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The opening day roster doesn’t matter as much as you think

It’s a long season.

Texas Rangers v Kansas City Royals Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

On April 3, the Kansas City Royals will trot onto the field against intra-divisional rivals, the Minnesota Twins, at the beautiful Target Field in Minneapolis. It will be the 49th season of the Royals franchise.

The Royals, like every other team in baseball, will be able to utilize 25 men who are on the team’s opening day active roster. Making an opening day roster is no small athletic feat in a sport that churns through a thousand drafted players every single year. As such, there’s an awful lot of attention paid to that opening day roster. Read any spring training article and you’ll bump into a story about how Team A is trying to find a roster spot for Player X, or how Player Y is trying to squeeze onto the roster for Team B.

But the truth is that the Opening Day roster isn’t that important in the grand scheme of things. It doesn’t matter as much as you think, either for fans or the players.

Make no mistake: making a big league roster is a big deal, especially for fringe minor league players who didn’t get a big signing bonus. We generally think of baseball as a millionaire’s game, but that’s not really the case all thew way up and down the pipeline. Players in AAA generally only make $2000 to $3000 a month, depending on service time, and are unable to apply for full-time jobs. A player on his first year on a 40-man roster sees his salary almost double about $41,000 a year. And any player with even a single day of Major League service time (or a second year on the 40-man) will see his salary rise to about $83,000, and if he makes it again to the bigs, his salary rises to $500,000 a year. For some journeyman minor leaguers, making an opening day roster makes a financial difference that could provide financial security for children and grandchildren.

But those financial perks? They apply no matter when you get put on the roster. There are 162 games in the full season, and the opportunity for 162 different 25-man rosters. Opening day players don’t get a special sticker; they were just there to start the season. And that’s the reason why the opening day roster is overrated.

Let’s come at this a different way. Last year, the Royals opening day roster looked like this:

Catchers (2): Drew Butera, Salvador Pérez

Infielders (6): Christian Colón, Alcides Escobar, Eric Hosmer, Omar Infante, Kendrys Morales, Mike Moustakas

Outfielders (5): Lorenzo Cain, Reymond Fuentes, Alex Gordon, Terrance Gore, Paulo Orlando

Starting Pitchers (5): Ian Kennedy, Kris Medlen, Yordano Ventura, Edinson Vólquez, Chris Young

Relief Pitchers (7): Wade Davis, Danny Duffy, Dillon Gee, Kelvin Herrera, Luke Hochevar, Joakim Soria, Chien-Ming Wang

Yes, Fuentes made the opening day roster, as did Gore, Medlen, Wang, and Infante. Young started in the rotation, Duffy in relief, and the Royals lost Hochevar, Cain, Gordon, and Moustakas for extended periods in time. All told, the Royals used 41 players that year, and 36 of them played in at least ten games.

Or, if you want to go back to 2015, the Royals’ World Series club heavily featured Ben Zobrist and Johnny Cueto, two players who weren’t even with the organization on opening day.

There’s a lot of season to work with. What the opening day roster does is give a team an initial framework from which to start a season. It is merely the thing which rests on the team’s depth, not the depth itself, and can be transformed rapidly via trades or additional signings.

Players will get their opportunity. If Peter O’Brien is the second coming of Mark McGwire, he’ll force his way onto the roster at some point. We can almost entirely guarantee that Christian Colón, Whit Merrifield, Cheslor Cuthbert, and Raúl Mondesí will play games for the 2017 Royals—and probably a bunch at second base, too. Kyle Zimmer and Josh Staumont need not be on the opening day roster to continue their development (and aren’t, as both have been assigned to minor league camp already). Hunter Dozier will hit a home run as a Major Leaguer this year at some point, and maybe even Bubba Starling, too.

These things have a way of working themselves out. No team stays healthy the entire year. No team is so epic as to only employ the services of 25-30 players the entire year. So don’t worry about the opening day roster, about which bullets the Royals will load into their baseball gun to start the year. Worry that the Royals will have enough bullets at all.