Early Tuesday morning, ESPN’s Jeff Passan reported that MLB and the players union had embraced (though not committed to) a plan that would see all 30 teams play in Arizona, with games hosted at Chase Field and various spring training stadiums, and could begin, purportedly, sometime in May.
The plan is laughable on its face. The number of load-bearing caveats built into the plan is extensive, and even if you accept them as achievable, the remaining issues are serious enough to scuttle the entire scenario. Speaking of scuttling scenarios, MLB responded with an official statement on Tuesday morning, some nine hours after Passan’s article was published, saying in part:
MLB has been actively considering numerous contingency plans that would allow play to commence once the public health situation has improved to the point that it is safe to do so. While we have discussed the idea of staging games at one location as one potential option, we have not settled on that option or developed a detailed plan. While we continue to interact regularly with governmental and public health officials, we have not sought or received approval of any plan from federal, state and local officials, or the Players Association.
The language in this statement is relevant. While MLB has almost assuredly not sought or received approval of any plan from any of the named bodies, these plans have likely been discussed at some level with various governmental officials, health experts, and the union. And in those conversations, the league has likely sought the input or feedback of these various entities or individuals. “Approval” would be an official ask for official signoff on a given plan. Given MLB’s (and commissioner Rob Manfred’s in particular) penchant for lawyerly dissembling, the language used is a decent sign that discussions were likely held with these various groups but nothing official came of it.
The early reaction to the plan laid out in Passan’s article was laughter and derision, and we’ll get to that, too, but it’s important to recognize that as unfeasible as this plan may seem, it’s logical for the league and other entities involved to be thinking through various contingency measures in terms of conducting a season.
It makes sense to discuss, not just as a concept internally, but with other stakeholders, because they’re all interested in playing a season. We’ve been told many times at this point that both the league and the Player’s Association are interested in playing as many games as possible. The various permutations under which those games may be played will inevitably result in some out-of-the-box, perhaps out-of-your-mind ideas. Do those ideas need to be published before some critical thinking is involved? Probably not, but let’s also remember that all of the sides involved in this discussion, from the league office, to the Association, to agents, to networks, are all interested in focusing on how things can work rather than why they can’t.
Which isn’t to ignore the many significant health-related and logistical obstacles found in the proposal outlined on ESPN. To wit:
The Status of Testing
The first thing that jumps out is the concept’s premise: Readily available and frequent testing, without impacting testing available to the general public.
Given where we stand in early April, it’s difficult to imagine an influx of testing supplies and capabilities such that the league would be in a position to test frequently enough to make this viable. It is important to remember that not only would players, trainers, and coaching staff be exposed in these conditions, but so too would umpires, clubhouse employees, grounds crew, bus drivers, chefs, and hotel workers, among others.
As CBS Sports’ R.J. Anderson pointed out in his article on the same subject, if you test a 26-man roster daily, you end up with 20,000 tests per month. The entire state of Arizona has tested a total of 33,000 people thus far. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that the NBA was hopeful to return via the use of a rapid results blood test that would provide answers in 5-13 minutes. The machines that can produce these tests are being distributed nationally right now, but to assume they would be available for the leagues’ use rather than for the broader public is a bit rosy at this stage, and that’s assuming they don’t produce false negatives.
Arizona in summer is like seven inches from the midday sun. Chase Field can maybe be used for four seven-inning games a day? That means you’re playing games early in the morning and late at night at spring training stadiums, to avoid playing things like doubleheaders in triple-digit heat. Throw in that the proposal includes players socially distancing in the stands rather than in the dugout, only now without the benefit of air conditioning and shade, and well, you might say that take … it’s a hot one.
The Case of a Positive Test
Passan’s article says that “While the possibility of a player or staff member testing positive for the coronavirus exists, even in a secured setting, officials do not believe that a positive test alone would necessarily be cause to quarantine an entire team or shut down the season.” The plan to combat the necessary quarantine of some individuals, should one test positive, is to have expanded rosters available. As we all know, viruses respect the boundary of taxi squad players.
Passan notes that the allure of additional salaries and benefits provided to players via expanded rosters would appeal to the PA, and that is undoubtedly true. Both sides find appeal in a plan that would get baseball back on its feet in the near term. What it doesn’t show is a reasonable understanding and regard for the safety of the athletes and staff who would be at risk.
The Electronic Strike Zone
I don’t get this one, folks. The umpires are going to be handling baseballs that have been touched and sweated on by the players, but they can’t stand close enough to the catcher/batter because of social distancing? It seems like, if it’s not safe enough to have umpires do the very basic act of standing in proximity to the players while calling balls and strikes, it might not be safe enough to enact this whole entire thing. I don’t know, maybe that’s just me.
Ultimately, this is an idea that likely saw the light of day before its time. I suspect that while the league did speak to the union and health officials, and probably networks and agents, too, the discussions were more likely an outline from the league to those entities, with some room for feedback. The idea that this is a plan that is in motion is probably premature.
Thank you for reading
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