Major League Baseball is days away from a rapid-fire Summer Training, which will set the stage for a mad 60-game dash for postseason position, followed by a typically wild October … all while trying to manage the many challenges posed by the still-raging pandemic that disrupted the 2020 season in the first place. Sounds like a lot when you put it that way.
As one might expect, the typical roster rules for a MLB season would not work well in this scenario. Among other things, there’s a need for an actively engaged reserve corps of players with the minor-league season still on ice. Teams need a way to protect players who are injured or who contract COVID-19. The issue is all the more pressing in the early stages of the season.
MLBTR has learned and clarified many of the key details regarding the new roster rules. Here’s how things will work for the 2020 campaign:
- Each team can establish a maximum 60-man player pool, with the initial list due by Sunday at 3pm CST. Teams are not required to fill all sixty slots.
- No other players will be permitted to participate in camp. Teams are permitted to operate two separate camps if they so choose. All teams will operate an alternative training site once the season begins.
- Players on the 40-man roster need not be included in the 60-man player pool. Likewise, of course, pool players need not be on the 40-man roster — unless and until they are added to the active MLB roster.
- If a player is removed from a 60-man player pool, he cannot be added back to that team’s pool but can be added to another team’s pool. Players cannot be freely removed from the 60-man player pool without roster implications. Put otherwise: other than injured list placement, suspension, and some other infrequent designations, teams will be forced to surrender (or risk surrendering) control over a player (trade, release, DFA, outright, etc.) to remove him from the 60-man player pool.
- Teams may otherwise add already controlled or newly acquired players to their 60-man player pool. Players can be signed to the 60-man player pool without being added to the 40-man roster, but that requires 60-man player pool space (just like a typical minor-league dealrequires space at a certain affiliate).
- The active MLB roster will consist of up to 30 players (and at least 25 players) at the start of the season. After two weeks of play, that number goes down to 28. After two more weeks, it drops again to 26, with a 27th player available for double-headers.
- Teams will travel with an unofficial 3-man taxi squad, the identity of which need not be disclosed. One player must be a catcher. There is no official designation or roster status associated with being a member of that group.
- As usual, a player must be on a 40-man roster in order to be added to the active MLB roster.
- Once a player is placed on the active roster, standard rules apply. Players eligible to be optioned can be sent back to camp just as if it were a minor-league affiliate. An optioned player must stay on optional assignment for ten days, unless called back owing to an injured list placement. Players who are not eligible to be optioned must be designated for assignment (and then traded or exposed to outright waivers) to be removed from the active roster.
- The trade deadline is August 31st. ONLY players in the 60-man player pool may be traded. Any player that is traded must go into an acquiring team’s player pool. (As a practical matter, it seems there’s nothing to stop teams from adding prospects to the 60-man player pool specifically in order to trade them. The acquiring team would need to be capable of carrying such players in their own 60-man player pool while still fielding a 26-man active roster of capable big leaguers.)
Several more post-Round 1 picks have agreed to deals with their teams. Here’s a look at the newest group of players…
- The Brewers have locked up a pair of picks – second-rounder Freddy Zamora and fourth-rounder Joey Wiemer – Robert Murray tweets. As the 53rd pick, Zamora’s selection carried a recommended value of $1,370,400, but he’ll collect an under-slot bonus of $1.15MM, per Jim Callis of MLB.com tweets. Zamora’s a former University of Miami shortstop whom MLB.com placed 100th in its pre-draft rankings. Meanwhile, Wiemer will earn $150K, which falls well shy of the $473,700 slot value of the 121st overall choice, Murray reports. Baseball America ranked Wiemer, an outfielder from the University of Cincinnati, as the 136th-best player in this year’s class. While BA’s bullish on Wiemer’s defense, it writes that he “consistently underwhelmed as a hitter” in college.
- The Indians announced the signings of second-round left-hander Logan Allen and fifth-round righty Mason Hickman on Friday. Allen, not to be confused with the other lefty named Logan Allen in the Cleveland organization, went 56th overall. Financial details are unknown, but his pick came with a slot value of $1,276,400. The former Florida International hurler rated as MLB.com’s No. 46 prospect before the draft. Hickman, an ex-Vanderbilt Commodore who came off the board at No. 154, signed for the full slot value of $343,400, Paul Hoynes of cleveland.com relays. Baseball America pegged the 6-foot-6, 230-pound Hickman as the 161st-best prospect available before the draft.
