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Image credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

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. 

The Conditions

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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Tim McCullough
4/09
Sequestering 1500(?) players and thousands of support staff in the greater Phoenix area for 4-5 months also sounds impossibly absurd. Does anyone really believe the players, especially the single under 30 variety, can be expected to limit their movements to the ballpark and their hotel? I can almost hear the warden saying, “what we have here is a failure to communicate.”
Jason M
4/09
Uh most of us are literally on forced lockdown right now, against our free will. Acting like baseball couldn't isolate is ridiculous. Moot point though really because the projections show coronavirus being gone from almost all the US by mid-June, so they wouldn't need to isolate. Craig is going to be so upset when baseball returns, that alone makes it worth it. And because I know Craig will try to claim otherwise, here's the actual projections from the experts at IHME: http://covid19.healthdata.org/united-states-of-america
Jason M
4/09
So according to Craig, it's a laughable plan because, uh: 1. testing: within 2 months, 5 minute tests will be widely available and also SEROLOGY TESTS for immunity (way to leave that out because it's a gamechanger); 2. condition: seriously? play at night genius. Between Citi, the ST stadiums, and stadiums like GCU and ASU that isn't hard to do. 3. positive tests: This really relates back to #1, serology tests, rapid tests, and a huge decline in overall cases mean positives are going to be manageable, 4. strike zone: Not ideal but a reason to call a plan laughable? Thanks for the contribution Craig, stick to letting other people handle the writing, because you still seem really hurt that the MLB and MLBPA reached a deal
steve161
4/09
You have managed to misunderstand those wildly optimistic projections you cite. They do not assume the virus will be "gone". They assume that in a best-case scenario of adequate testing, sufficient availability of medical necessities, continued isolation and social distancing the rate of infection will approach zero. It follows that any departure from best-case behavior will open the door to a resurgence of the virus, which will assuredly not have disappeared from the face of the earth.
4min33
4/09
All correct, but that's not even the worst of it. It is unknown how immune previously infected people actually are, and it is unknown whether any such immunity lasts. The mutation rate seems to be lower than seasonal flu, but that could also be a dynamic in play for the longer term.
Craig Goldstein
4/09
Well, they didn't reach a deal, so good try. Also "back by May" isn't two months, it's April already. I addressed the points raised in the article outlining the plan, which didn't touch on antibody tests. The most recent of those have just been approved by the FDA but that doesn't mean they're immediately viable, either. Also what you deem manageable seems subject to a lot of skepticism, re: positive tests and how quickly the virus spreads and who it can impact, even if overall numbers *might* be on the decline. I won't be mad if baseball is back. I'll be thrilled, I just hope they do it safely. Not sure why that is so offensive to you.
dodger300
4/09
Why is it offensive to him, Craig? Let me hazard a wild guess: He is a member of Trump's army of deplorables. They need to express outrage, vitriol, and insults to get through the day.
dodger300
4/09
It is true that MLB and the MLPA reached an agreement regarding service time, pay, and the draft. You are stronly implying that MLB and the MLPA have reached a second agreement regarding when to start playing games and where to play them. Is it possible that you have misinterrupted the first agreement I referenced? If not, please link to evidence of a second agreement that the players association has approved as to when and where to start the season. Thank you.
Carl Willingham
4/09
At some point the media will have to let go of the idea that baseball players are more "special" than anyone else. They will choose to play if they want to get paid, those that don't feel comfortable making a sacrifice will not play and not get paid. IF the conditions are reasonably safe (safer than your average grocery store clerk, mailman, UPS Driver and way safer than a nurse or MD) then they can make that decision. And while they will whine and complain about being seperated, most of them will do so to make that check just like we all will to support our families. Bottom line.
sbnirish77
4/11
At some point the media is going to have to get past the point that we will return to work long before 330 million tests are done and long before the virus cases are reduced to zero.
Cliff Mayo
4/09
I now have "Smooth" in my head, but I appreciated the references.
Craig Goldstein
4/09
I'd apologize but I think you should be thanking me.
ruralbob
4/09
Maybe you need to start with an absurd idea to work toward something reasonable. That’s better than, “It’ll never happen.”
Craig Goldstein
4/09
Right, and throughout the first half of the piece I spoke to why the league and union and other entities would be entertaining something like this. I criticized publishing or delivering these details to the media because it's half-baked and clearly can't work for the reasons elucidated above.