KC Royals Midweek Musings: Baseball in July, Esky and Nori

KANSAS CITY, MO - OCTOBER 15: Alcides Escobar
KANSAS CITY, MO - OCTOBER 15: Alcides Escobar /

KC Royals Midweek Musings include thoughts about baseball in July, two former favorites playing in Japan, and other odds and ends.

Some KC Royals Midweek Musings while wondering if baseball can complete even a 60-game slate in the face of COVID-19:

July baseball is set. Just when many thought major league clubs and players couldn’t agree on anything, they reached accord late Tuesday on health and safety protocols that represented the last obstacle to 2020 baseball they can control.

Now, only COVID-19 threatens the 2020 season MLB imposed Monday night. The pandemic’s impact was felt again Tuesday when it was learned Colorado’s’ Charlie Blackmon, Phillip Diehl, and Ryan Castellani tested positive for the virus. They became the latest players or team staffers with positive tests since reports broke late last week that COVID-19 had hit the Phillies, Blue Jays, and Astros.

It was the game’s operational responses to pandemic-related issues that the clubs and players needed to hash out and finalize Tuesday before anyone could celebrate baseball’s return. Although little is publicly known about all the details, it’s clear the parties are on common ground.

According to mlb.com’s Mark Feinsand, players will be tested when they arrive at training camps around July 1, then every other day with individual quarantine for positive tests. Twice-daily symptom and temperature checks will also be conducted. Non-players in dugouts will be masked.

Among other known protocol components: without forfeiting service time for this year, high-risk players will be allowed to opt-out of the season, as will players whose wives are pregnant or who live with high-risk people; a special COVID-19 Injured List will supplement the traditional IL; on-field personnel can be suspended if they get within six feet of umpires when objecting to calls; and MLB can relocate teams to neutral venues.

ESPN’s Jeff Passan reported additional measures that will undoubtedly impact baseball traditions:

MLB announced Tuesday teams will likely remain in their traditional divisions but also play teams in the other league’s same division. Although plans aren’t yet finalized, it looks like the KC Royals will play the White Sox, Indians, Tigers and Twins, and NL Central clubs St. Louis, Chicago, Cincinnati, Milwaukee, and Pittsburgh.

And what of rule changes and modifications? There will be several, including placing a runner at second to begin each half-inning in extra-inning contests (regular season only), extending the designated hitter to the National League,  and allowing games that haven’t reached the point of becoming official to be suspended (and completed later) after playing any number of innings.

Roster rules will be modified. Clubs must name 60 players eligible to play during the season–their 40-man rosters and 20-player taxi squads. Active rosters will be 30 players for the first 14 days of the season, 28 for the next 14 days, and 26 the rest of the way; three taxi squad members can travel but one must be a catcher. (This means if they take taxi squad players on the road, the KC Royals will likely travel with at least three backstops, probably Salvador Perez, Cam Gallagher, and either Meibrys Viloria or MJ Melendez).

MLB will lift the present transaction freeze Friday.

At this late Tuesday night writing, varying Internet reports put Opening Day anywhere between July 24 and 27.

Escobar and Aoki working in Japan.  As baseball in America prepares to gear up for a short season, two former KC Royals fan favorites have been at work for a week in Japan. Shortstop Alcides Escobar and outfielder Nori Aoki, both fixtures on the club’s 2014 World Series team, are playing with the Tokyo Yakult Swallows.

Although Escobar isn’t in the leadoff spot he became accustomed to under retired KC manager Ned Yost, he was hitting .308 (4-for-13) over the first four games with a double, two RBIs and a stolen base.

Aoki is struggling early: he’s batting .200 (3-for-15) but has a home run and two RBIs in his four games.

Escobar found his way to Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball League after last playing in the majors for the Royals in 2018. He signed a free-agent deal with Baltimore in February 2019, was released a few weeks later, then signed with the White Sox but never made it out of their minor league system.

Aoki left Kansas City for free agency after the 2014 season and played for San Francisco, Seattle, Houston, Toronto, and the New York Mets before heading back to Japan, where he’d played several years before breaking into the majors with Milwaukee in 2012.

Spring Training 2.0.  Last week’s closure of all major league spring training facilities means most franchises are looking at their home ballparks as venues for what is becoming increasingly known as “Spring Training 2.0.” Canadian pandemic-related travel restrictions cast uncertainty around the final training location for the Blue Jays.

The regular season will likely start and finish with no on-site attendees other than essential team, stadium, security, and media personnel; spring training sessions and exhibition games that might be played will probably carry the same limitations. The extent of live, on-site media spring training coverage remains to be seen, but we can probably expect less coverage and fewer on-camera interviews. Internet-based training camp news may become more extensive than usual.

Simulation information.  A week ago, the virtual KC Royals were 20 games below .500 in baseball-reference.com’s simulation of the 2020 major league season. Things are now worse: the club is 23-52, 23.5 games behind AL Central-leading Cleveland, and tied with the Tigers for last place.

Whit Merrifield has led KC in hitting most of the campaign and remains the best at the plate with a .320 average. Ryan O’Hearn leads in home runs with 11, but surprising Brett Phillips has 10 and Adalberto Mondesi and Jorge Soler are close behind with nine apiece.

While Jorge Lopez remains the steadiest pitcher at 6-2, other hurlers continue to struggle. Danny Duffy is 4-9, rookie Brady Singer is 1-7, Jakob Junis is 1-5 and Tyler Zuber is 1-4.

The Yankees, Mariners, Nationals, Cardinals, and Dodgers join Cleveland as division leaders.

Baseball-Reference uses Out of the Park Baseball 21 for its sim and updates the virtual season around noon each day.

Next. Q&A with KC draftee Will Klein. dark

That’s all the musings for this week. We’ll be back next week with more KC Royals Midweek Musings. Until then, stay safe and healthy.