If MLB and the MLBPA can reach agreement on thorny safety and salary issues, we’ll see Major League baseball in 2020. Too much money is on the table for either party to walk away without giving it a try. An early- or mid-July starting point looks plausible. We should know soon.
Details of the proposed deal are yet to be finalized. We know the season will be half as long and played, at least at first, without fans. Schedules will be filled with division rivals to minimize travel. More teams will qualify for the postseason.
Rosters will look much different than normal. Let’s look at how rosters would have worked in 2020, what the proposed changes could be and how that impacts Reds roster construction.
Current Roster Rules
Each organization has a 40-man Major League roster. From that list of players, the front office generates an active roster of 26 players, 13 pitchers and 13 position players. The active roster is the group of players you’ll see in the dugout and bullpen, eligible for the game. Both rosters must be finalized by Opening Day.
Players not on the active roster but on the 40-man Major League roster include those on injured or other short-term (bereavement, paternity) lists, as well as players who are on optional assignment to the minor leagues. They can be placed on the active roster at any time, other than during a game, to fill an opening due to injury, trade or release.
A player on the 40-man roster who does not start the season on the 26-man active roster and not on the Major League injured list, must be optioned to the minor leagues. Once that player spends 20 days in the minors, one of his “options” is used up. One option covers that season. A player becomes “out of options” after three options (three seasons) have been used. After that, he must pass through waivers before being sent to the minors.
Players can be removed from the 40-man roster either by trade, transfer to the 60-day injury list, or designation for assignment (DFA). DFA means the team has 10 days to trade, release or send the player to the minors. Suspended players don’t count against a team’s 40-man roster.
MLB’s Roster Proposal for 2020
The proposal MLB submitted to the players’ union outlines a 30-man active roster and a 20-player reserve group, called a “taxi squad.” These numbers are not set in stone yet, they are subject to the ongoing negotiations with the union.
The term taxi squad is most associated with the NFL. In the 1940s, Paul Brown came up with the idea of holding certain promising players in reserve who didn’t make the Cleveland Browns’ roster. The team owner put those players on his taxi company’s payroll. As with many of Paul Brown’s innovations, the idea of a taxi squad stuck and so did the nickname.
In place of active minor league teams, Major League organizations would use their taxi squad to replace active roster players when necessary.
How teams fill their 20-man reserve squad may be determined by the bargaining agreement. It’s easy to imagine the union pushing for every player from a team’s 40-man Major League roster (that is their bargaining unit, after all) to be included on the new 50-man roster. Organizations would choose the remaining slots, presumably from their minor league rosters.
Key Strategic Variables
A number of factors will influence how teams go about comprising their 50-man rosters. Details in the outcome of the ongoing negotiation will have a significant impact.
In filling the 20-player taxi squad, teams would balance twin needs of depth for the major league team and player development. High-value prospects would gain important benefits from live action and greater access to major league coaches and players. How teams strike this balance depends on the rules covering how easy it is to move players from the taxi squad to the active roster.
It would not be surprising to see a team in the rebuilding stage use more of its 50-man roster on prospects. In contrast, a win-now team like the Reds (!) might be more likely to bring on veterans.
Another variable influencing where to place top prospects that aren’t quite Major League ready is what alternative provisions, if any, will be made for minor league player instruction. A lack of ongoing development opportunity would have a significant impact on the player and the value he could potentially have for the team in September. We’ll see a huge example of that for the Reds in a minute.
Further, how difficult will it be to promote players from the taxi squad to the active roster? If teams have to put players on the 40-man roster first, if there are time and duration limits, then decisions about the 30-man roster become important. But if moving players back and forth is relatively unconstrained by rule, the significance of the 30-man roster is greatly diminished, almost to the point of irrelevance. In an extremely liberal environment, you might see a team tweak its active roster daily based on opposing pitchers.
Reds Roster Construction
Given all that context, how might we expect the Reds to handle the 2020 roster? We’ll start with the basics then move to the real decisions.
1. Getting to 26
Before spring training was suspended on March 13, the Reds 26-man roster was becoming fairly clear cut, other than the last bullpen spot and a bench outfielder. Let’s assume for a moment those two players would have been Matt Bowman and Phillip Ervin. That produces this 26-man roster:
- C: Tucker Barnhart, Curt Casali
- 1B: Joey Votto
- 2B: Mike Moustakas, Kyle Farmer, Josh VanMeter
- SS: Freddy Galvis
- 3B: Eugenio Suarez
- OF: Nick Senzel, Shogo Akiyama, Jesse Winker, Nick Castellanos, Phillip Ervin
- SP: Luis Castillo, Sonny Gray, Trevor Bauer, Anthony DeSclafani, Wade Miley
- RHRP: Raisel Iglesias, Michael Lorenzen, Robert Stephenson, Lucas Sims, Pedro Strop, Matt Bowman
- LHRP: Amir Garrett, Cody Reed
VanMeter slots in as an infielder or outfielder. That’s why he’d make the team. Farmer is the emergency third catcher. Reed has no options left, so he would have made the team.
