Clint Hurdle has an interesting idea.
He would like to tweak Major League Baseball's roster rules in September so that a team can carry as many as 40 players but only 25 can be active on a given day.
Currently, league rules allow up to 40 players to be active every day from Sept. 1 until the end of the season. Teams never use 40 players in a game, since a handful are starting pitchers.
Hurdle finds it odd that baseball is the only professional sport that changes its roster size so dramatically in the midst of a season.
"The conversation is intriguing because it can get a little absurd late in the season," Hurdle said.
His point: Expanded rosters make teams play differently in September than they did in June. A surplus of pinch-hitters, pinch-runners, relievers and defensive replacements can make the game almost silly at times.
"You can't get out-managed," he said with a laugh.
He broached the subject in the offseason with Joe Torre, MLB executive vice president of baseball operations.
"It hasn't gained any traction that I'm aware of, but there are a lot of things that happen in this game that I'm not made aware of till they happen," he said. "There was a lot of conversation in the spring, and that's basically when all my communication took place."
He also discussed the idea with several managers, a few who had considered the idea before and a few who were intrigued by Hurdle's thoughts.
Hurdle said he is not sure how the logistics of shaping the roster would play out i.e., whether starting pitchers would be considered part of that 25-man group. But he thinks it is worth exploring.
"I know there'd be a challenge to it. It's not like football where they'd set a roster once a week," Hurdle said. "They'd set one every night."
Winning is winning at any level
It's not just the Pirates who find themselves in a race for the postseason.
Three of the Pirates' six American minor league teams were either in the hunt for, have qualified for or have competed in their respective postseasons.
"In a perfect world, you've got every team playing meaningful games at this point in the season," assistant general manager Kyle Stark said. "We talk about finishing and, for the most part, every one of our clubs has."
The Class AAA Indianapolis Indians head to the playoffs with the best record in the International League, despite losing several top players during the year to the major league club.
Manager Dean Treanor said consistent pitching has been key.
"With our offense leaving a lot of runners on base, pitching has had to pick us up," Treanor said. "And it has."
Class A West Virginia finished at the bottom of its division after the first half of its season, 23 games out of first place. After the All-Star break, it was in competition to earn a playoff spot as a second-half division winner.
The Gulf Coast League Pirates, a rookie league team, won its league championship for the first time last week. That team finished 36-24 in the regular season and carried a handful of prospects, including 2012 draft picks catcher Wyatt Mathisen (second round), pitcher Jonathan Sandfort (third round) and infielder Eric Wood (sixth round) and also featured pitcher-turned-position player Stetson Allie.
Class AA Altoona, Class A Bradenton and short-season Class A State College finished their seasons with losing records.
A Bell that won't ring again this season
The Pirates are not considering sending top outfield prospect Josh Bell to the Arizona Fall League even though the former second-round pick has not played since April, general manager Neal Huntington said.
Bell, who signed out of high school for $5 million last season, sustained a torn meniscus in his left knee and has been on the disabled list since having surgery in late April.
"Unfortunately he is on the later side of the normal rehabilitation time line," Huntington said in an email.
Prior to the injury, Bell was hitting .274 with a .288 on-base percentage and a .403 slugging percentage for West Virginia. He had five doubles, one home run and one stolen base in 15 games.
During his rehabilitation, Bell experienced fluid buildup in his surgically repaired knee, which kept him from resuming full baseball activities. But he has been able to run and hit. Originally, the team expected him to return before the end of the season.
"It is our expectation that Josh will be ready for minor league spring training," Huntington said.
Looking ahead: Astros and Cubs
The Pirates should be favored to win every game this week as they welcome two of the National League's worst teams to PNC Park.
The Pirates will play the Houston Astros in a three-game series beginning Monday. The Astros entered the weekend with 40 wins -- no other major league team had fewer than 53. After two consecutive losing seasons, during which Houston traded away a lot of major league talent for prospects, the major league team looks more like a Class AAA squad.
The Chicago Cubs, whom the Pirates will play starting Friday, unloaded a lot of talent earlier this season as well. The two teams will play a three-game series.
FYI: The Astros are the only team in the majors to have already been eliminated from their division race. The Cubs aren't far behind.
First Published September 2, 2012 4:15 AM