When the Yankees designated Aaron Laffey for assignment, it created a free 40-man roster spot. The Yankees can use this spot in many ways, and may, in fact, eventually re-add Laffey (if he clears waivers and is outrighted to AAA). With the August 31st postseason roster deadline looming though, it could be that the Yankees are saving that for a player currently not on the 40-man roster who they might, just might, like to have on the playoff roster. Jesus Montero and Manny Banuelos immediately come to mind. But the Yankees don’t need to use that 40-man spot on either, even if they fully intend to use one or both in the postseason. In fact, neither has to be on the 25-man roster on August 31st.
That might sound a bit confusing, because it runs counter to the old maxim that playoff roster have to be set by midnight on August 31st. While that is technically true, there are a number of exceptions to the rule. In fact, given the way MLB has created the rules, there are few limitations on what players a team can add to its postseason roster.
The eligible pool
Indeed, the active roster as of midnight on August 31st constitutes the immediately eligible players for a team’s postseason roster. Those include all players on the 25-man, plus any players on the disabled list, bereavement list, suspended list, or any other type of inactive list. Any of those players can be added to the postseason roster prior to any series.
The wild cards
Here’s where the rules open up. If any player in the eligible pool is injured at the start of any series, the team can substitute any player that was in the organization on August 31st. This is not limited, then, to players on the 40-man roster. It’s not even limited to players on the 40-man roster at the time of the substitution.
If the Yankees swung a trade in September and used that player every day from September 1 through the end of the season, it would not matter. He would not be postseason-eligible. But a player on the High-A Tampa roster would be eligible, whether or not he was ever on the 40-man roster prior to the series. (Though the Yankees would obviously have to add him to the 40-man roster before they could substitute him.)
The substitutions can be any player for any player. That is, they do not have to be position player for position player and pitcher for pitcher. That occurs in only one instance, which we’ll get to in just a tick.
Before every postseason series each team can submit a new roster, from its pool of eligible players. Teams can swap players in and out before each series without restriction.
If a player is injured during a postseason series, the team can substitute him immediately. This bears the position player for position player, pitcher for pitcher requirement. The substitution can be anyone that was in the team’s organization on August 31st, regardless of current roster status. The catch is that the injured player becomes inactive not only for the current series, but for the next one as well. In other words: get hurt in the ALCS, miss the World Series.
The Yankees situation
If the clock had just struck midnight on August 31st, rather than August 22nd, here’s how the Yankees’ eligible pool would break down.
Active Roster: Luis Ayala, A.J. Burnett, Bartolo Colon, Phil Hughes, Boone Logan, Hector Noesi, Ivan Nova, Mariano Rivera, David Robertson, CC Sabathia, Rafael Soriano, Cory Wade, Francisco Cervelli, Russell Martin, Robinson Cano, Eric Chavez, Derek Jeter, Eduardo Nunez, Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, Brett Gardner, Curtis Granderson, Andruw Jones, Nick Swisher, Jorge Posada
Disabled list: Joba Chamberlain, Pedro Feliciano, Freddy Garcia, Jeff Marquez, Damaso Marte, Sergio Mitre, Reegie Corona, Ramiro Pena, Colin Curtis
That gives the Yankees a pool of 34 players from which they can choose. But it really opens eligibility to the entire organization. We know that Chamberlain, Curtis, and Corona will not return. Therefore, the Yankees have at least three substitution spots. They could, therefore, add both Banuelos and Montero to the postseason roster before any series, regardless of whether they’re on the active roster, or even 40-man roster, on August 31st. There is a chance that every player on this list, save for Marquez and Garcia, ends the season on the DL. That will give the Yankees carte blanche to create their postseason roster.
Chances are, of course, that the Yankees won’t take advantage of their ability to substitute. Maybe they bring up a burner, as they did in 2009 with Freddy Guzman. There’s a chance, though an outside one, that they take Montero as an extra bat off the bench (and those chances could increase should they make the World Series). But right now they’re quite set in terms of position players. They’ll also likely reduce to an 11-man pitching staff, and so will be set there, too. If something goes awry between now and the end of September, though, the Yankees have their options. Who knew that having a crowded disabled list could come in handy at crucial moments?