MLB Playoff Roster: 9 Important Points You Should Know

Pirates outfield
The Pirates’ outfielders are ready for the playoffs, but which players will be there for it? (Photo Credit: David Hague)

For the first time in a generation, Pirates fans will be paying close attention to the process of making a playoff roster. The expansion of rosters on Sept. 1 will be an interesting day to watch and see who joins the Bucs, but it’s the day before that is critical to figure out who is most likely to appear in the postseason.

As such, we hope to answer some of the most pertinent questions you have about how the Pirates will put together what would be their first playoff roster in more than 20 years.

1. On August 31, each team will send a list of names to Major League Baseball for postseason purposes.

The names will players on the following lists:

  • MLB Active Roster (a.k.a. the 25-man roster)
  • Major League Disabled List (7-day, 15-day, 60-day)
  • Bereavement List
  • Suspended List

Any player on one of these lists is automatically eligible to be on a postseason roster, unless a player on the 60-day DL has been inactive for fewer than 60 days, or similarly with the 15-day DL. The Pirates do not currently have, and are not expected to have, any players on the bereavement list or suspended list.

2. The waiver trade deadline is Aug. 31. That’s the last day to add an outside player for postseason eligibility.

Marlon Byrd Pittsburgh Pirates
Marlon Byrd was acquired before the Aug. 31 waiver trade deadline to help the Pirates in the postseason. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

If you want postseason help from the outside, you had better act fast. Teams can still acquire players after Aug. 31, but it would only be for September and future seasons.

3. If a disabled list player is not able to play in a postseason round, his spot becomes a “flex spot.”

The Pirates have three almost certain flex spots from their 60-day disabled list: Phil Irwin, Jeff Karstens, Michael McKenry. Their names will appear on the list the team sends to MLB, and they are useful because they can be replaced on a postseason roster by players whose names are not on the list. More on that in a moment.

Besides them, other flex spots may come from James McDonald or Wandy Rodriguez, if neither one returns to pitch in September, or from any player that gets hurt in September and is out for the season.

4. You can’t put a minor league player on the 60-day DL to create a flex spot.

This is a correction from our earlier understanding of the rule. Because Pirates pitcher Kyle McPherson was taken from the minor league disabled list to the Pirates’ 60-day disabled list to open up a 40-man roster spot for Marlon Byrd, he does not create a flex spot. McPherson’s period of inactivity on that DL will be fewer than 60 days, so he cannot be on a playoff roster nor be replaced on it.

However, sometimes teams will take minor leaguers from their 40-man roster, recall them and place them on the 15-day disabled list to create a flex spot. Whatever works. That method will likely be unnecessary for the Pirates, who will have at least three spots because of (unfortunate) injuries.

5. Any player in the organization on Aug. 31 (before 11:59 p.m. ET) is eligible to be added for a playoff roster.

Jeff Locke Pirates
Is Jeff Locke still eligible for the postseason after being optioned to Double-A? Absolutely. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

This is where the flex spots come in handy. As long as a player is not on the Disqualified List, Ineligible List, or Restricted List, he can join a postseason roster.

And yes, we do mean anyone in the organization. If you have a speedy shortstop in Single-A, use him as a pinch-runner and infield depth. If you have a left-handed pitching specialist in Double-A, bring him in to strike out Andre Ethier. The possibilities are almost limitless (**cough** Jameson Taillon **cough**).

Here’s the rub: A player cannot join a postseason roster until he joins the 40-man roster. That means a team would have to open up a 40-man spot for the speedy young shortstop. So moves like that are rare. If you’re not on a team’s 40-man roster on Aug. 31, you probably will not show up in October.

6. If a player on an Aug. 31 active roster does not make a playoff roster, he has to be optioned, designated for assignment or placed on a disabled list.

Vin Mazzaro Pirates
If Vin Mazzaro does not make a playoff roster, he would have to be DFA or placed on the DL. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

A team operates with 25 players for each postseason round. But just as in the regular season, a player on a 25-man active roster must go through the proper channels to be taken off in favor of another player.

For Bryan Morris and other guys who are either in an option year or have available options, this is easy: you can option them to open up a spot. But if the Pirates do not have room for a no-option player like John Buck, Travis Snider, Vin Mazzaro and Felix Pie, he would have to be either placed on the disabled list or designated for assignment.

7. If a player on the Aug. 31 roster gets injured before a playoff series, he can be replaced for that series.

This is pretty self-explanatory and similar to the flex spots. If a starting pitcher gets hurt in the last series of the regular season, he can be replaced within the organization for the ALDS/NLDS but is eligible to return for the ALCS/NLCS or World Series.

8. If a player on a postseason roster gets injured during a playoff series and is replaced, he is also ineligible for the next round.

Let’s say Gaby Sanchez injures himself during the National League Division Series (sorry, Gaby) and he can’t play for a few games. Okay, the Pirates replace him with on the roster with another infielder for the rest of that series. Sanchez would be ineligible for the NL Championship Series but could return for the World Series.

