CLEARWATER, Fla. -- If the Phillies’ team meeting here Saturday morning had been set to music, the anthem would have been a classic from The Clash.
Should I Stay or Should I Go?
The decision on how to proceed now that spring training has been shut down because of the coronavirus pandemic will be up to each individual. While some players have left town, a majority of the 59 Phillies players remaining in big-league camp are sticking around for “an undefined period of time,” general manager Matt Klentak said.
There aren’t any known cases of coronavirus within the Phillies organization, according to Klentak, who said he doesn’t know if any team employees have been tested.
“Right now I told guys [to do] whatever makes you comfortable,” pitcher Jake Arrieta said, pulling over his truck on his way out of Spectrum Field. “Guys should be with their families.”
Several players said they intend to wait around until Sunday, when they expect to receive further guidance from Major League Baseball and the players’ association.
Many players have their families with them in spring training. Bryce Harper, for instance, is here with his wife and 6-month-old son. They might feel safer hunkering down in Florida, and most housing arrangements are made through the end of March.
Others, however, have spouses and children at their offseason homes.
And then there’s another contingent, such as left fielder Andrew McCutchen and reliever David Robertson, who are recovering from injuries and therefore tethered more closely to the Phillies’ medical and training personnel.
“We understand every player and circumstance is different and we urged them to make decisions in their own personal best interest,” Klentak said. "Some may stay a short period of time then leave, while others may stay longer. It’s a fluid situation. We also have quite a few who have opted to return to their families, and the staff is similarly split, some staying and some leaving.
Said Robertson: “For the time being, guys are making their own decisions. Nothing is set in stone.”
In an internal memo that was sent out to all members on Friday, the Players’ Association outlined three options: stay at spring-training sites in Florida and Arizona and use team facilities for informal workouts; travel to the city in which teams are based; return to offseason homes.
At least one team, the New York Yankees, voted unanimously to remain at their training facility in Tampa. Prominent agent Scott Boras, meanwhile, told the New York Post that he believes players would be more isolated from the COVID-19 contagion by staying at training camps across Florida and Arizona.
Boras represents several Phillies players, including Harper, Rhys Hoskins, Arrieta, and pitcher Vince Velasquez.
The Phillies didn’t take a vote on how to proceed, according to multiple players. Instead, Klentak reviewed the options in greater detail in an attempt to provide “full candor and honesty.”
“People have the freedom to do whatever they want,” pitcher Zach Eflin said, adding that he hadn’t surveyed many players about their eventual plans.
The Phillies’ highest-ranking front-office officials, in addition to medical and travel personnel, are staying in Clearwater for now. The team pulled its scouts off the road Friday and sent many player-development staffers and other support personnel home.
Players who remain in Clearwater will be able to take part in what Klentak described as “a January-style camp,” in which workouts are voluntary and not overseen by the full coaching staff. Players will have access to medical and training personnel.
“Nothing is formal,” Klentak said, “but we’ll keep our doors open to those who want to be here.”
With players being allowed to leave, it seems certain that the season will be delayed by more than two weeks. That’s particularly problematic for pitchers, who are nearly three-quarters of the way to building their arm strength for the season.
Eflin, for instance, threw about 60 pitches in his most recent start and said he was targeted for approximately 75 in his next one, which had been scheduled for Friday.
Whenever baseball returns, it’s likely that a second spring training will be necessary for pitchers to get back to conditioning their arms for games. Logistical options are being discussed by MLB and the union, although it’s difficult to outline a plan until a new opening day is determined.
“The best advice we can give players is stay in general baseball shape but remain flexible," Klentak said. “Because we don’t know when we might resume.”
There is a financial component to all of this, too. Players don’t receive paychecks until the start of the regular season, which had been scheduled for March 26. (They get a per diem during spring training.) Contract language stipulates that the commissioner can suspend pay in the event of a “national emergency.” President Trump declared a national emergency Friday.
Another issue that is being discussed by MLB and the union: what to do about contract clauses that allow certain players to opt out of minor-league deals? That applies to several players in Phillies camp, including infielders Neil Walker and Logan Forsythe and reliever Francisco Liriano.