- The Rockies have wrapped up second-round righty Chris McMahon – pick 46 – for $1,637,400, Callis reports. That checks in a tad above the recommended slot of $1,617,400. McMahon, yet another former Miami Hurricane, came in at No. 45 on Keith Law’s list at The Athletic going into the draft. Law calls McMahon “a strike-thrower with three pitches, a pretty good delivery, and nothing plus or even consistently above-average.”
- The Mariners and ex-Mississippi third baseman Tyler Keenan reached a deal Friday, Callis tweets. Keenan, a fourth-rounder and the 107th pick, signed for $500K – down from the recommended value of $543,500. Keenan’s a powerful, high-exit velocity hitter, but he’ll need to improve his quickness as a defender in order to stick at third, Callis writes.
- The Rays have signed fourth-round shortstop Tanner Murray, according to Callis. His deal means the club has signed all six of its selections from this year. Murray, previously with UC Davis, inked a deal worth $455,600 – full slot value for the 125th pick. He’s a high-contact, high-OBP offensive player who’s versatile enough to play multiple positions, per Callis.
Major League Baseball and the MLBPA reached an agreement on health and safety measures for the 2020 season Tuesday, paving the way for a July start, but the deal didn’t come to fruition until after the 5 p.m. ET deadline. The delay resulted from discussions on what the league would do if it were to start the season, only to suspend or cancel it in progress, Andy Martino of SNY reports. In addressing the issue, the league and the players updated the season agreement they made back in March, according to Martino, who obtained the passage.
A piece of the accord now reads: “The Commissioner retains the right to suspend or cancel the 2020 championship season or postseason, or any games therein, in the event that (i) restrictions on travel throughout the United States are imposed; (ii) there is a material change in circumstances such that the Commissioner determines, after consultation with recognized medical experts and the Players Association, that it poses an unreasonable health and safety risk to players or staff to stage those games, even without fans in attendance; or (III) The number of players who are unavailable to perform services due to COVID-19 is so great that the competitive integrity of the season is undermined.
The first two parts were already agreed on, while the third was put in on Tuesday, per Martino, who reports that there’s no specific number of COVID-19 cases among players that would force an in-season shutdown. But if teams can’t field competitive rosters, or if too many clubs can’t complete full seasons, the league could close up shop during the campaign.
While this comes off as a doomsday scenario for baseball, perhaps it shouldn’t be fully ruled out with COVID-19 continuing to run amok. The coronavirus has affected several teams and players in recent weeks, and it continues to take its toll on the general population. The United States set a single-day record for virus cases for the third straight day Friday, exceeding the 40,000 mark for the first time, according to the Washington Post. Thirteen states, including seven with major league teams (Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Missouri, Texas and Washington), have established new single-day records for cases over the past week.
Houston, home of the Astros, has been among many areas hit hard of late. Coronavirus tests in the Houston region were at 3 percent earlier this month, but they’ve risen to 14 percent this week, per the Texas Medical Center (via ESPN.com).
Dr. David Persse, Health Authority for the Houston Health Department, expressed a great deal of concern to ESPN about staging games in the city, saying: “If the public’s health is threatened, I will take a stand. From an operational standpoint, I find myself in the position where I’m going to have to be the one, that if I think it’s going in the wrong direction, to make a stand.”
If MLB and government officials deem Houston or any other city unsafe to play in, the league would move teams to other parks, a league source told ESPN.
The league itself issued a statement to ESPN saying, in part, that “we we will play in a particular location only when we have approval from all relevant governmental authorities. To date, all governmental authorities have been favorably inclined to allow play, at least in empty stadiums, based on our extensive protocols. This situation may change as developments with respect to the virus occur. If and when that happens, we will make adjustments to comply with any change in governmental policy.”
MLB added that it plans to “make operational decisions with the safety of our players and staff as the foremost consideration.”
Regarding whether MLB will allow teams to host fans during a potential 2020 season, league sources informed ESPN that decision will be up to the commissioner’s office and local officials.
9:04pm: Jeff Banister was among those the Pirates laid off, Mackey tweets. Banister was once a player and coach in the organization, but he most recently worked as a special assistant in their front office. He’s better known around the game for his run as the Rangers’ manager from 2015-18. Banister also interviewed for the Astros’ managerial vacancy during the offseason, though that job went to Dusty Baker.
5:34pm: The Pirates are making sweeping changes in both their business operations and baseball operations departments, Jason Mackey of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports. Upwards of 25 members of the business operations team were laid off yesterday, and as many as 15 members of the baseball ops team were let go Friday, he adds via Twitter.
