Remember the ancient times? When Corona was a beer, baseball was well on its way, and “zoom” was a thing you said to yourself when you passed a slow Prius on I-35 on your way to work? In other words, February?
It is now May, or so my calendar tells me, for my connection with the passage of time has utterly unfurled. Corona is now a virus, baseball has been indefinitely suspended, and “Zoom” is a thing you curse to yourself after yet another video meeting with virtual Prius owners—aka the people who can’t comprehend how the mute button works.
However, we’re far enough along in this pandemic for the powers at be to discuss the return of baseball. The most likely current plan involves a start in July, with an 82-game season in play. Spring training would occur in June, and there would be no All-Star break. Teams would play at their home parks without fans in a modified schedule that would emphasize geographic proximity. There would almost assuredly be no minor league season.
One of the most interesting bits of information to come out of this has to do with roster size. The 2020 season was already due to see an active roster increase from 25 to 26. But without active minor league teams—and the ready available players to call up in case of injury or for performance reasons—the 2020 season, if it happens, will be a roster bonanza. In Ken Rosenthal’s piece in The Athletic about the latest plan put forward by Major League Baseball, he includes roster information in a throwaway fashion at the end:
An expanded roster of as many as 45 to 50 players is expected.
I gave those 13 words its own blockquote section because they are far more fascinating than you might think. A 50-man roster is literally double what baseball usually has. It would be like NFL teams bringing over 100 active players on gameday, an NBA bench with up to 30 people, or two chess players per side (assuming they were both mic’d up, that would be L I T). But it makes sense: baseball teams usually end up using that many different players over the course of a season. In 2019, 51 players suited up for the Kansas City Royals; in 2018, 49; in 2017, 49; in 2016, 42.
What does this mean for the Royals and its fans? Looping back to the Forever Ago that was February 2020, one of the most interesting questions about the season was who would make the Opening Day roster. Related to that question, the subquestion was whether or not the Royals would break camp with Brady Singer or one of his other top-tier college pitching friends: Jackson Kowar, Daniel Lynch, or Kris Bubic.
At the time, it seemed possible that Singer might have won the fifth starter job for the Royals. The 2018 and 2019 Royals each lost over 100 games, and coming into the 2020 season Dayton Moore and John Sherman elected not to significantly upgrade any aspect of the roster. In other words, Singer—the most polished of the group—was potentially one of the top 13 or so pitchers in the organization.
But with roster sizes ballooning in excess of 40 players this year, the calculus changes: Singer is absolutely one of the top 45 players in the organization. So, too, are Lynch and Kowar. Remember, eight pitchers started at least four games for the 2019 Royals, and only one of them—Brad Keller, bless him—had both an ERA and an FIP under 4.50. And among the Triple-A starters in the organization, only one—Foster Griffin—was remotely successful, and he there are serious questions whether his stuff will play at the big league level.
Could the Royals trot out guys that may or may not be computer-generated names instead of their three top players? I guess they could. But in a shortened season, the Royals have a legitimate chance of catching fire and sneaking into the playoffs (just like every other team in baseball; 82 games allows for a truly magnificent amount of standings chaos). If roster sizes will be as large as 50, and if the season happens at all, Singer and Friends will be Royals. It’ll be a bit of an anticlimactic end to this particular “will they or won’t they,” but considering the weird world we live in now, it’s just how it is.