As soon as the announcement was made on Tuesday evening that players had agreed to report to Spring Training 2.0 on July 1st the brains of Major League Baseball fans and media members’ alike immediately went into overdrive. With new rules, health and safety protocols, scheduling, an end to the MLB transaction freeze and impending decisions pertaining to roster construction swirling around, it was extremely difficult to focus. Feelings concerning the new rule of a runner starting on second base in extra innings, ideas about who could and should be the designated hitter for the Pittsburgh Pirates, plans for potential lineups and how to best utilize our budding prospects leapt from the minds of both experts and amateurs alike. It was a virtual overload of information that had been trapped inside of all us since the baseball world was put on hold some three months ago.
I ,myself, was not immune to this cascade of emotions and ideas. Jumping on to Twitter and Facebook to give my opinions as to the best course of action for the 2020 Pittsburgh Pirates in the sprint to 60 and of course my disdain for giving a team a runner they hadn’t earned in an attempt to make the game not last as long. However, after reading a few articles, blogs and tweets I began to wonder how many of these ideas being presented were relevant or realistic, even in a season where pretty much nothing else makes total sense. Sure it would be nice to add a power hitter into the mix through free agency or use one of our own from within the organization, who might just be on the 40-Man. It would also be cool to see some of the young stars get their chance on the big stage to prove themselves as part of the team’s future. Just move this guy here, make room for this other guy here and play this guy there; the world is your oyster. But is it really? I tend to think it is not and that we got lost in playing GM on MLB The Show 20, where moves can be made without consequences and our fantasies can run wild. Hell, I even made it AAA in the Orioles organization as a 41 year old switching hitting catcher, but this isn’t reality.
The reality of the situation is that Pittsburgh Pirates General Manager Ben Cherington and crew assembled a group of players prior to the shutdown that would be fighting for a spot on the 26-man roster and many of those same players still remain. Now I know there will be an initial expansion to 30 players (added mostly to allow for more pitchers) for the first two weeks of the season, contracted to 28 for two weeks; before finally landing back on 26 approximately half way through the season. Add in the reserve list (up to 40) and player pool (beyond 40) and the total number of players available to the Pirates grows to as many as 60. However, not all of these are as interchangeable as some would have you believe. A player can’t just be plucked from the player pool and placed in on the 26-man roster at will; without a corresponding move and the same goes for those on the reserve list, as it has always been. But what about the 3 man “taxi squad” for away games? These squads will be composed of at least one Catcher and two other players to accompany the active roster members on the road in case of injury or illness and will be used as regular call ups, as has been the case in previous years.
Now I realize that many roster adjustments will have to be made prior to the beginning of the season and even sooner in the case of presenting Major League Baseball with their 60-man rosters for big league spring training by 3PM EST on Sunday. However, the statements that Derek Shelton made on Wednesday as it pertained to roster construction made me think I was at least on the right path. For those of you that may have missed it, Jason Mackey from the PG tweeted it out to the world following Shelton’s interview.
As far as the DH is concerned many familiar, and somewhat obvious names were listed in Bell, Polanco, Osuna and Moran. Added to that group were the unlikely duo of Riddle and Evans. This may be shocking to many, but to me it makes total sense. He named two guys that provide position flexibility due to their roles as utility men. I could also see Erik Gonzalez filling in for the same reason. So why no Will Craig, Oneil Cruz, Cole Tucker or Ke’Bryan Hayes? (Names I have seen mentioned by many.) Because they provide limited position flexibility. When you going on a road trip with a 26 to 30 man roster and only have 3 “taxi-squad” members to take with you, it is imperative to have guys that can play multiple positions and play them well or at the very least at a serviceable level.
I am not trying to burst anyone’s bubble with these revelations. I just want everyone to be prepared for the possibility that your idea of seeing Hayes and Tucker and one side of the infield, while sliding Newman over to second or having Craig out there manning first base because Bell is the DH may be as unrealistic as when the season was scheduled to begin at the end of March. This season is going to get weird, there is no doubt about that. However, some of same rules still apply and the Pirates will not be able to shuffle the deck to your liking.