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How do the 2021 safety and health protocols affect the Phillies’ roster plans

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Expect to see a lot of roster shenanigans this season

MLB: JUL 08 Phillies Summer Camp Photo by Andy Lewis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

A few days ago, Ken Rosenthal provided the most comprehensive look at all the health and safety protocols that will go into place this season for Major League Baseball. While it is an informative piece, what we are mostly focused on are the rules that pertain to the rosters once the season starts. This is what we know:

• By 4:00 PM ET on Feb. 12, each club must submit to MLB a list of no more than 75 total players for spring training. By 12:00 PM ET on Opening Day, each club must submit a 26-player Opening Day roster, as well as a list of up to 28 players that will be assigned either to the Class AAA affiliate or Alternate Training Site. Any player on a major-league Injured List who does not remain with the club also will be assigned to the Alternate Training Site but will not count against the 28-player maximum.

• The limitations on the number of pitchers on the active roster and the restriction on position players pitching shall not apply. The roster size will expand to 28 on Sept. 1. On and after that date, a club may expand its 28-man roster to 29 for any split or regular doubleheader.

• A club is permitted to carry up to five additional players, including at least one catcher, on all road trips as a major-league taxi squad. Players on the taxi squad will not receive major-league service and will be paid at the minor-league rate, but will be entitled to major-league allowances of $110 per day while the club is on the road, regardless of whether the club provides meals. They are permitted to work out with the major-league club, but not permitted to be in uniform and in the dugout during games.

There is a lot going on here, so we can break it down like this:

  1. The roster sizes will be 26 players and 26 players only for the 2021 season. That is different from 2020 when teams were initially larger when the season started (30 players) before eventually dwindling by two every two weeks until they reached the 26 man roster size we see put into place here. It made sense then to start with larger rosters to help mitigate the potential for injury, but the thinking here must have to do with the fact that there will be a larger spring training, thus allowing players to get more fully acclimated for the season ahead.
  2. Teams won’t be limited to carrying a maximum of 13 pitchers in the past, nor will they banned from position players pitching. While the American League may see larger pitching staffs since the DH rule is in effect, with pitchers still being required to hit in 2021, the National League may not have as many pitchers since they’ll need a deeper bench. Theoretically, of course.
  3. This is where it gets weird. With the five man taxi squad, one of the players has to be a catcher. The other four can be anything, position player or pitcher. The catch is that they won’t accrue service time while on that squad.

This tweet can also provide a little more information about Covid-19 outbreaks:

What’s most interesting about these rules that Cooper tells us about is the fact that if a team suffers an outbreak of Covid-19, the team can add some players without them being exposed to waivers, having an option used or to be outrighted off of the 40-man once those players that experienced the outbreak return. That’s a big deal for teams.

Last year when the Marlins and Cardinals suffered outbreaks on their team, they were forced to use players that they didn’t want to start the service clock on yet. This year, that won’t be an issue since MLB has recognized that when Covid hits, it’s going to spread. Weird how it took them this long to realize it.

So how will this all affect the Phillies? Well, the way I see it, there are several ways it could happen.

  1. The NRI’s that made the team are some of the likely candidates to make up the taxi squad. Usually when we see non-roster invitees, they’re former major league players that are looking to latch on somewhere to get some playing time. Here, it would make sense for these players to run with the big club and get some work in since at best their role would be no more than bench players anyway. Were they to make the big league club to begin the year, they wouldn’t be much more than a pinch hitter or mop-up reliever anyway. It would make sense for them to travel with the team and be there just in case.
  2. While I would like to trust that the team wouldn’t play games with a player’s health, it would not surprise me at all if a team, whether it be the Phillies or anyone for that matter, to see a player who threw a few days in a row or one who is struggling suddenly test positive for Covid-19. What scares me is that teams use this as a way to sit a struggling player by announcing a positive test, bring someone up from the taxi squad, then find that the positive test was a “false positive” or some other such nonsense. We’ve seen before how players can have phantom injuries so that they can be stashed in the minor leagues somewhere, but the fact that players can be brought up and down in the case of an outbreak without their service time clock being started worries me that something more heinous could be in the back of the team’s minds as we get into the long slog of summer.
  3. There is going to be a lot of shuffling of relief pitchers between the major and minor leagues and a lot of bullpen games. We’ve already discussed how the pitching philosophy will need to change to account for the sudden ramp up in innings that players didn’t throw last year. With the likelihood of more doubleheaders coming this year, pitchers will need to be moved back and forth to bring in fresher arms. There is probably going to be games where Girardi yanks a pitcher earlier since he’ll have more pitchers at his disposal with the limits on the number of pitchers on the roster lifted. I predicted earlier that he won’t go above 13 pitchers, but that could always change. If it does, there might not be as long a leash with pitchers that are struggling early in the game.

It promises to be another interesting season of roster manipulation.