Sunday, March 28, 2010

Durham Bulls Basics — 4 — The 40-Man Roster

And now, sigh, we need to spend some time with the Tampa Bay Rays.

Every major league team consists of 25 players on the “active roster”, 15 more players to make up the “40-man roster”, and players on the disabled list. The Rays current 40-man is here. In general, once a player makes it to the 25-man active roster he stays there (unless traded or sold). For players who have been around for a while, there are all sorts of byzantine rules (some of them laid out here) regarding how this works.

What matters to Bulls fans, however, are those 15 ballplayers who are on the Rays 40-man but not on the active roster. Members of that 15 man group will make up the heart of the Durham Bulls.

If previous years are typical, we can expect that 12 or 13 of the players on the 40-man will be assigned to Durham and they will probably be split about 75/25 pitchers/position players. Of the pitchers, one or two will be prospective starting pitchers, the other potential relievers.

Why are they in Durham? Lots of reasons. And that’s one of the pleasures of watching AAA ball. Why is this guy here? When will he be called up? Will he be called up?

The odds of being called up are pretty good. There are enough injuries and trades in a given year that most if not all of the players on the 40-man will at least get a few days with the Rays. Some may even go there and stay.

What about the Bulls who aren’t on the 40-man? Well, here’s the problem. Unless Tampa Bay takes someone off the 40-man, they can’t be called up. Adjustment to the 40-man can, and does, happen, but not very often.

So, the 40-man roster has a lot to do with who plays on the Durham Bulls. It also has an effect on how they play. For example, pitchers will be on defined pitch counts and, in some instances, working on specific pitches that the Rays have decided the pitcher needs to develop. We will see infielders playing the outfield (and vice versa). Relievers will be tested to see if they can do two days in a row, or “tried out” as a closer. Some may be under orders to become a switch hitter.

My point is that sometimes what we see on the field is decided in St. Petersburg, not Durham. The Rays really aren’t particularly interested in the Bulls won-loss record. So we will inevitably see oddities such as a player being called “up”, sit on the Rays’ bench for a couple of weeks, then come back to Durham with his timing shot and struggling at bat.

No avoiding the fact that the Durham Bulls live and die at the whim of the Tampa Bay front office. What’s fortunate for Bulls fans is that the Rays have invested a ton of effort into building a steady stream of talent to feed into the big team. More than that, very few just “pass through” AAA-level ball. This is a real testing ground for pitchers and hitters. So we may get to see a lot of them.

All of which is not going to keep me from complaining about the Rays. Hey, it’s baseball!

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