For the Reds to play a best-of series in the 2013 playoffs, they’ll have to win the 2nd Annual National League Coin Toss game, otherwise known as the Wild Card game. There’s the obvious disadvantage to the non-division winners in this format. However, there is one wrinkle to this playoff game that makes its roster decisions unlike those made in other playoff series.
PLAYOFF ROSTER RULES
The playoff rules allow teams to set their 25-man roster for each round of the playoffs from their playoff roster pool. The Wild Card game is considered its own round. In the other rounds, teams will typically carry 4 starting pitchers. In the Wild Card game, you would not need to carry a full starting rotation. You may not carry as many relievers as you would in other rounds. This change would seem to make it an almost certainty that Billy Hamilton makes the Wild Card postseason roster. SI.com writer Joe Sheehan pointed out last year that it means that teams, which would normally have a few dead roster spots in a postseason series that go to starting pitchers just used or ones scheduled to be used, or perhaps slots for emergency backups in case of injury, could instead craft a bench on which every player has a specific role in winning one do-or-die game.
As I wrote last year, an organization’s postseason player pool is comprised of players who were on the 25-man roster or on the disabled, bereaved, suspended or miltary lists on August 31. For any player in this group who cannot play the post-season because of injury, the club can replace him with any player who was in the organization on August 31. Even players not on the 40-man roster can be added through this process, so long as they are added to the 40-man for the playoffs.
REDS PLAYOFF ROSTER ELIGIBILES
Those rules provide us with the following 31 players in the Reds playoff player pool:
— Starting Pitchers (7): Mat Latos, Homer Bailey, Bronson Arroyo, Mike Leake, Greg Reynolds, Johnny Cueto (DL), Tony Cingrani (DL)
— Relief Pitchers (10): Aroldis Chapman, Sam LeCure, J.J. Hoover, Manny Parra, Alfredo Simon, Logan Ondrusek, Zach Duke, Sean Marshall (DL), Jonathan Broxton (DL), and Nick Masset (DL)
— Starting Position Players (9): Ryan Hanigan, Devin Mesoraco, Joey Votto, Brandon Phillips, Zack Cozart, Todd Frazier, Ryan Ludwick, Sin-Shoo Choo, and Jay Bruce
— Bench Position Players (5): Cesar Izturis, Jack Hannahan, Chris Heisey, Xavier Paul, and Corky Miller (DL)
Of those 31 players, we know that Jonathan Broxton and Nick Masset are still on the disabled list and are not available to play in the playoffs. The Reds could substitute any player, including Billy Hamilton. The substituted player does not have to be a pitcher.
THE SERIES ROUNDS
I’m looking ahead too far here, but I find it easier to design the single game roster by starting with a roster crafted for the later rounds. I think that for the best-of series, that are 22 obvious choices for the playoff roster.
(1) You carry four starting pitchers: Johnny Cueto, Mat Latos, Homer Bailey and Bronson Arroyo. Though an argument can be made for taking Mike Leake over Arroyo, let’s assume that only one of them is in the postseason starting rotatio.
(2) The nine starting position players (counting both catchers) are all on the playoff roster.
(3) The bullpen will clearly have these five relievers Chapman, LeCure, Hoover, Marshall and Parra.
(4) All four bench players from the August 31st 25-man roster are not going to get cut now: Izturis, Hannahan, Heisey, and Paul.
That leaves three open positions, which I would expect the Reds to add two more pitchers and one more position player, giving them a roster 11 pitchers and 14 hitters.
In my mind, Tony Cingrani is an automatic inclusion if he proves this weekend that he is healthy. For the final bullpen spot, you have to choose between Simon, Duke, and Leake. With so many left-handed pitchers already in the bullpen, it will boil down to whether they want to pitch Leake out of the bullpen or go with Simon, who has pitched out of the bullpen all season.
The final position player spot is probably between Billy Hamilton and Derrick Robinson, but really it has to be Hamilton, right? You could make an argument for both of these players making the roster at the expense of a reliever or Jack Hannahan.
THE WILD CARD GAME
All that background brings us to the Wild Card game. Because you don’t need more than one starting pitcher, you can add a lot of additional role players to your roster. Last year, the Atlanta Braves went to battle with 3 starting pitchers, 6 relievers, 3 catchers and 13 other position players.
If the Reds followed a similar path, they could start the game with Mat Latos, Johnny Cueto, and Tony Cingrani as their “starting pitchers”. Any of them could be available for multiple innings, and Cingrani becomes a left-handed option. I know that Cueto is currently scheduled as the probable starter for the Reds Sunday game against Pittsburgh, but I would start Mike Leake on Sunday and save Cueto for Tuesday…maybe even as the Wild Card game starting pitcher over Mat Latos.
After you add Chapman, LeCure, Hoover, Marshall, Parra, and Simon out of the bullpen, you have 16 spots left for position players. That allows you to carry all 13 position players mentioned as “obvious choices” above plus Hamilton AND Robinson. The Reds would still be left with one more spot that they could use to carry an additional pitcher or Corky Miller as the third catcher.