Anthony Castrovince

Extras to become a relic? Players weigh in

Extras to become a relic? Players weigh in

It happened twice last week. The Yankees and Cubs played for 18 innings -- on ESPN's "Sunday Night Baseball," no less. The Giants and Reds followed that up five days later with their own 17-inning affair.

Such a cluster of crazy-long games is fundamentally infrequent. But against the backdrop of an ongoing conversation about working conditions in Major League Baseball -- a conversation that will lead to an increase in the number of off-days weaved into the schedule in 2018 and beyond -- the influx of unexpected innings added ammunition to the argument for a change to the game's longstanding format for extras.

If baseball were to adopt 12-inning ties, as has been suggested by some, or automatic baserunners that influence extra-inning run production, a la the World Baseball Classic and other international competition, such change would very likely have to be spearheaded by a push from players -- or, at the very least, be approved by them.

After all, they are the ones these changes would be aimed at protecting.

So we talked to a bunch of players in the past week to get a sense of where they're at with this one. And if our admittedly small sample of 25 guys -- or the equivalent of an active roster -- from a variety of positions and a variety of teams is any indication, we feel pretty confident in saying that those between the lines don't see the need for major change in regards to extra innings.

Of the 25 players surveyed, 22 were in favor of the status quo, two were open to the idea of freebie baserunners at some point in extras to expedite endings, and just one voted for ties after 12 innings.

Let's run through each of those options.

A. Leave extras alone
"It's rough sometimes when you play games like that," said Rays third baseman Evan Longoria, "but you maybe play one of them a year where it's 13-plus innings."

This is true. In this decade, per the Elias Sports Bureau, the average number of games to last more than 12 innings was just 38 -- though with 12 to date, we are ahead of that pace this year.

"Leave it," Cubs reliever Brian Duensing said. "Leave it how it is."

"Don't change the way the game's been played for over 100 years," Nationals starter Stephen Strasburg said.

Obviously, we got a lot of responses like that.

B. Ties after 12
The only person to vote for this option was Indians reliever Andrew Miller. And he did it out of respect for his bullpen brethren.

"When you have a marathon game like that, who gets sent out the next day [as a team replenishes its roster]?" Miller asked. "It's the reliever, the utility infielder or the fifth outfielder. Every time. It takes you a full week to recover from those games. And if you play 17 and then go play a division opponent the next day and they're coming off an off-day, that's not a fair fight."

Miller made a good point, but other players surveyed were averse not just to the weirdness of the word "tie" as it pertains to big league ball, but also to the complications that having 30-40 ties in a given season would present to the postseason races. Would MLB have to adopt some sort of National Hockey League-style points system to sort through the standings?

"You can't go 87-63-12," Twins catcher Chris Gimenez said. "No. That doesn't fly."

C. Automatic baserunners
This one, which will be experimented with at the Rookie level in the Minor Leagues this summer (with runners placed at second and none out), at least solves the standings dilemma but comes with other consequences.

In the Classic, runners were placed at first and second base from the onset of the 11th inning. The strategic issue associated with this system is that it makes the decidedly unsexy sacrifice bunt (hopefully followed by a sacrifice fly or base hit) the most logical first move on the part of the team at the plate.

But there are other issues, as well, as Indians closer Cody Allen articulated well.

"I feel like it [negates] the strength of teams," Allen said. "Like for us, we have an extremely deep bullpen. So I feel we would be better suited in those long games. Say we go into extra innings and our starter has gone eight innings, and theirs has only gone five. It's 4-4, their bullpen is taxed, done. They've run through their 'pen in like 12 innings and we still have a few guys sitting down there, waiting. If you bring in automatic baserunners, then it's like that advantage is gone. And it's a series, too. So in order for them to win that ballgame, they would have to blow that next day's starter, and it affects them the rest of the series."

The free baserunners, Allen added, also present pure chance that is out of a team's control. Maybe one club just so happens to be in the heart of its order when the baserunners come aboard, but the other has the Nos. 7-9 spots due up.

"It would be frustrating to lose in that fashion," Allen said, "especially in a game down the stretch, playing for October."

Oh, and in case it wasn't already obvious, if messing with extras in the regular season doesn't seem particularly popular, you can guess how players feel about the idea of messing with them in October.

But amid all this negativity toward the idea, there were two players we spoke with -- including Rangers catcher Jonathan Lucroy -- who saw the discussion as worthwhile,

"The runner on second does force the issue," Lucroy said. "If you go 14-15 innings and pull out the baserunner on second base, I think that would work. In the WBC, it does force the action and make you go out and get the job done. It's definitely an issue that needs to be talked about."

This is a topic that has had a lot of people talking lately, and maybe there's a higher percentage of open minds among players than our unscientific poll was able to uncover. But generally speaking, players don't seem to think extras are worth extra attention.

Anthony Castrovince has been a reporter for since 2004. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.