9. Each round has a separate 25-man roster, including the Wild Card Round. Crafty teams, take note.

Chase d'Arnaud Pittsburgh Pirates
The speed and defensive abilities of Chase d’Arnaud could make him useful in a one-game playoff.

The flex spots are out there to help the smart team that makes the Coin Flip Game to reach the division series.

“We’ve got three very flexible spots,” Pirates general manager Neal Huntington said. “You could go load up with a right-handed batter or two [if you are facing a left-handed pitcher].”

So do it! All four teams in the Wild Card Game should use their flex spots to full advantage. Leave any pitcher off the roster who is either too tired to pitch in the game or deep down the bullpen (if he can be optioned and easily brought back). Use those two or three spots for a situational hitter or pinch runner or late-game defensive specialist. It’s one game only, so build your Team of 25 accordingly.

For the Pirates, this may mean adding Tony Sanchez’s lefty-crushing bat, Darren Ford’s speed or Chase d’Arnaud’s position flexibility. Pick the players that can help you off the bench in the later innings by scoring a winning run or taking a run away in the field. Don’t let unusable relief pitchers collect cobwebs in the bullpen while your season floats away.

Thanks to Pirates GM Neal Huntington and Director of Baseball Operations Kevan Graves for their time answering questions to help this piece. Have any more questions about the waiver trade deadline or postseason roster rules? Ask in the comments below and we will do our best to answer.

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I totally forgot about point #6 there. That makes things a lot less interesting. The Pirates could (and probably would) DFA some people in this instance but if we take yesterday’s prognosis of Wandy at face value and assuming the rehabbing Grilli, Snider and McDonald rejoin the team that is 17 out of options players who would have to make the team. Add in the 7 players with options I can’t see them going without (Cutch, Walker, Alvarez, Mercer, Wilson and Watson) (unless Wilson or Watson had been heavily worked in the days before of course) and that leaves 1 roster spot open.

Of course in the 17 man group there are probably a few DFA candidates and its no sure thing Rodriguez, McDonald and Snider all make it back so there is some more flexibility but it definitely limits how crazy the Pirates could get.

My original thought for a possible wild card round roster didn’t have 4 of the 17 out of option players on it so I’ll have to rethink it some. Two of them I have no qualms about just DFA’ing and another one was Wandy who if healthy of course won’t be DFA’d but the if healthy part is certainly in question. So really that leaves me with just one player to consider.

Dennis Thomas

why not just leave Wandy on the DL until after the wildcard round and use his spot for a flex player? You could activate him for the NLDS if he is healthy.

Dennis Thomas

Thanks for writing this piece James. Looks good.


oops 7th player with options who will obviously be on the roster is Marte.


James, thanks a ton for writing this. I was 4 the last time the Pirates were in the playoffs so I’ve been completely confused about the significance of the 8/31 deadline until reading this.


I meant Latos and the Reds.


Lets say they face altos and the reds in the WC round. My roster would be Marte-Walker-Cutch-Bryd-Alvarez-Martin-Jones-Mercer-Liriano (9) Bullpen-The shark,grilli,Wilson,Watson,Morris,Mazzaro,Gomez (7). Bench-Gaby S., Tabata, Harrison,buck, and sadly Barmes (5). Then Burnett and probably Morten (not sure of his remaining options situation). That only leaves two spots for Pie, Lambo,tony Sanchez, Snider,Presley or Pitchers like welker,Reid, or Kris Johnson. They could waive Barmes or maybe Buck but they are likely too conservative to do it. So long shots like chase, taillon, sands, canzler, et al don’t seem to have much of a prayer.


James, I think fact six you mentions limits how crazy you can get with your roster in the wild card rd. The only guys I can think of you might want to option out for a single game are cole,Locke, and possibly Morris,Wilson,or Watson depending on if one of those three is coming off two games in a row or multiple innings. If it is one of the pen trio the replacement has to be an arm like Reid or welker. That basically leaves only two spots for a one game scenario so maybe tony Sanchez or Lambo and probably another arm.


Was thinking the same thing. And I agree with your roster projection below. Morton is out of options so he has to stay. No way they waive Barmes. So yes… it’s only looking like they have two spots to get “crafty” with…

Lee Young

Thx James! Good stuff!



James this is a fantastic article! Thanks so much. Could you clarify something please. Regarding your comment in part 5: Here’s the rub: A player cannot join a postseason roster until he joins the 40-man roster.

Now hypothetically speaking am I understanding this correctly. Let’s say by some miracle Wandy looks like he can pitch around September 18. Could you simply put him on the 40 man roster on September 18 for the last 11, 12 days of season and then have him available for the playoff roster? Obviously, by moving him on 40 you would have to bump someone else off the 40 man? Is that correct?

Tim Williams

Wandy would be eligible already because he’s on the 60-day DL on August 31st.

You’d have to bump someone from the 40-man when you activate him.


Thanks a lot Tim

Doug Weinbrenner

Excellent article.

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