Are you a Jacoby Ellsbury owner? I am, and I’m just a few points out of first place in my highly completive local keeper league and tied with my main opponent in stolen bases. But, I have been unable to activate Lorenzo Cain and his 2-plus stolen bases this week because the Red Sox haven’t placed Ellsbury on the disabled list.
Now of course, no one wants to hear me rant about my woes and the common refrain “no one cares about your fantasy but you” certainly applies, but this is an opportunity to address an old issue in keeper and non-keeper leagues alike that occurs every single September.
From a real baseball perspective, it’s a strategy. Obviously, rosters have expanded and the key personnel most likely to replace an injured player have already been brought up. Therefore, there is no reason to place a player on the disabled list unless there is a critical need. In the case of Ellsbury, who is expected to return at some yet to be determined time this year, we may be seeing a situation where the Sox do not want to risk putting him on the DL and potentially missing out on having him in the lineup should he be able to return in less than the minimum disabled list stay.
Back to the world of fantasy baseball, the common rule is unless a player is officially on the disabled list, you cannot disable them. Some may say “so what, it forces a tough decision. If you are competing for first and need stolen bases, go for it and release Ellsbury (since in most leagues it's past the trade deadline) and activate Cain or risk losing.”
On the flip side, one might say “If real MLB teams are strategizing and taking advantage of rules (the September roster expansion in this case), why shouldn’t I be afforded the same opportunity?” So while this does not help me this year in a keeper league that uses a minor league taxi squad and disabled list as my only non-active roster options, what options are available to consider for future seasons as rule changes?
Convert to a reserve roster
On the positive side, a simple reserve roster simplifies a league. If done without having a separate disabled list or minor league roster, and a simple maximum of slots (4, 6, 8, etc), then owners would have the luxury to address active roster issues like with Ellsbury above, but they may have to make tough decisions regarding other injured players and potential minor league keepers depending upon the number of slots available. Though simple, this solution has its downsides. If a team is beset by injuries and the roster size is too small, they end up having to sacrifice their keepers/trade bait and may not be able to get back on track. On the other hand, if the reserve roster size allowed is too large, then it can have potential problems, including reducing the size of the available free agent pool or creating a league of stockpilers where trades and owner interaction become less necessary.
Use a Hybrid Reserve Roster/Disabled List
This is what Tout Wars does. A 4-man reserve roster which can consist of any player whether they are in the minors or majors and an unlimited disabled list. For redraft leagues, this might be the ideal configuration. It does not penalize teams that have to deal with injuries, but provides a very limited mechanism whereby teams can speculate on a few minor leaguers during the reserve round on draft day and/or stash backups for the higher risk players on their roster, particularly in AL and NL-only leagues. The small reserve roster does indeed force an owner to make tough decisions at key points over the course of the season. For keeper leagues, this could work too, but would be on the small side of things and could penalize rebuilding teams by giving them less of an advantage/less of a reason to dump for the following season. Some leagues might prefer that type of arrangement, but it would not favor those leagues that enjoy aggressive rebuilding and “going for it” efforts via trades.
Special September Rule
This may make the most sense to me, especially as someone who does not favor reserve rosters in keeper leagues but rather a limited minor league roster and an unlimited disabled roster. I generally prefer that if a player is on an active MLB roster, they should either be a free agent, on waivers or on someone’s team and not stashed away (transaction/activation grace periods aside).
MLB baseball allows rosters to expand, so why shouldn’t fantasy leagues? If you want to be strict, let teams utilize a single reserve roster spot only available to them from September 1 on for any MLB player not formally placed on the disabled list.
If you want to get really strict, have the owner provide or show his common knowledge that a player would be on the disabled list if not for the 40-man roster expansion. This, however, since it is not tied to any official baseball act, could potentially get tricky and become a divisive issue and potentially destroy a league depending on the circumstances. It may be best just to keep it simple and unofficial, allowing any active roster player to be reserved.
Finally, one item to keep teams from possibly abusing this is that if an owner does indeed utilize the September reserve spot, then immediately after the season (before allowing trades again and after removing all players whose long-term contracts have expired), the owner should have to release a player back into the free agent pool from either their active roster or that reserve spot, making one player ineligible to be kept.
These are just some suggestions for dealing with the inevitable September injured but not disabled player limbo. I’d be happy to hear about the way your leagues handle these issues and how the configuration of reserve, disabled and minor league rosters have evolved over the years.