PEORIA, Ariz. — At spring-training facilities in Arizona and Florida, the exodus of players is growing with each day, along with the stark realization that baseball of any sort — besides individual workouts — won’t happen any time soon due to the spread of the novel coronavirus and its illness, COVID-19.
On Monday several players could be seen exiting the Mariners’ facility with multiple bags, loading them into their vehicles and preparing to head home, wherever that may be.
Following the memo sent by Major League Baseball to all 30 teams Sunday — which banned all group workouts and amended policies for players on the 40-man roster, non-roster invitees and minor-league players — many players who at first opted to remain at spring training in hopes of a quick resolution to this problem realized that’s not going to happen.
MLB said it will follow the Centers for Disease Control’s recommendation of an eight-week restriction on groups of more than 50 people. That recommendation was the subject of a conference call with commissioner Rob Manfred and all 30 teams Monday morning. MLB later released a statement verifying what had already become apparent — the season will not start April 9 as hoped.
“Today Commissioner Robert D. Manfred, Jr. conducted a conference call with the 30 Clubs of Major League Baseball. Following last night’s newly updated recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) restricting events of more than 50 people for the next eight weeks, the opening of the 2020 regular season will be pushed back in accordance with that guidance.
“MLB will keep fans updated on decisions regarding plans for the 2020 schedule in the days and weeks ahead. The Clubs remain committed to playing as many games as possible when the season begins. We will continue to monitor ongoing events and undertake the precautions and best practices recommended by public health experts, and urge all baseball fans to follow suit. MLB extends its best wishes to all the individuals and communities who have been impacted by the coronavirus.”
Manfred was in Jupiter, Fla., at the Cardinals’ spring facility and provide some detail.
“We’re not going to announce an alternate opening day at this point,” Manfred told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “We’re going to have to see how things develop. I think the commitment of the clubs is to play as many baseball games in 2020 as we can, consistent with the safety of our players and our fans.”
The other main topic of the conference call was ongoing operations in spring facilities.
“Clarified, emphasized with the clubs that there should be no organized activities in the camps,” Manfred said. “We did agree with the MLBPA that spring training sites would remain open — but the thought there is with a skeleton crew. Really, to give players some place to use a gym as opposed to being forced out into a public gym and the like. We’re really encouraging players to make a decision where they want to be over an extended period of time and get to that location as soon as possible.”
The words “extended period of time” shouldn’t be overlooked, and it’s a reason players have decided to return to their permanent homes.
The Mariners originally expected more than 40 players to remain in the Phoenix area and continue to work out at the facility. That number is down to 28, with a few more possibly exiting soon. Pursuant to the most recent memo, the Mariners sent all non-roster invites home. There were 13 non-roster invites in camp at the time of the shutdown. Two of those players left immediately, while the other 11 were sent out Monday.
Of the remaining players, many live in the Phoenix area during the offseason so they are simply staying home. Others already have their families with them and have chosen to stay in the Phoenix area, which isn’t considered to be a high-risk area like Seattle, the Bay Area, Boston or New York.
A request was made to speak to Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto about the situation, but he likely won’t address the media until other aspects of this situation are clarified.
Major League Baseball and the MLBPA are still in negotiations for player compensation, roster freeze, buyouts, opt-out clauses, service time and other collectively bargained details during this time. Those talks are expected to continue over the next day or two.
The players’ association sent an email to agents Monday saying that for players who went home or to their team’s regular-season city it would pay $1,100 allowances through April 9 to players on 40-man rosters as of March 13. That amount also would go to players with minor-league contracts at big-league spring training who were on 40-man rosters at the end of last season.