For most of this season, Reds fans have touted the team's depth as a major strength... the fact that you can only keep 25 men on the active roster has led to arguments unlike any in recent memory: arguments where it's tough to decide -- objectively -- who really belongs on said roster, and it's because both players under consideration are MLB-ready.
Contrast that to the not-so-distant past when we'd have those debates because both players under consideration belong in the minors, but SOMEbody has to take at-bats and eat innings on the big league club.
It is, as the cliche goes, a Nice Problem To Have.
And skimming through ESPN's site today, I started to think it'll be an even NICER problem once we get to September 1 and can expand the big league roster to include anybody on the 40-man. Specifically, I started looking at our 40-man versus St. Louis' 40-man...
Even though you still have to keep a 25-man roster (the 25 men on it on 9/1 are the 25 men you have to play in the post-season, barring injuries), the extra men from the 40-man WILL influence the outcomes of the final 30-or-so games to some extent. They may play an even greater-than-normal role deciding the NL Central, as the Reds have only 3 off days after September 1, while the Cardinals will only have ONE single off day all month (due to a need to make up the PPD Marlins game).
It's stretches like that where having a handful of extra arms and bats around will come in handy, and when you take a look at players currently on the 40-man but not on the active rosters of each team, I'm kind of excited by how much it looks like the Reds stand to benefit far more than the Cards once rosters expand.
Here are the "extra players" who'll become eligible after September 1 for each team...
REDS 40-MAN PLAYERS NOT ON ACTIVE ROSTER
SS Orlando Cabrerra (15 day DL, returning soon)
1B Yonder Alonso
3B/OF Juan Francisco
IF Chris Valaika
SP Travis Wood
P Aroldis Chapman
SP Aaron Harang (15 day DL, returning soon)
SP Matt Maloney
SP Sam LeCure
RP Jared Burton
P Micah Owings
RP Danny Herrera
RP Russ Springer (15 day DL, return uncertain)
RP Enerio del Rosario
RP Phillippe Valiquette
CARDINALS 40-MAN PLAYERS NOT ON ACTIVE ROSTER
IF David Freese (60 day DL, out for season)
C Jason LaRue (15 day DL, returning soon)
IF Tyler Greene (15 day, returning soon)
1B Mark Hamilton
C Bryan Anderson
OF Joe Mather
OF Shane Robinson
OF Daryl Jones
C Matt Pagnazzi
SP Brad Penny (60 day DL, return unlikely)
SP Jeff Suppan (15 day DL, returning eventually)
RP Jason Motte (15 day DL, returning eventually)
P Adam Ottavino (15 day DL, return uncertain)
P PJ Walters
RP Josh Kinney
P Evan MacLane
P Francisco Samuel
Just considering the DL players, the Reds get back an everyday starting SS and a member of their starting rotation when Cabrera and Harang are re-added to the roster... while the Cards get back a talented high leverage bullpen arm (Motte), two limited-duty bench players (LaRue/Greene), and a hot mess who has no place in the rotation and probably not even in the pen (Suppan). Freese is definitely out for the year, and even if Penny beats the odds and comes back for a few starts, there's no guarantee that he'd be as strong as he was in April or be any sort of upgrade over the recently-returned Kyle Lohse.
DL Advantage: Reds, slightly.
And then digging deeper into the current minor leaguers who may come up to the bigs, the Reds just dominate the Cards. Wood is a deserving member of our starting rotation and will be back BEFORE 9/1 (at his point, Bailey goes back down probably, and comes back when rosters expand as a valuable spot starter/swingman), while Chapman will be a high impact arm out of the pen (and an easy upgrade over Bray in terms of LHRP). Alonso and Francisco may not see many starts but are both huge upgrades to the bench in terms of PH power from both sides of the plate; Valaika will be a very nice guy to have in terms of IF depth. All five of those guys figure to contribute to the Reds during September. Burton and Owings may join them, giving us guys to pitch in blow-outs so we can rest the main guys. Maybe Danny Ray, MAYBE. If Springer can't return and be effective, he may be gone with his roster spot going to Isringhausen (not currently on the 40-man), but I honestly see those guys as an "either-or" proposition, not a deal where we'd carry both.
Thus, I believe its possible the Reds will run with a 32-man roster for much of September, with 5 of the 7 add-ons playing reasonably valuable roles, especially in terms of managing our pitching (where two of our SP will be having their innings monitored, and we're lucky enough to have VERY capable guys stepping in to back them up). [Note: If we decide to juggle things to put Corky Miller on the 40-man to carry a 3rd catcher, then amend those numbers to 33-man roster, and 5 of the 8 contributing in a tangible way.]
Looking at the Cards 40-man, no one of their extra players stands out as a substantial September contributor... Mather is a no-brainer to be added back to the roster as a utility player due to his versatility, and sort of fills the spot that Valaika will for us after call-ups; of the position players, it looked like only Hamilton and Anderson would even warrant consideration for bench spots/PH duty, but won't contribute much (if at all) since one is a 1B on a team with Pujuls and the other would be the 4th catcher. Walters and MacLane are sure to be added to the pen, but figure to be the Cards version of Burton/Owings (and not their version of Bailey/Chapman). Kinney's a "maybe" to be added, at best, sort of their version of Herrera. And that's about it.
Thus, the Cards look to be expanding to a 30-man roster, with add-on players who will augment the current active roster in a merely marginal way. The best thing you can say about the Cards' organization depth and their projected expanded roster is that it'll supply them with a few extra warm bodies to keep an already-middlin' bullpen from completely imploding when they're playing 33 games in 34 days to close out the year.
Overall 40-man Advantage: Reds, substantially.
Of course, this vaunted "depth" provides no help once we get into October -- and, in fact, I gave myself a headache looking at all the names and trying to figure out exactly what I'd do about locking in the 25-man post-season roster -- but if in the battle against St. Louis, our depth may be the thing that gives us the edge and gets us to October instead of them.
And wouldn't that be a nice problem to have?