As I type this on Wednesday morning, it’s still unclear if the Cardinals will play another game in 2020. But given the relative quiet over the last couple days and the shuffling of the start time for Saturday’s game vs. the White Sox, my expectation is they are going to give it at least one more try - likely targeting that Saturday night game for a return to the field.
In the two weeks the Cardinals have been quarantined, dealing with an outbreak of the worst pandemic to hit the world in any of our lifetimes, there has been no shortage of Armchair Commissioners proclaiming how the team could have or should have gotten back on the field.
The most common refrain I’ve seen in the Twitter Sewer has been:
wHy HaVe SiXtY pLaYeRs If ThEy WoN’t CaLl ThEm Up?
Each MLB team has an alternate training site for the rest of the 60 players in their pool who are not on the active roster of 30 or 28 or whatever. This was a way for teams to provide some structure and instruction to a select group of the hundreds of players in their minor league system and, yes, to ensure there were some players in shape should a need arise on the active roster.
But for anybody who thought all 60 players were just warm bodies to be shuffled in-and-out to fill the Covid-sized holes in the active roster... your priorities and understanding of roster machinations are off-base.
What should have been obvious from the science but is now plainly clear from the anecdotal example of the Cardinals is this: You cannot simply swap players in-and-out as they fall ill. Once there is a Covid outbreak within a team, given the disease incubates for several days and many infected remain asymptomatic, it is against all public health and moral guidelines to introduce new players to that environment. In short: You cannot simply swap out the sick players because you don’t even know who the sick players are.
I suppose you could argue that once the team has been fully cleared to resume play, they could then ship however many fresh bodies they need to the front. And from the point-of-view that “baseball is the most important thing and they should do whatever it takes to give me my baseball show,” maybe that makes sense. But from any other perspective, it does not.
It’s also completely implausible given the rules around the 40-man roster, which remain unchanged.
Baseball is not the NFL, where any team can sign some undrafted Defensive Tackle out of Louisiana Tech midseason, put them up in team hotels for two weeks, give them CTE, then send them back to the Bayou. Baseball players have a strong union and their benefits are tied to MLB service time, which begins when they are added to a 40-man roster.
MLB increased the number of players from the 40-man who could be on the active roster this season. That means there are more bodies in the dugout who could pinch-hit or come in to pitch the 7th inning, but it does not change the number of players who are accruing those benefits of being a Major League Baseball Player.
The also created a special Covid Injured List with no set timetable. That means clubs don’t have to have to anticipate how long players will be out with this untreatable disease, but again, it does nothing to add players into the 40-man player pool.
wHy DoN’t ThEy ReLaX tHe FoRtY mAn RuLeS?
There is no way the players would ever agree to this, nor should they. Being added to a 40-man roster starts a countdown that eventually leads to arbitration, free agency, and many other benefits.
And without some change to the benefits that go along with being added to a 40-man roster, there’s no way teams would shuttle players on-and-off just to play as many of these 60 games as possible.
Once a player is added to the 40-man roster, to be removed, they must pass through waivers, whereby they can be claimed by any other MLB team. It takes a player with extremely low future value to pass through waivers. Last season, the Cardinals lost Mike Mayers to a waiver claim when he was removed from the 40-man roster.
So yes, while the Cardinals do have a few players at their alternate site who might be described as “organizational depth,” even they are not guys the team would be eager to simply lose. And of the many prospects in the system who are also at Springfield, there is simply no way the team could add and then remove a Dylan Carlson or a Nolan Gorman from their 40-man without losing them to a waiver claim.
Teams do not have 60-player pools. They have the same 40-man pools they always have. In the event that they consider adding or subtracting players from those 40-man pools, it will be based on the future value of the players involved - same as it always has. No team is going to shed significant value from its organization just so MLB can have a full slate of games on a Tuesday during a pandemic.
For all the hullabaloo around the 60-man player pools, alternate training sites and taxi squads, the management of MLB rosters is essentially unchanged because the 40-man roster rules remain unchanged.