Some of the employees who were cut loose were already on furlough and have now been told they won’t return. Those who were let go will keep their benefits through at least Oct. 31 and receive severance packages, per Mackey. The Athletic’s Rob Biertempfel reports (also via Twitter) that the 15 baseball ops personnel who were let go will be paid their salaries and retain their benefits through Oct. 31 as well. Names aren’t known at this point, although Biertempfel adds that scouting director Joe DelliCarri and farm director Larry Broadway remain on staff.
Broad-reaching organizational changes are common following a front-office shakeup, and that seemed particularly likely to be true in the case of the Pirates. Owner Bob Nutting cleaned house after the 2019 season — albeit in somewhat odd fashion. Manager Clint Hurdle was dismissed just days after publicly stating that he’d been assured he would return in 2020. Longtime pitching coach Ray Searage and bench coach Tom Prince were ousted, too. A search for a new skipper began, headed up by GM Neal Huntington … until Nutting fired Huntington nearly a month into the interview process.
Along the way, president Frank Coonelly and the club “mutually” agreed to part ways. Travis Williams took over as team president, Ben Cherington was hired to replace his friend and former Indians colleague, and the club ultimately settled on Twins bench coach Derek Shelton as its next manager.
The road taken to get to the end result was rather bizarre, but it was abundantly clear that Nutting felt dramatic change was necessary. That’s now trickled down into the operations department. The COVID-19 pandemic surely played a role in the mass layoffs, but substantial turnover always stood out as a possibility.
The Astros should have their ace, Justin Verlander, at 100 percent when spring training resumes. The club expects Verlander, who underwent groin surgery in March, to be a full participant in camp, Jon Morosi of MLB Network reports.
Along with the groin issue, Verlander also dealt with a lat strain in March. It’s, of course, unusual for physical problems to weigh down the 37-year-old Verlander, a longtime workhorse who turned in a whopping 12th 200-inning season in 2019 en route to his second American League Cy Young Award and eighth All-Star nod. In all, he fired 223 frames of 2.58 ERA ball with 12.11 K/9 and 1.7 BB/9 to help the Astros to another AL West title and league pennant.
Verlander formed a near-untouchable trio with righty Gerrit Cole and trade deadline acquisition Zack Greinke last season, but Cole left to join the rival Yankees in free agency on a record-setting contract worth $324MM over nine seasons. Verlander and Greinke are all the more important to the Astros with Cole out of the picture, and the team’s rotation also lost another veteran in lefty Wade Miley over the winter. But the Astros will at least get Lance McCullers Jr. back from Tommy John surgery this year. He’ll help Verlander and Greinke lead a staff that’s otherwise low on proven major league options.
The Indians have agreed to terms with first-round draft choice Carson Tucker, according to Robert Murray (via Twitter). He’ll receive a $2MM bonus.
Tucker will follow older brother Cole Tucker, an infielder with the Pirates, in chasing the big league dream. The younger sibling was chosen 23rd overall, a choice that came with a $2.93MM slot value.
Most draft pundits graded Tucker as a second-round talent. But that’s not quite how the Indians saw — though they did get him for an under-slot rate.
ESPN.com’s Kiley McDaniel slapped the highest ranking on the younger Tucker brother, listing him as the 33rd-best available player. Per McDaniel, the Arizona high-schooler “is a hit-first plus athlete” who was on the rise as the draft approached.
The White Sox have released five players – infielders Matt Skole and Ramon Torres, right-hander Zach Putnam, and lefties Caleb Frare and Matt Tomshaw – according to Daryl Van Schouwen of the Chicago Sun-Times. Frare, Skole and Tomshaw spent time in major league camp during the first version of spring training, but the White Sox reassigned them to the minors in March.
The most big league experience in the group belongs to the 32-year-old Putnam, who was rather adept at keeping runs off the board with the White Sox from 2014-17. During that 139 1/3-inning span, he posted a 2.71 ERA/3.34 FIP with 9.62 K/9, 3.62 BB/9 and a 47.6 percent groundball rate. Putnam hasn’t pitched in the majors since then, though, as he underwent Tommy John surgery in 2018 and then, as a member of the Red Sox organization last year, battled a hamstring injury. He returned to the White Sox on a minor league contract in March.
