For the second straight year, the Pittsburgh Pirates find themselves in good position to make the playoffs heading into September, which means we need clarification on how playoff rosters are determined. Today was the final day to shape those rosters, whether that’s by adding outside help, or just adding players to a roster to make them eligible. To get a better understanding of how playoff rosters work, let’s review all of the rules, restrictions, and exemptions for the rosters.
Who is Eligible For the Playoff Rosters?
The players who can be added to the playoff rosters had to be on one of the following rosters by 11:59 PM EST on August 31st.
- MLB 40-Man Roster
- Major League Disabled List (7-day, 15-day, 60-day)
- Bereavement List
- Suspended List
In previous years, players had to be on the active roster to be eligible. This year, the rule has changed so that players are eligible for the playoff roster if they’re on the 40-man roster by August 31st. This is how the Pirates have been able to option Gerrit Cole, Jeff Locke, and Gregory Polanco to the minors in the last week, while still maintaining that they’ll be eligible for the post-season.
In previous years a team had to add a player to the active roster by midnight to be eligible. Now a team had to add a player to the 40-man roster by midnight for him to be eligible. The Pirates didn’t make any additions to the 40-man roster today. Thus, everyone on this list can be added to the playoff roster.
Adding Outside Help
Teams can make waiver trades all season-long, even in September. However, in order for a new addition to be eligible for the playoffs, he must be acquired by the organization by August 31st. If a team adds a player in September, that player can help the team down the stretch, and possibly in future years, but wouldn’t be eligible for the post-season. The Pirates added John Axford in August, so he would be eligible for the post-season. Any player they might add in September wouldn’t be eligible for the post-season.
Disabled List Exceptions
Any player who is eligible for the playoff roster, and who is on the 60-day disabled list or the 15-day disabled list when the playoffs begin, can be replaced with anyone who was in the organization on August 31st. The players must be on the disabled list for at least 60 or 15 days, respectively.
Currently the Pirates have no players who would be eligible for the 60-day disabled list. They have Charlie Morton on the 15-day DL, and if he remains on the DL the rest of the season, they could use his spot as a “flex” spot. The Pirates could get an additional flex spot if someone goes on the 15-day DL in September and is out for 15 days by the time the playoffs begin.
It’s possible to call up a minor leaguer and place him on the DL, creating a spot. As an example of what the Pirates could do, Alen Hanson (currently out with a hamstring injury, and also on the 40-man roster) could be called up and placed on the DL. The downside is he would accumulate service time while he is on the DL. The upside is that the Pirates would have an additional flex spot.
These “flex” spots can be used for anyone in the organization, including minor league players who aren’t on the 40-man roster. That includes a speedy player in the lower levels who would only be used as a pinch runner, a lefty specialist, or a fireball starter who you’d want to use in relief. Those players would have to be added to the 40-man roster to be called up.
Injuries During the Playoffs
If a player is injured during a playoff series, he can be replaced with permission from the commissioner’s office. However, that player would be ineligible for the remainder of that playoff series, as well as the following series. So if a player goes down in game one of the NLDS, the Pirates could replace him, but he wouldn’t be eligible to return until the World Series, missing the NLCS.
If a player is injured before the series starts, he can be replaced on the roster for that series, and would be eligible to return the following series.
Rosters Can be Set For Each Round, Even the Wild Card Game
Each round of the playoffs brings a new roster. That includes the Wild Card game, which is its own round. This means teams can get very creative with their rosters, including the Wild Card round. We saw this last year when the Pirates had 16 position players and 7 relievers in the Wild Card round.
Teams could also get creative in the division series or any other series. If their opponent has a lefty-heavy lineup, they might want to add more left-handed pitchers. A division series would only have a maximum of five games, which means you might be able to get by with 3-4 starting pitchers (depending on whether you’ve used a starter in the Wild Card round).
Links and Notes
Tim started Pirates Prospects in 2009 from his home in Virginia, which was 40 minutes from where Pedro Alvarez made his pro debut in Lynchburg. That year, the Lynchburg Hillcats won the Carolina League championship, and Pirates Prospects was born from Tim's reporting along the way. The site has grown over the years to include many more writers, and Tim has gone on to become a credentialed MLB reporter, producing Pirates Prospects each year, and will publish his 11th Prospect Guide this offseason. He has also served as the Pittsburgh Pirates correspondent for Baseball America since 2019. Behind the scenes, Tim is an avid music lover, and most of the money he gets paid to run this site goes to vinyl records.