, would farm out players to other teams. They also aren’t that far away from the co-op teams that operated in the minor leagues in the 1980s.
There is no guarantee such loans will become a part of the development process again, but it is a possible outgrowth of MLB’s reorganization of the minors.