Among the many details to emerge concerning the 2020 baseball season was the unfreezing of rosters today and the ability of team executives to resume making cuts and potential trades.
The Orioles must create a 30-man roster for opening day, which will be held on July 23 or 24. It’s reduced to 28 players after two weeks and 26 after four.
It was so long ago that fans may have forgotten, but the Orioles had 54 players on their camp roster on March 12 when baseball shut down and everyone became more educated about the coronavirus pandemic. They made four cuts after we returned home to get down to 50.
Under the new arrangement, teams must submit a 60-man player pool on Sunday. The Orioles will need to figure out who goes on their taxi squad and who resides on the active roster. But that’s what spring training 2.0 is for.
A taxi squad is supposed to hold players who can help the major league club over the summer. Keep them sharp with intrasquad games and workouts. Provide depth during a most unusual season and offer protection, especially for pitchers, who had their routines disrupted and are more susceptible to injury.
But the Orioles also can use a taxi squad to keep their prospects active with no minor league season in 2020. Anything to further development rather than stunt it.
Catcher Adley Rutschman and pitchers Grayson Rodriguez and DL Hall, for example, could get their at-bats and innings without appearing in a major league game. Outfielders Ryan Mountcastle and Yusniel Diaz and pitchers Keegan Akin, Dean Kremer and Bruce Zimmermann could make their respective debuts at some point, even if they aren’t on the opening day roster.
Having 30 players to begin the season allows the Orioles to carry a few extra pitchers while starters gradually build up their innings. Guys who can fit as long relievers or even more one-inning types to take the baton.
Manager Brandon Hyde can pick through a collection of arms. Chandler Shepherd, Thomas Eshelman and Ty Blach were starter candidates at Triple-A Norfolk. Now, one or more could be with the Orioles on opening day or working out at a nearby affiliate’s ballpark.
It’s like a pitcher being on deck, but without having to watch him hit.
Hyde can carry at least one more utility player rather than going with two, which had been the original plan. Andrew Velázquez and Pat Valaika appeared to be the favorites to break camp with the team, but other options include Richie Martin, Stevie Wilkerson, Richard Ureña, Dilson Herrera and José Rondón.
If Martin can’t play shortstop every day with Norfolk, it makes sense to keep him on the team as an extra middle infielder and allow him to continue working with infield instructor José Flores.
The camp roster still includes outfielder Trey Mancini, who won’t play in 2020 as he undergoes chemotherapy treatments in his recovery from colon cancer surgery. Outfielder DJ Stewart won’t be held back after undergoing surgery on his ankle in October.
It’s almost like it never happened.
The Orioles will check the health of reliever Evan Phillips, who had to be shut down in spring training with a sore elbow.
Phillips can provide good news. He’s been throwing bullpen sessions and working toward live batting practice and simulated games, which can be arranged in camp.
The annual trade deadline has been moved from July 31 to Aug. 31 and the Orioles’ chips might not stack as they hoped over the winter and those early days of spring training.
We’re going to find out if players can build value in a shorter period, with the Orioles checking the market for starters Alex Cobb, Wade LeBlanc and Tommy Milone and relievers Mychal Givens and Richard Bleier. They also could attempt to move shortstop José Iglesias, whose contract includes a $3.5 million club option for 2021 with a $500,000 buyout.
We’re also going to find out whether teams are more reluctant to take on a heftier contract with so much revenue lost in a 60-game season and no expanded playoffs.
We already know that opt-out dates on minor league deals became meaningless. The Orioles didn’t put LeBlanc on their 40-man roster by March 19, but he wasn’t going to go back on the free agent market and try to find a job with rosters and the sport frozen.
Not an ideal time to be job hunting.
Besides, LeBlanc is part of the rotation. The only question is whether he’s slotted third or fourth.
His contract allowed him to earn $800,000 if he made the major league roster, but that was before the pandemic.