Apparently there is traction on a plan that would allow the MLB to restart on July 1st. In this plan is a proposal to expand rosters to 30 players while keeping backup roster of 20 players ready to go in case of injury. This plan would allow for players to rotate into and out of the starting lineup as they look to get back into game shape. Additionally, it would allow for more games in a compressed schedule. If this happens, the idea is to play 78 or 82 games. This shorter season would lead to an expanded playoff field as well. It is unclear how roster rules would work for the playoffs, but if this proposal is put into place, then there could be an exciting opportunity for players on the fringes of the Cardinals big league roster.
With this potential change, pitchers such as Daniel Ponce de Leon and Austin Gomber might finally receive a chance to be on the MLB roster for the entire (abbreviated) season. Ponce de Leon has impressed in his big league stints over the past two seasons, but he has thrown just over 80 major league innings and is already 28 years old and has just one option left. Due to this, he will be looking to firmly establish himself as a major league caliber player. An expanded roster and compressed season might give him a chance to have a consistent role in St. Louis when the season starts. He has shown solid strikeout rates (9.62 K/9 in 2019) in his brief MLB career, and he has also posted just a 0.69 ERA in spring training this year before the season was suspended. Despite this, his place on the roster was looking questionable without an expansion, but now with potentially 30 players allowed on the team, he could have a solid role this season.
Austin Gomber is another pitcher who might benefit from this plan. Like Ponce de Leon, he has just one option left, is somewhat old for a prospect (26), and has shown his ability in the big leagues before. Gomber was a regular in the big leagues in 2018 when he made his debut before going on to pitch in 29 games. He posted a 4.03 FIP (with a 4.51 xFIP) and showed off his signature curveball which dropped over 58 inches by the time it reaches the plate. It is clearly his best pitch, and before receiving a callup to the big leagues he threw 50 of them in one AAA game and finished with 16 strikeouts. After his success in 2018, Gomber struggled with injuries and threw just under 50 minor league innings in 2019. However, when he did pitch, he was dominant. He posted a 2.98 ERA (4.00 FIP) in a very hitter friendly PCL environment and fanned opposing hitters at a rate of 10.32 K/9. He could have a solid year in the big leagues, and this new proposal may give him the chance to do that. Additionally, three of the four southpaws on the roster ahead of him do not appear to have long term futures with the Cardinals. Tyler Webb could easily be displaced, Andrew Miller struggled to keep the ball in the yard last season, is now almost 35 years old, and has just one year left on his contract (although there is a vesting option for 2021 if he makes 110 appearances). Finally, Brett Cecil will almost surely be off the team by the end of the year. The only other promising left handed option is Kwang-Hyun Kim. So, with the potential for more opportunity and a strong year, Gomber could benefit from this proposal and entrench himself in the rotation or as the go-to lefty out of the ‘pen in future years.
All of the Cardinals young outfielders could stand to benefit from this temporary rule change as well. Harrison Bader, Tyler O’Neill, Lane Thomas, and maybe even Justin Williams could all receive a good amount of starts with an expanded roster and compressed season. If Mike Shildt feels the need to rotate the outfielders to keep them fresh, then all of these young players could receive plenty of chances to impress. With Marcell Ozuna in Atlanta and Dexter Fowler ageing, there are at least two open outfield spots. Harrison Bader seems to be penciled into center field but after his disappointing performance at the plate last season, he will need to play well if he wants to remain a starter. With places up for grabs, these young outfielders may be given their chances to earn a role for both this season and the future. Lane Thomas impressed in a short stint in the big leagues last year, and will surely look to continue on that good first impression. Tyler O’Neill has a tantalizing combination of power and speed that could make him a very effective contributor in the future. Harrison Bader plays Gold Glove caliber defense and is probably the fastest player on the team. Finally, Justin Williams is more unproven but he has flashed a toolsy profile in the minor leagues and would bring a left-handed bat to the team. All of these players will be looking for opportunities this year and they could capitalize if the roster is expanded to 30 players.
The Cardinals have a good amount of seemingly MLB-ready prospects who are looking for opportunities. A rule change allowing for teams to have 30 players on their active rosters could create chances for these players to impressive and earn themselves playing time both in 2020 and in the future.