Skole was once a solid prospect with the Nationals, and while he did slash .248/.384/.497 with 21 home runs in 391 plate appearances with the White Sox’s Triple-A team last season, he hasn’t seen much action in the majors. The 30-year-old owns a meager .567 OPS at the game’s highest level in 93 PA. Likewise, Torres, Frare and Tomshaw have shown well at times in the minors, but they haven’t made noteworthy impacts in MLB in their small sample sizes of work (Tomshaw hasn’t reached the majors thus far).
The Giants have released former MLB hurlers Tyson Ross and Nick Vincent,KNBR’s Mark Sanchez reports on Twitter. Also cut loose wasutilityman Jamie Westbrook.
Ross and Vincent are each 33-year-old righties who had inked minor-league deals in the offseason. The former is best known for his days in the Padres rotation. The latter, a reliever, was also once an effective hurler in San Diego as well as with the Mariners.
Though he struggled in limited big league action last year, and has never recovered from serious shoulder injuries, Ross has a lifetime 4.04 ERA in ten MLB campaigns. He didn’t have much hope of cracking the starting staff, but was perhaps a multi-inning relief candidate. Ross struggled in his three outings in camp before the pandemic paused the action.
As for Vincent, he struggled with the long ball during a stint with the Giants last year. But he turned in a strong 14-inning run to end the season — 1.93 ERA with 17:4 K/BB — with a Phillies team that was managed by new Giants skipper Gabe Kapler. Vincent had coughed up three homers and seven earned runs in four Spring Training frames.
Westbrook has yet to appear in the majors, having reached minor league free agency after seven seasons in the Diamondbacks system. He turned in 514 plate appearances of .281/.358/.451 hitting in the upper minors last year, but obviously didn’t show enough in camp for the Giants to keep him in their 60-man player pool.
Dodgers outfielder Andrew Toles was arrested on a trespassing charge in Florida on June 22, Gwen Filosa of the Miami Herald reports. Police found Toles asleep in his car behind the Key West Airport, and he was jailed after he refused to leave the scene. Toles remained at the Stock Island Detention Center on a $500 bond on Friday, according to Filosa. He has a court date scheduled for July 2.
This is the latest sad development for Toles, who has dealt with personal struggles dating back to his time in college, as Michael Duarte of NBC 7 San Diego detailed a few years ago. The University of Tennessee’s baseball team dismissed Toles in 2011 for lacking a “certain standard of accountability,” leading him to transfer to Chipola Junior College, where he battled anxiety issues. While Toles still went to the Rays in the third round of the 2012 draft, they ultimately released him for “personal reasons” before the 2015 campaign.
After his time with the Rays concluded, Toles went home to Georgia and bagged groceries, hoping to land another major league opportunity. Toles received that chance when the Dodgers signed him to a minor league pact in October 2015. He then produced quality numbers as a major leaguer in 2016-17, hitting .294/.341/.483 (119 wRC+) with 1.8 fWAR in 217 plate appearances. But Toles suffered an ACL tear in May 2017, ending his season, and then spent most of the next year in Triple-A.
Toles didn’t play at all last year, as the Dodgers placed him on the restricted list in March 2019 on account of an undisclosed personal matter. According to Roster Resource, the 28-year-old remains on the list. Ken Gurnick of MLB.com wrote in February that Toles also wasn’t expected to be in the mix for the Dodgers this season. This week’s arrest casts further doubt on whether Toles will return at any point.
The Rangers on Friday advised left-hander Brian Flynn that he will not land a spot on Texas’ 60-man player pool, MLBTR has learned. The former Royals southpaw had been in Spring Training on a minor league deal.
Flynn, 30, spent the 2016-19 seasons in Kansas City, working to a combined 3.76 ERA with 6.3 K/9, 4.1 BB/9, 0.66 HR/9 and a 49.4 percent ground-ball rate in 162 2/3 frames. He’s primarily worked as a reliever throughout his big league career, although he’s made six starts between the Royals and his earlier seasons in Miami.
The 2019 season was particularly rough for Flynn, as a UCL sprain early in the year limited him to 29 1/3 innings. He struggled to a 5.22 ERA upon returning from that injury, turning in a 22-to-17 K/BB ratio and a 42.4 percent grounder rate that was a ways off the 52 percent mark at which he’d sat during his best seasons.
Back during the initial version of Spring Training, Flynn had allowed one run on two hits and four walks with eight strikeouts in six innings of work.
*The original version of this post indicated that Flynn had been released. MLBTR has since learned that he will not be released from his contract but will not be part of the club’s 60-man player pool.