By Rob Rains
These are anxious times for all professional baseball players but for some, like pitcher Rob Kaminsky, the current situation is particularly nerve-racking.
As the discussions between the owners and the players association continue in hopes of reaching an agreement that will let the major-league season begin in early July, there are more unknowns than certainties – issues dealing with protecting the health of the players and others involved in the game; all of the financial details which must be worked out, and more.
For players in the same position as Kaminsky, however, there is much more to worry about – starting with whether they will be part of the pool of players that will fill the roster and what will become, for lack of a better word, a taxi squad.
Kaminsky, a former first-round pick of the Cardinals out of a New Jersey high school in 2013, returned to the organization over the winter as a minor-league free agent and was invited to major-league spring training as a non-roster player.
Because Kaminsky is not on the 40-man roster, the left-handed pitcher is not a member of the players union – but he definitely will be impacted by the decisions reached by that group in the negotiations with the owners.
In a normal season, the 25-year-old Kaminsky likely would be pitching in Triple A at this point of the year, hoping to get a chance if an opening occurred in the Cardinals bullpen.
This year is anything but normal, however, which leaves Kaminsky and others like him in a definite state of limbo – floating somewhere between the major leagues and the minors, with the very real possibility that there won’t be minor league baseball this season.
Part of the discussions between the owners and players will be not only about expanding the roster, but also how many players to add on the “taxi” squad if there is no Triple A team to draw from in case of an injury or sub-par performance.
“There are so many unknowns,” Kaminsky said by telephone. “Who knows? All I know is I will be ready and hope that I get a phone call. I think I can help the team and I think they think the same thing.
“As long as I get that opportunity I will be thrilled. It’s on me to show up and be ready. I’ve put in a lot of hard work and a lot of time.”
The timing of baseball’s shutdown because of the pandemic likely could not have been worse for Kaminsky, who has battled a series of injuries throughout his career following the trade that sent him from the Cardinals to the Indians in 2015 in exchange for Brandon Moss.
“This was the first year I’ve really been full-blown healthy to start a season,” Kaminsky said. “I feel like every year is important, but I definitely felt the best this year (that I have felt).”
What is riding on the Cardinals’ decision for players like Kaminsky, as soon as they find out how many players they can invite to “spring training 2.0,” is basically whether they will have an opportunity to be in the majors or if this will become a totally lost season – with nowhere else to play.
“It’s not good if you lose a year, regardless of whether you are 22 or 27,” Kaminsky said. “I know at 25 I’m baseball old, I realize that, especially with my injuries and missing time. I’m seven years into this and I was a minor-league free agent.
“I can’t imagine there will be a minor-league season. If you don’t get fans at a minor-league game you are losing money every night.”
The owners and union will have to agree on the expanded roster, with most suggestions appearing to settle on 30 players, and how many players to have on the “taxi” squad, perhaps another 20 players. How those players will be compensated is another issue that will need to be resolved.
Kaminsky wants to compete for one of those spots among the group of left-handed relievers. It’s a deep group, led by Andrew Miller and Tyler Webb, and including prospect Genesis Cabrera and the top pick from last year’s draft, Zack Thompson, who in normal years would be a starter. Kwang Hyun Kim will fill one of the spots on the roster, but the question will be whether he will be a starter or a reliever.
Kaminsky is part of the next tier, a group that includes the oft-injured Brett Cecil and Austin Gomber.
Until he finds out whether he will be part of the new spring training camp, Kaminsky is doing all he can to stay ready. He remained in Florida for a few weeks after spring training closed, staying at a family friend’s condo in Delray Beach, and was able to throw almost daily with Thompson.
Since he got back home to New Jersey, he has been able to throw at a high school field behind his parent’s house, and also off a mound in a warehouse owned by a friend. He also got some suggesions in a phone call with Trevor Bauer, who he knew from his time in the Indians organization.
“I reached out to him and he was nice enough to offer some time,” Kaminsky said.
Mostly, he and his girlfriend have just tried to pass the time anyway they can.
“I think I’ve watched every Netflix show ever created,” Kaminsky said. “Right now I’m watching Billions on Showtime; it’s pretty good. You name it we’ve watched it. We’re doing a lot of reading, and doing yoga four times a week. My girlfriend is an unbelievable cook and she’s been keeping us healthy.
“You have so much time on your hands that you can get better at a lot of stuff. It’s on the player to figure it out. This is even more time to work on stuff I was working on in the off-season that had me feeling great for the first time ever in March so I’ve just kept going … I’ve just got to put a uniform back on.”
Kaminsky realizes a lot has to be resolved before knowing if that will happen in June, or July, or maybe not until next spring.
“There are billions of dollars on the line and more importantly there’s people’s health on the line that you’ve got to worry about,” Kaminsky said. “It’s not just the players. It’s the umpires, the cleaning crew, the TV crew, the clubhouse attendants – everybody. You’ve got to make sure everyone is all right. Not everybody is 25 years old and healthy.
“You don’t want to risk anybody’s health. No sport is worth that as much as I miss baseball – and this is the most I have ever missed it in my life. Hopefully they will get it figured out and I will get an opportunity. I’m chomping at the bit to get back out there and prove myself.”
Follow Rob Rains on Twitter @robrains
Photo courtesy of St. Louis Cardinals