While the ongoing pandemic and the health measures and restrictions associated with COVID-19 aren't going away anytime soon, Royals general manager Dayton Moore has a whole new set of concerns to sort through ... and they're finally all baseball-related.
Overnight, managing a baseball operations department that wasn't actually playing baseball games in the middle of a pandemic has turned into the task of managing a baseball operations department in the middle of a pandemic as it prepares for one of the most unique seasons in baseball history.
"We're just so thrilled internally as an industry for this opportunity to get back and play, especially for our fans, our fans in Kansas City and throughout our region," said Moore, who went on to say it's humbling to be able to provide fans a baseball experience this year.
The Royals will report to spring training 2.0 in Kansas City next Wednesday. Kauffman Stadium will serve as their home facility as they get ready for a 60-game season that's expected to start July 23-24.
Several decisions will be made in coming days to set the table for the abbreviated season, including the shaping of a 40-man roster and 20-player taxi squad that will ultimately provide the basis for an active roster.
Along with those topics, Moore addressed the current health of the Royals' players, where the organization stands in regard to COVID-19 cases, the potential for players to opt out of the 60-game season due to health concerns and how workouts will likely unfold at Kauffman over the next three weeks.
Moore said they're "working through" their 60-man pool of players and "have a pretty good idea who that 60 will be" during a video call Wednesday afternoon. He did not discuss specific players but said the team's baseball operations staff had started contacting them to let them know what to expect in the next few days, including the protocols for coronavirus testing.
Moore said there would be "nobody surprising" on that list of players.
"We may look forward to an opportunity to add some of our top prospects to this group of 60," Moore said. "That's still something that we're looking at, and we have been looking at. We want to do that in a coordinated way and what the future might look like the rest of the summer."
The Royals sent three of their top four pitching prospects to minor-league camp before the suspension of spring training in March. Jackson Kowar, Daniel Lynch and Kris Bubic were all sent to minors, while Brady Singer remained in the club's big-league camp. Singer was scheduled to pitch in a spring training game on the day all MLB camps were shut down.
Moore said the Royals don't want to compromise their 60-player pool with guys who might be eligible to participate in some form of a minor-league development camp or expanded instructional league/game settings later this summer.
"We want to make sure that, not only do we give our major-league (team) as much opportunity to win and as much depth as is necessary over this 60-game schedule, but we also want to make sure we balance that with making sure we have prospects here that we need to have take the next step in their development to be ready for 2021 and beyond," Moore said.
As far as workouts, Moore said he expected they'll be staggered throughout the day at Kauffman Stadium. The team is also looking into possibly using other facilities in the area.
Moore said he felt "optimistic" that no players would opt out of the season due to health concerns, but he did mention left-handed relief pitcher Timmy Hill as a high-risk individual because he is a cancer survivor.
"Talking to (head athletic trainer) Nick Kenney, he believes Timmy Hill is really looking forward to playing," Moore said. "So we don't envision any of our players opting out, if you will, at this point in time. But I'm sure they're still having some of those discussions with their family members."
Moore also said there was one Venezuelan minor-league player in the organization who was being "monitored" for the virus. The player had been in Arizona working out as the Royals allowed players to use their fields, though not the spring training facility itself, during the shutdown.
MLB and the MLB Players Association have come up with a detailed set of health and safety protocols, but unlike plans hatched for the NBA, NHL and MLS, baseball's players won't be confined in a "bubble," isolated from the outside world.
"Everybody's health is at the foremost of everything that we're doing," Moore said. "We're confident that we'll do everything necessary to keep our players healthy. That being said, I'm sure there will be some setbacks along the way. We know that. That's why we have a pool of players that we can draw from, and we have some of the best medical care in the world because of it. We'll make sure it's the highest priority."