Wearing a mask and standing against the wall while reporters stood in an awkward configuration 6 to 10 feet apart down T-Mobile Park’s club-level hallway, Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto answered questions about the start of summer camp Wednesday.
“This was one of the more unusual interviews I’ve ever done,” Dipoto said after answering about 20 minutes’ worth of questions from the mask-clad media.
The coronavirus has changed just about everything.
On Wednesday, the Mariners released their results from 122 initial intake tests prior to the start of summer-camp workouts, and three players tested positive for COVID-19. All three were asymptomatic and are in minimum 14-day quarantine and following the required procedure to be cleared, which includes daily testing. After the 14-day quarantine, a person must test negative on consecutive days before beginning the process to be admitted to workouts.
Dipoto said he’s encouraged because other teams have reported more positive tests in the intake period.
“Right now we’re pleased with how things are going overall,” he said. “Our players got in early. We got through the testing and we got out on the field in about as seamless a fashion as we could have hoped.”
ESPN received a copy of the email sent from the Major League Baseball Players’ Association to the players with full initial intake-testing results. Per the report, there were 3,740 tests with 3,674 negative and 66 positive (1.8%) – 58 players and eight staff members of teams.
Due to agreed-upon procedure and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), Dipoto couldn’t answer any specific questions about players who have either tested positive for COVID-19 or have not cleared intake protocols to participate in summer camp.
And really, those are the most pressing questions reporters want to ask and the answers fans want to hear.
If a reporter were to ask about a specific player who wasn’t on the field, Dipoto would have to decline comment if it was COVID-related. But he could still talk about a player absent for a baseball injury. This has led to media and fan speculation, confusion for teams and general frustration for all involved.
After six days of workouts with two separate groups of players, there have been noticeable absences — players who have yet to participate in a workout or be seen on the field: outfielder Mallex Smith, utility player Dylan Moore, catcher Joe Hudson, reliever Yoshihisa Hirano and prized outfield prospect Julio Rodriguez.
So here’s where the speculation comes into play. Those are five players who haven’t been on the field for a workout, but the team announced only three overall positive tests. Because Dipoto and the Mariners can’t comment on specifics, speculation follows. Who actually has tested positive and is quarantining? Who is being held out because they came into contact with a positive player? Who is out because they might be showing symptoms but have not tested positive? Who has had test results in question and must re-test? A player must quarantine for 24-48 hours after taking a test to await the results.
MLB took a fair amount of criticism from players on social media after a myriad of issues over the weekend with testing samples not being taken and results delayed from the lab in Salt Lake City. These issues forced several teams to cancel or delay workouts.
Phillies ace right-hander Aaron Nola has been held out of workouts leading to speculation and reports that he tested positive. Phillies manager Joe Girardi couldn’t comment, but Nola’s brother, Austin, told the media Wednesday his brother has not tested positive and that it was misreported.
Based on the operating manual agreed upon by MLB and the MLBPA, there are two injured lists – one for players who have tested positive for COVID-19 and the other a regular 10-day injured list for baseball injuries. But teams cannot notify media when they place players on the COVID injury list.
Dipoto said the Mariners won’t place the three players on the COVID injured list as of yet.
“The list truly is something we won’t really engage in until we get closer to the season or if we have more players (test positive),” Dipoto said. “The mechanics of which we’re still learning as we go.”
There is no reason for the Mariners to make those moves yet with the 30-man active roster not due until July 23 and no pressing need to fill the spots in the 60-player pool.
“If we add a player to our 60, whether it be from inside the organization or signing a free agent, we can’t exceed our 60-player pool limit, minus the player on the inactive list,” he said. “So whenever that player or players comes back from the COVID list or frankly any other normal baseball injury, we are not able to exceed 60 players outside of players who are on extended injured-list programs. … Whether it’s outright or release, any player has to leave the 60-player pool and there’s only two ways to go about that. And those are the two.”
The Mariners will be calculated in making such roster moves because they’d prefer not to lose players from the organization, though there are a few candidates in the 60 – free agents after the season – that could be let go.
“There’s not going to be a lot of willy-nilly movement around the 60-player pool,” he said. “Our goal is to get through this season without losing players from our 60-man pool from a (club) control standpoint. We want them all to be Mariners.”
Dipoto said former All-Star outfielder Mitch Haniger, who had back surgery in February, has yet to resume baseball activity. Haniger has undergone three surgeries since early June. He suffered a ruptured testicle that required surgery June 6. He later had surgery to repair a core-muscle injury in late January after feeling some discomfort while hitting in the cage. Two weeks later, with his back ailing, he underwent surgery to repair a herniated disk.
The Mariners placed Haniger on the 45-day injured list prior to summer camp instead of inviting him. A return for this shortened season seems unlikely.
“Our understanding is with Mitch that, minimally, he’s not going to play for an extended period, and there’s a very good chance that he doesn’t play at all in 2020,” Dipoto said “We want to use that spot on a player who is either (a) developing or (b) has the opportunity to help us here in Seattle if a need arises. We are intentionally asking him not to push it beyond the point where he is comfortable pushing it right now.”