After Major League Baseball suspended spring training last week, several Phillies players and staff were skeptical that the season would be pushed back only two weeks.
It now seems a foregone conclusion that regular-season games won’t be played at all in April — and perhaps later.
Amid the ever-deepening coronavirus outbreak — and with a New York Yankees minor leaguer having become the first pro baseball player to test positive for COVID-19 — MLB issued guidelines Sunday that included a “strong recommendation” to teams that players not be permitted to congregate at spring-training facilities for organized workouts, even on an informal basis. The league also stressed the social-distancing protocols outlined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Some of the 59 players in the Phillies’ big-league training camp left Florida over the weekend and returned to their offseason residences. Many others are likely to follow, according to a source, in the coming days.
In a Sunday memorandum to teams, MLB directed all non-40-man roster players (minor leaguers and veterans on minor-league contracts) to be sent home as long as it’s feasible and instructed clubs to provide accommodations for players and staff who reside outside the United States or in high-risk areas within the country. Many Phillies minor leaguers are set to leave on Monday.
The commissioner's office is reportedly planning a conference call with team owners and presidents at noon Monday after two days of meetings with the Players' Association.
Phillies general manager Matt Klentak said Saturday that the team planned to allow for a “January-style camp” for players who chose to remain in Clearwater, Fla. In that arrangement, players would have access to the team’s facility for medical care and informal workouts.
Although the MLB memo noted that spring-training facilities will still be open to major-league players, particularly those who are rehabbing from injuries, it barred teams from organizing “group workouts, practices, skill or conditioning sessions, or other player activities."
But given the unprecedented circumstances of a national emergency caused by a global pandemic, the number of unresolved issues extends far beyond the logistics of where players should go while baseball is shut down. One source described all of the uncertainty as “daunting.”
A sampling of items on the agenda:
— When things finally return to normal, what will a second spring training look like? Will teams reconvene in Florida and Arizona, or will camps be held in home cities? The Phillies, for example, could train at Citizens Bank Park and play exhibition games against the Baltimore Orioles, New York Yankees, and other nearby teams.
— How will out-of-work game day employees (security personnel, concession workers, ushers, etc.) be compensated? Some players are trying to help. Cincinnati Reds pitcher Trevor Bauer set up a GoFundMe to support game day staffers that had raised more than $21,000 through Sunday afternoon.
— Will players get paid during the shutdown? The commissioner could invoke his right to suspend pay during a national emergency. Minor leaguers and even young players who have not yet signed big-money contracts might need to find temporary work.
Further complicating matters, MLB can’t begin to redraw the regular-season schedule because opening day will remain a moving target until the coronavirus is contained. Even medical experts can’t say when that will happen, so how are teams supposed to advise their pitchers to stay ready for the season?
“We don’t know what the recipe is because we really don’t have an opening day,” Phillies pitching coach Bryan Price said last week. “Once we have an opening day, we’ll have a better understanding of what we’re going to need to do. But at this point in time, we’re going to keep the guys in shape until we have a little bit more of a resolution with this.”
Said Klentak: “The best advice we can give players is stay in general baseball shape but remain flexible because we don’t know when we might resume.”