After more than 60 days of inactivity because of coronavirus concerns, the locked doors of the Mariners’ spring-training complex in Peoria, Ariz., will soon reopen to a limited number of players and staff.
General manager Jerry Dipoto confirmed via text message that the organization is working through the final preparations to open the complex to individual and small group workouts Monday or Tuesday.
Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey helped make this a possibility May 12 when he announce that the state would be open to the return of professional sports on May 16.
“Of course, this would be with CDC guidelines and protecting public health,” Ducey told reporters following the announcement. “We have had discussions with leaders of some of these leagues, and they all know they are welcome to operate, play and perform in the state of Arizona.”
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a former college baseball player, made a similar announcement May 13. Major League Baseball teams’ spring-training facilities are in Arizona and Florida.
“All professional sports are welcome here for practicing and for playing,” DeSantis said at a news conference in Tallahassee. “What I would tell commissioners of leagues is, if you have a team in an area where they just won’t let them operate, we’ll find a place for you here in the state of Florida.”
The Marlins and Cardinals both reopened their spring facility in Jupiter, Fla., under heavy restrictions, while the Rays have reopened Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla., for workouts with similar guidelines.
As of now, Mariners players have not been instructed to return to Arizona. Any workouts would be voluntary and closely monitored to maintain social-distancing rules. The Mariners closed the complex March 19 after Major League Baseball announced that all group workouts were banned and the season would be delayed indefinitely.
Dipoto wasn’t sure how many players would begin returning to Arizona with the complex open. Some players had yet to hear about the facility being open. But many, who are stuck working out at home in the most basic of ways, would be happy to return to the facility to ramp up training and conditioning with hopes of spring training 2.0 starting in early June and the 2020 season starting in early July.
“No sense for that yet, but there are so many guys in the area already that I’d imagine we see lots of them,” Dipoto said.
Sources indicate that a memo was issued to teams Thursday about re-opening facilities with guidelines for players and staff that must be followed to stay open.
In the days after baseball shut down due the spread of COVID-19, many players stayed in Arizona after spring training was halted, hoping for a quick return and the idea of using the facilities to work out during the break. But many headed to their offseason homes once the facility was closed. Some, such as Yusei Kikuchi, have remained while others, such as shortstop J.P. Crawford and Evan White, live in the area in the offseason.
Does this reopening mean the Mariners would have spring training 2.0 in Arizona if an agreement between the owners and MLB Players’ Association is reached in the next week or two?
The current proposed plan has the option of teams holding spring training at their normal facility or doing it at their home stadiums. There are pros and cons to each situation.
There are some indications that the Mariners would go to Arizona because of the advantages of the Peoria facility, which features six diamonds, three large bullpen setups with two smaller bullpens, two massive clubhouses, a significantly larger weight room and training facility compared to T-Mobile Park. The ability to control social distancing, follow guidelines and provide player safety could be easier to do in Arizona.
“We will wait to see what our true options are before making that decision,” Dipoto said when asked about the situation.
There are sources who indicate the Mariners would prefer to hold it in Seattle at T-Mobile Park. That scenario could be more cost effective for the organization and players.
Having a spring training in Seattle would allow the players to finalize their living situations for the season and get situated instead of waiting until a day or two before the season begins. The team would also defray the cost of getting players from Arizona back to Seattle via charter and also maintaining the expenses of a remote spring training. Also training in Seattle might provide a more seamless transition for the stadium and players into the regular-season requirements and guidelines.
But the biggest hurdle to holding spring training in Seattle is obvious.
With the state of Washington reopening in phases based on testing data and King County still locked in Phase 1 where groups of five or more people are not allowed to congregate, the Mariners couldn’t hold a viable spring training. A jump to Phase 2 where groups of 10 people or fewer would be allowed might make it possible, but still difficult. Any special concessions made for the Mariners or other pro sports teams by Washington Gov. Jay Inslee or Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan likely would be met with a fair amount of consternation.
With at least 50 players, coaching staff and support staff needed to have a spring training, trying to make a spring training work in the limited confines of T-Mobile Park would be difficult. Any use of external, non-affiliated fields would be subject to weather and other guidelines.
Logically, it would be beneficial for the Mariners to know in the next week if a move to Phase 2 is coming for King County and what possible date that might occur. This would allow ample time to determine what is the most viable location for proper preparation and safety. There is a fair amount of preparation that would need to go into either facility to meet expected requirements and be ready to use if/when spring training 2.0 starts.
Holding spring training in Arizona also would allow the Mariners to participate in a handful of games against other teams, such as the Diamondbacks, instead of playing only intrasquad scrimmages. It’s a minor luxury, but also something to consider.
Obviously, all those scenarios are still contingent on a plan being agreed upon by MLB and the MLBPA and the current unpredictable environment with COVID-19.