PEORIA, Ariz. — Following a day of deep cleaning at the Mariners’ spring-training complex, Sunday was expected to be when many of the 40-plus players who remained in the Phoenix area during the suspension of spring training would resume training for a season with no start date.
Instead, the complex was quiet with parking lots mostly empty other than a few cars, left by staff, that were waiting to be picked up by the rental company.
The guarded enthusiasm of staying in shape elicited by players during the shutdown is quickly being drained by uncertainty as the novel coronavirus, and COVID-19, continues to spread at an alarming rate and life as we’ve known it is being put on hold.
With each passing day, the hope of a return to baseball normalcy, the resumption of spring training and an opening day of the 2020 season seems to be pushed back farther. The goal of starting the season on April 9 is gone. And the idea of starting on May 9 might not be too realistic. A start in mid to late May or even June 1 is probable.
As one MLB source said, “we are telling players to leave and we aren’t discussing when we might bring them back.”
Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association continue to react and amend policies that were announced just days ago in accordance with new information being released by the Center for Disease Control (CDC), World Health Organization (WHO) and other pertinent governing agencies.
The latest change came Sunday when a memo to all 30 teams from Major League Baseball was leaked to the New York Post and The Athletic. It hinted at more drastic change, including instructing players to leave spring training.
This new memo, and possibly other changes, will be discussed on a conference call with all 30 teams and commissioner Rob Manfred on Monday at 9 a.m. An official announcement of revised protocols will likely be released later Monday with teams outlining their new situation sometime after.
From the memo:
“The strong recommendation from our infectious disease and public health experts is that Clubs should avoid all activities in which players congregate in significant numbers or are otherwise unable to practice the “social distancing” protocols recommended by the CDC. The risk of a player in a Club facility contracting the virus is real, and we must implement protocols to protect the safety and well-being of our players and staff members. In addition, we must recognize that there is the potential for further federal and state restrictions that will impact our operations, including restrictions on travel.”
The changing policy became more prudent early Sunday when news broke out of Tampa that a minor league player for the Yankees had tested positive for COVID-19. Per reports, the unidentified player was experiencing a fever Friday and was quarantined immediately
The Yankees closed their minor league camp and quarantined all of their minor leaguers and staff to a hotel for 14 days.
The memo detailed the protocol for groups of players.
All nonroster players “should return to their offseason residences to the extent practical.” But teams should provide suitable accommodations for nonroster international players, who can’t feasibly travel to their home, or players who reside in high-risk areas in the United States.
As for players on the 40-man roster, the memo uses the key phrase, “At the moment,” to start its policy, which said those players can remain at the team’s spring-training site and are eligible to receive an allowance on accordance to past practices with the club. But it also includes this closing sentence: “We understand that many 40-man roster players have chosen to remain camp today, but we anticipate that may change in the coming days as events continue to unfold and players become better educated about current conditions.”
For the Mariners, this is an interesting situation. There are a handful of younger players that have moved to the Phoenix area and live there in the offseason. So their choice isn’t as complicated. For other players such as Marco Gonzales, Kyle Seager, Patrick Wisdom and a few coaches, who spend the offseason in Seattle, returning to a high-risk area doesn’t seem like a wise decision.
It’s possible that several of the 40-plus players the Mariners expected to remain in the Phoenix area will return to their homes with this hiatus expected to drag on longer than first expected.
Each spring-training facility is to remain open to players on the 40-man roster and nonroster players getting treatment for injuries. The teams don’t have to supply their normal services to the players choosing to stay, including daily meals, but medical care must be provided.
For those players remaining, no group activities will be permitted.
From the memo: “Until we develop appropriate protocols to minimize the risks to players (which we are actively working on), Clubs are not permitted to hold or organize any group workouts, practices skill or conditioning sessions or any other player activities at their facilities.”
MLB said it will provide greater detail of the workout protocols, which includes limiting the number of coaches and staff who may work with a player, staggering the time period that players are in the same area of the facility and implementing hygiene and social-distancing polices. Most teams, including the Mariners, were already putting similar guidelines in place, but MLB is expected to take them to an even higher level.
Also outlined in the memo is how teams should handle their academies in the Dominican Republic, including the reduction of players in the facility “by sending home players who have a convenient and safe place to remain during the hiatus, including players on non-urgent treatment plans that can be followed with the support of remote communication with the medical staff.” Obviously, some players, including many from Venezuela, don’t have a safe environment to return to, and they will be allowed to remain. All group practices and workouts at the academies must cease and social-distancing protocols are to be exercised.