There is far, far more about how the 2020 MLB season will take shape that remains unknown than there is information concretely describing how it will play out. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to take command of our every sense and effort at the moment, it remains clear that the season is still a) very far away from commencing and that b) if and when it does, it will look markedly different than any other season we’ve seen.
The fact that winter perennially comes at some point in November will put a cramp on any attempt at a full season, meaning MLB and the MLBPA will have be creative in putting any sort of full-season together. Perhaps it’ll carve out interleague play. Perhaps it’ll scale things down to 120, 100, or even 84 games. Maybe they’ll stack doubleheaders while the weather is still good. Regardless, there will undoubtedly be a modified schedule, and that will ultimately put different demands on the other existing rules that we’ve come to know, namely in how the rosters are constructed.
In perhaps a glimpse into how the early portions of the schedule might look if we get back to baseball in a somewhat timely manner, USA Today’s Bob Nightengale revealed this morning that rosters for the first month won’t be just 26 deep, they’ll expand all the way to 29.
When #MLB is able to start their season, teams are expected to expand their rosters from 26 players to 29 players the first month they begin playing games.— Bob Nightengale (@BNightengale) March 27, 2020
Reading between the lines could hint at a number of possible developments on that schedule that resulted in this byproduct. For one, there could be numerous doubleheaders that would tax the classic five-man rotations teams have built (as well as their bullpens). Getting the regular season going could also mean a shortened second ‘spring training,’ meaning some pitchers might not feel fully stretched out just yet, and additional innings would need to be soaked up.
While Nightengale alluded to the overall roster expansion, though, there are no further indications on how the limits on number of pitchers vs. number of position players shakes out just yet. Perhaps the scenarios I outlined above that would require additional pitchers on-roster might prompt the addition of another position player, too, as more pitching changes should be countered with an opposition manager having more pinch-hitter options, too.
Regardless, it might help change the shape of the Cincinnati Reds roster race whenever Opening Day rolls around. More roster spots certainly helps out the prominent non-roster guys in camp, folks like Derek Dietrich, Nate Jones, and the like - Jones, in particular, is getting the extra time removed from his arm surgery thanks to the delayed start to the season, and might well benefit from this specifically. It could also mean that on-roster guys who looked otherwise blocked (Joel Kuhnel, Alex Blandino) might have better shots at starting the year in the bigs instead of AAA, too.
In the bigger picture, the expanded early rosters might be a compromise between MLB and the MLBPA as they recently met to hash out how a shortened season would impact a litany of things that will have lasting, multi-year impressions, from pay all the way to service time. Evan Drellich and Ken Rosenthal have a very detailed look at that agreement over at The Athletic, and I suggest a read-up on the new rules as you process this roster expansion.
I’d wager we’ll continue to get snippets of modified baseball rules periodically as this situation evolves, as it’s becoming clear that baseball is going to have to be nimble in their contingency plans in order to restart the season as soon as it absolutely can. Stay tuned.