KC Royals: The 2021 roster rules you need to know

What are the 2021 roster rules, and how might they impact the KC Royals?

With only five Cactus League games remaining, including today’s contest against Arizona, the KC Royals have just a handful of opportunities left to see players compete in live games for the few remaining major league roster spots. The club needs to determine which players will break camp and head to Kansas City next week to prepare for the April 1 opener against Texas.

But compliance with the mandated active roster limit isn’t the only personnel rule the Royals will face this season. Some of the pandemic-driven roster adjustments Major League Baseball effected last season carry over, in one form or another, to the game’s return to a full, 162-game campaign in 2021.

What do fans need to know before and after the season starts?

The return of the 26-man Opening Day active roster cap for the KC Royals

Perhaps lost in the initial uncertainty and confusion COVID-19 visited on baseball was the new roster limit scheduled to be implemented last Opening Day. Active rosters were slated to expand from 25 to 26 but, with spring training suddenly shut down, and an abbreviated “summer camp” instituted to prepare players for July’s start to the season, MLB allowed clubs to carry 30 players for the first two weeks of the delayed season, 28 for the next two, and 26 after that.

Now, under the new 2021 rules, there is no allowance for extra players in 2021, at least not until the final month of the campaign. All clubs, including the Royals, will start 2021 with 26 players; only two can be added on Sept. 1, so the annual fall influx of minor league prospects getting the proverbial big league “cup of coffee” is a luxury of the past.

The Royals have until the morning of Opening Day to finally establish their active roster.

No limitations on the number of pitchers the KC Royals can carry this season

In a clear concession to concerns about pitchers’ durability after last year’s truncated campaign, which limited many hurlers’ innings (especially starters), baseball has lifted the 13-pitcher lid for 2021. Although Kansas City won’t need a fifth starter until mid-April, and with the recent demotion of Kris Bubic, the Royals will go for now with Brad Keller, Mike Minor, Brady Singer and Danny Duffy.

Expect the club to carry an extra pitcher or two for a few weeks, though. The Royals don’t necessarily need 14 or 15 hurlers, but might benefit from a little longer look at Richard Lovelady and Carlos Hernandez, and maybe Ervin Santana.

The “Taxi Squad” is back for the KC Royals, but will be a little bit bigger

As one of the game’s many 2020 health and safety measures, clubs were allowed to designate “taxi squads” to accompany them on road trips last season. The squads streamlined and expedited the process of replacing injured players and assured replacements had been following the same COVID-19 protocols as active roster members. The squads were limited to three players, one of whom had to be a catcher; this year, teams get a five-player complement, but one of the five still has to be a catcher.

The five can work on the field before each road game but, once a game starts, can’t be on the bench with the regular roster and staff.

For the Royals, a five-man squad consisting of a catcher, a couple of pitchers, and a pair of position players seems logical. Fans can expect the club to designate such players as Sebastian Rivero, Meibrys Viloria, Kelvin Gutierrez, Edward Olivares, Nick Heath, Kyle Isbel, and the best hurlers on the 40-man, but not the active, roster for taxi duty. Bubic is a likely candidate until he returns to the regular roster.

The KC Royals will have an alternate training site, but it won’t be as close

Remember the alternate training site, where some of the Royals’ top prospects and minor leaguers spent last season working out of public view? It’s back, but not as close to Kauffman Stadium, and probably not for long.

The club recently announced that the Northwest Arkansas Naturals’ facility in Springdale, Arkansas will host this year’s version of the alternate site, meaning the select group of site players won’t be just the short drive away from the Kansas City Monarchs’ (formerly T-Bones) home field where they set up camp in 2020.

Alternate site rosters can include up to 28 players; it’s a good bet the club will assign most of the current Omaha Storm Chasers, and maybe some of its non-roster spring training invitees, to the site. The start of the minor league season is delayed until at least early May, so having Triple-A players report to Northwest Arkansas makes perfect sense, and reduces the number of minor leaguers who’ll hit Kansas City’s Arizona training complex after the major leaguers leave next week.

Only alternate training site players can be called up to Kansas City while the sites are in operation, so the club can’t dip into its minor league camp for help, necessarily limiting the pool of potential big leaguers to the Opening Day roster and the probable mix of current Triple-A and current non-roster invitees likely to find their way to Springdale a few days from now.

How long alternate sites will operate remains to be seen, but there may be little (if any) use for them once the minor league season begins.

COVID-19 replacement players won’t be subject to option losses

Finally, and in a good move to avoid confusion and harsh results, and promote fairness, the return to the alternate site (or minor leagues if and when the site ceases to operate) of any player who replaces another during a COVID-19 outbreak won’t be considered the exercise of a minor league option, nor will such a player have to be placed on or clear waivers.

The KC Royals open the season next week. A new set of roster rules will greet them.