Tempering excitement about baseball returning to the field on July first, COVID-19 infection rates continue to spike across the country. In a truncated fantasy baseball season like no other in recent memory, the 60-game sprint with rosters capped at 60 players with 30 active when games begin on July 23rd will require flexibility. Fantasy players must adjust on the fly when a player tests positive. Plus, overnight four players opted out of their contracts to play in the upcoming season with more to follow before reporting to Summer Camp. To quote my Mom’s favorite band The Carpenters, “we’ve only just begun”. 

In an effort to provide the cliff notes on roster rules and the pending changes to on field rules, tweets will be used to illustrate details within the framework of return to play protocol along with how the recent news on social media affects players leading up to redraft leagues firing up drafts in the coming weeks. 

First, trying to mine how the 60-man roster operates, this thread from Levi Weaver of The Athletic helps shed light on the potential churning of players in the upcoming season: 

Personally, this helped shed light on how teams can manipulate player movement between the active roster and its player development pool in the team’s off-site training facility. However, the headache of trying to determine an injury to a player or a positive test for the virus may be difficult to discern as this thread continues:

Since players need to allow a team to announce a positive testing, simply appearing on the injured list may occur with a positive test in the MLB. Long story short, be sure any redraft league playing for money allots as many injured spots as possible to promote keeping players on a roster without discerning what prompted the player to land there unless it’s an obvious injury. 

As for the roster itself, teams will break Summer Camp with 30 active players for the first 15 days then cut down to 28 prior to reducing the number to 26 after 29 days which remains the number until the playoffs with no expansion of rosters this season. Teams get to add to the 60-man roster throughout the season but in adherence to the 40-man roster rules in terms of placing players on waivers, making claims and adding free agents. When roster cut to 26, initial reports suggested a 13 pitcher max on the roster which promotes the most fluid portion of this shortened season. Relievers could be shuffled in and out of rosters to provide fresh arms to maximize innings. Teams also can travel with three “taxi-squad” players who do not get listed on the active roster but can be activated if necessary but receive no major league salary or service time as one of the three. 

As for the trade deadline, it will be on August 31st so fantasy leagues can lock rosters a week or two after this date. For the postseason, players must be on the active roster by September 15th which will affect the contenders who emerge as this sprint takes place. 

After much consternation, the universal designated hitter will go into effect this season as well which changes valuation of pitchers across the board. It also adds at least 15 more players to the hitter pool for savvy owners in drafts. Forming a strategic approach to this truncated season will be tantamount for success. It’s not about overthinking the schedule or ramifications of the new rules, rather maximizing how teams approach the season based on roster construction. 

However, there will be fallout on how teams manipulate service time issues and player development. For example, both the Phillies and the Mets front loaded their initial roster in a “win now” mode but can add players after cutting down leading up to the season. Other teams named more prospects to their 60-man roster to promote growth of their farm system with no minor league games in 2020. 

Before going into the latest news about players, this quote from Texas Rangers manager Chris Woodward may be the most prescient about how fantasy players should approach the season as well:

“I told the staff today, it’s like we’re entering August tied for a playoff spot. What would our mentality be in that situation? We have to hit the ground running. There is less rope for guys.”

As the sage words of Kenny Rogers resonate, knowing when to hold them or when to fold them in a sprint for fantasy baseball takes on even more meaning. Discerning hot and cold streaks along with replacing struggling players on the roster in actual baseball and fantasy alike makes this season so tough to plan for. On the surface, it seems like targeting veteran pitchers, younger hitters along with rostering saves and stolen bases earlier in drafts while mining power late may be the most effective way to build a roster in this environment. 

With all of this in mind, some roster tidbits emerged on Monday with four players opting out of the season due to health and personal concerns. It started with a player in Arizona: 

For fantasy, this removes the Zac Gallen fighting for a spot in the Diamondbacks rotation rhetoric spewed back in March and also means Alex Young gets a bump as a late round flier or player to track as the season evolves. Regarding Gallen, simply click on his player profile in our baseball guide to read about his upside. 

Defending champion Washington lost two players on Monday as well: 

Noting Ryan Zimmerman first, this really opens the door for Eric Thames at first base with the Nationals and also translates to more at-bats for Howie Kendrick all over the infield plus as the designated hitter. It feels like a long time ago Kendrick projected as a huge bargain due to his hard hit rate in 2019 and batting average insulation to a fantasy roster. Now, he’s back on the radar as a player to target late in drafts with potential upside in a shortened season. Kendrick recorded a robust 48.3 hard hit percentage according to Statcast last year with an average exit velocity of 91.2 MPH, an expected batting average of .336 and expected weighted on-base average of .419 with eligibility at first base, second base, corner infield and middle infield in 20-game minimum leagues. 

Joe Ross seemed to be winning the fifth spot in Washington’s rotation in March despite Austin Voth pitching well in camp. Now, Voth truthers unite since he’s in line to open the season as the fifth starter due to this announcement. Mining late round wins will decide many leagues this year. As for Voth, he owned a 3.31 expected ERA last season with a 17.8 strikeouts minus walks percentage over 43.2 innings with two wins in eight starts. 

Last, but not least in terms of announcing an opt-out on Monday, Ian Desmond not only expressed his concerns about the upcoming season, but other systemic issues in the locker room and in front offices in baseball:

While covering KBO (Korean Baseball) for the site, seeing the passion and respect for the game played during these contests reminds us it should be fun. Flipping a bat should not mean getting a fastball thrown behind you and when a pitcher hits a batter, he tips his hat as a way of apologizing. Refreshing, right? 

In terms of fantasy, many see Sam Hilliard being the biggest benefactor of Desmond’s announcement but those searching for steals hope this opens the door for not only Garrett Hampson to garner more at-bats, it also could pave a way for Brendan Rodgers to log more time at second base shifting Ryan McMahon to first and Daniel Murphy to designated hitter. Stay tuned. 

Keeping all of this in mind, Fantasy Alarm and myself will do its best to keep you ahead of the competition leading up redraft leagues in July. Be sure to stay with us across all fantasy formats to remain ahead of the competition. 


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