Notes on health and safety, PECOTA, Renato Núñez and more

We now know some of the rules that will govern the 2021 Major League Baseball season. MLB and the MLB Players Association announced the health and safety protocols that will be in place starting when spring training begins next week.

By the way, as a reminder, O’s pitchers and catchers report Tuesday, Feb. 16 with the first workout set for the next day. The first full-squad workout in Sarasota is Feb. 22.

Some things that were agreed on include:

* Doubleheaders will feature two seven-inning games. The extra-innings rule returns, with a runner starting each half inning at second base.

* The rosters will consist of 26 players and that will expand to 28 in September. There is no limit on the number of pitchers a team can carry.

* A team can carry up to five players on a taxi squad on road trips. If they do carry five players, one must be a catcher. Players on the taxi squad are permitted to work out with the team, but are not permitted to be in uniform and in the dugout during games.

For more on all this, including the rundown of testing, contact tracing and some aspects governing player conduct away from the field, click here and here.

The win projections: For years in Baltimore, the projections were noteworthy more for how badly they would miss on the Orioles win total each year. But a new version of the PECOTA projections from Baseball Prospectus is out.

os-clubhouse-aldscelebration-sidebar.jpgFrom 2012-2016, when the Orioles made the playoffs three times and the American League Championship Series in 2014, the projection was never for more than 78 wins. The team won 89 or more three times.

The average win total projection from 2012-2016 was 74.2 and the actual average win total over those five years was 88.8 victories.

How PECOTA projected the Orioles in that span:

* 2012: 71 (won 93)
* 2013: 75 (won 85)
* 2014: 75 (won 96)
* 2015: 78 (won 81)
* 2016: 72 (won 89)

Here is a look, rounding the numbers off, how PECOTA projects the AL East this year:

* New York at 97-65
* Tampa Bay at 86-76
* Toronto at 85-77
* Boston at 80-82
* Orioles at 66-96

While 66 would be the most wins by the O’s in a full season since going 75-87 in 2017, in win percentage at .407 it would be a slight step back from last year’s .417 (25-35). A team playing .417 ball over 162 games would finish at 68-94.

Núñez may find a team: Released by the Orioles on Nov. 23 after being designated for assignment three days earlier, Renato Núñez could soon have a new team. He is discussing a minor league contract with the Detroit Tigers. He had a .783 OPS in his time with the Orioles and that was .816 in 52 games in 2020. But the club still cut him loose rather than offer him arbitration, and a lack of defensive value was a big reason. Not to mention Ryan Mountcastle establishing himself in the lineup and Trey Mancini returning to it.

Núñez was squeezed off the roster, but has had a difficult time, it appears, getting a big league contract. But now he could head to a Tigers team that ranked 12th in the American League last season in homers, runs and team OPS.

He was an Oriole since the team claimed him on waivers from the Texas Rangers on May 13, 2018. Núñez played in 263 games as an Oriole, hitting 50 homers with 141 RBIs. In the last two seasons he has ranked among the top 24 in the American League in homers, and in the top 25 in RBIs each season.

In 151 games in 2019 he hit .244/.311/.460 with 31 homers and 90 RBIs, and in 52 games in 2020 he batted .256/.324/.492 with 12 homers and 31 RBIs.

Keys schedule: The Frederick Keys’ first game in the new six-team MLB Draft League will be Monday May 24 at Trenton. The Keys home opener and first homestand begins May 26 at 6:30 p.m. versus the West Virginia Black Bears.

With the restructuring of Minor League Baseball, the Keys will not be an O’s affiliate for the first time in 2021. They will be playing in a wood-bat league made up of amateur players from the college ranks that are draft-eligible. The team will play 68 games - 34 at home, which will include 14 fireworks dates.

“Over the past year, this terrible and tragic pandemic has definitely presented many challenges and hardships for all us in our attempt to live anywhere close to a normal life. The health and safety of our fans, attendees and the community at large is certainly paramount and our top priority moving forward for 2021,” said Keys general manager Dave Ziedelis in a team release. “The Keys will be strictly following all CDC guidelines, protocols and safety measures to produce and insure the safest possible experience for all involved, while also following and adhering to all executive orders and relating restrictions as per Maryland governor Larry Hogan, Frederick County executive Jan Gardner and City of Frederick mayor Michael O’Connor.”

The championship game is set for Aug. 15. The league does not have divisions, but teams will play an unbalanced schedule with a primary opponent. That opponent for Frederick is Trenton.

The Keys say all current clients and ticket holders will be contacted by their account representatives.

* Finally, in an interview on MLB Network, Mancini talked about all the support he has gotten as he readies to return to the field.

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