2. Going from 26 to 30
MLB will allow 30-man rosters for every game. If the Reds had to set one 30-man roster and live with it for a while, here are the choices I’d make.
- Jose Garcia (SS)
- Mark Payton (OF)
- Tyler Mahle (SP)
- Jose De Leon (SP/RP)
This adds two position players and two pitchers. Garcia would add a legitimate backup shortstop in case something happens to Galvis. The 30-man roster easily lets the Reds hold on to Mark Payton for the year Payton’s playing time could also be aided by adoption of the DH for the NL. With abbreviated spring training, it won’t be surprising to see a number of short pitching starts. Adding Tyler Mahle to the mix doesn’t hurt the quality of the rotation. De Leon can be an effective long man and pick up a spot start where needed. If the league fills the schedules with double-headers, extra starters are even more important.
3. Adding the remaining 40-man roster players
The MLBPA will push for all the 40-man roster players being on the 50-man rosters. In most cases, teams would have done this anyhow. Here are the Reds players that would become part of the 50-man roster due to being on the current 40-man roster:
- Tyler Stephenson (C)
- Alex Blandino (IF)
- Travis Jankowski (OF)
- Aristides Aquino (OF)
- Tony Santillan (SP)
- Tejay Antone (SP)
- Joel Kuhnel (RHRP)
- Justin Shafer (RHRP)
- Ryan Hendrix (RHRP)
- Josh Smith (LHRP)
Stephenson is too talented and too close to not be hanging around Major Leaguers as much as possible. He’ll get real playing time, especially in a season filled with double-headers. Blandino will be a solid, versatile backup. Jankowski has an inexpensive contract and is a pure centerfielder. Aquino is the Punisher. If forced to choose, he’d be ahead of Payton, but not in this scenario. Santillan, Antone and Hendrix need development. Kuhnel, Shafer and Smith have Major League experience and could rotate into the bullpen.
A word here about Scott Schebler, who is still on the 40-man roster and out of options. Unless there’s an unexpected twist in the roster rules, the Reds will have to choose between putting Schebler on the 30-man roster and letting him go. I don’t think there’s a case for keeping him on the active roster. Once the inter-team transaction freeze is lifted, I look for Schebler to be moved to a team that needs a LH bat either of the bench or everyday. If Schebler gets cut, Jose Garcia could take his place on the 40-man roster.
4. From 40 to 50
This gets real interesting. After adding the 40-man roster, you might think the remaining ten players would be minor leaguers, with the only question being which are the highest priority.
But, hold on. Spring training was stopped right in the middle of the month. That timing means several veteran players in camp who weren’t on the 40-man and hadn’t been cut yet. Several are obvious candidates for the remaining slots. Here’s my list:
- Matt Davidson (1B)
- Derek Dietrich (2B)
- Alfredo Rodriguez (SS)
- Jonathan India (3B)
- Stuart Fairchild (OF)
- Nick Lodolo (LHSP)
- Vladimir Gutierrez (SP)
- Tyler Thornberg (RP)
- Nate Jones (RP)
- Hunter Greene (SP)
Five position players and five pitchers. Davidson was having a big spring and could backup a Votto injury or come in to DH. If Dietrich proves his slump last year was injury-related, his lefty bat could be valuable. Rodriguez, India, Fairchild and Gutierrez would make this roster based on development, but you can consider them super-depth if you want. The Reds could fast track Lodolo and give him a start or two, he might also help in the bullpen. Thornberg and Jones are veteran relievers.
Let’s finish with the big wild card: Hunter Greene.
Greene’s situation deserves a full post. He missed last season after Tommy John surgery in April. When he’s not throwing baseballs through open windows of moving cars, Green will be working his way back in 2020, with vast upside. If I were making the Reds roster, I’d be tempted to include Greene on the taxi squad from the start so he could hang around the veteran pitchers and work with veteran catchers and coaches. If the rules allow the 50-man roster to be updated around September 1, you could hold off on adding Greene until then. Just keep in mind by the season’s, he might be a 100-mph bullpen arm.
That’s a way-too-early formulation of a 50-man Reds roster.
[Featured image: https://twitter.com/Reds/status/1260943467083112449/photo/1]