Image credit: (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
At long last, baseball has returned.
Now comes the hard part.
Today is the mandatory reporting date for summer camps. Formal workouts are scheduled to begin Friday. As baseball tries to return amidst the coronavirus pandemic, the day-to-day requirements on players and staff are substantial as the league tries to keep everyone as healthy as possible.
Major League Baseball’s Final 2020 Operations Manual, a copy of which was obtained by Baseball America, is 113 pages long. It covers everything from testing protocols to travel restrictions to what food players are allowed to eat to how drills and workouts should be conducted. And that’s just a small sample of the dozens of requirements and suggestions the manual includes.
As camps officially open, here is a guide to the 2020 season based on what testing will look like, what new rules have been put in place and how a season unlike any other in the game’s history will be conducted.
Teams are allowed to bring up to 60 players to summer camp. Camps will be conducted at their home parks and a nearby alternate training site.
Summer camp is divided into three phases: phase 1 is small group workouts where teams are encouraged to divide players into workout groups of five players or fewer; phase 2 is when larger group workouts and intrasquad games are allowed; and phase 3 is when teams are permitted to play exhibition games.
Teams are allowed to schedule up to three exhibition games during summer camp.
Intrasquad games are permitted at alternate training sites, but exhibition games against other teams’ alternate training site players are prohibited.
Each team will play 60 games during the regular season; 40 games against divisional opponents and 20 games against opponents from the corresponding division in the opposite league.
Opening Day will be either July 23 or 24. The trade deadline is Aug. 31 and the postseason roster eligibility deadline is Sept. 15.
Games suspended prior to the fifth inning due to inclement weather will be continued at a later date from the point the game was suspended. They will not, as games suspended before the fifth inning usually are, be postponed and replayed from the start at a later date.
MLB has the right to relocate teams to neutral sites, spring training sites or another team’s home ballpark during the season. The league also has the right to move some or all postseason games to neutral sites.
TESTING AND SAFETY
All players, coaches and team personnel are required to complete a symptom and exposure questionnaire before arriving at summer camp. If their responses indicate they may have contracted or been exposed to COVID-19, they have to undergo further evaluation and testing before they are allowed to report to the team facility.
Upon arrival at summer camp, all players, coaches and team personnel will undergo a temperature check, a saliva or oral/nasal swab for COVID-19 diagnostic testing and a blood test for antibody testing. Individuals must self-quarantine until they learn the results of their diagnostic test (usually 24-48 hours). Only when the test comes back negative are they allowed to enter team facilities.
All players, coaches and team employees must complete a COVID-19 education course prior to summer camp. Teams must submit a certification to MLB that all players and employees completed COVID-19 education.
Throughout summer camp and the 2020 season, players and coaches will have their temperatures checked twice per day, a saliva sample or oral/nasal swab taken every other day for diagnostic testing and a blood sample taken approximately once per month for antibody testing.
Players are required to take their temperatures twice, in succession, each morning before leaving their homes. If their temperature is 100.4 degrees or higher, they are required to report it to their club’s medical staff.
Players who report or exhibit any symptoms of COVID-19 or have a temperature above 100.4 degrees are not allowed to enter a team facility.
Players are required to wear face coverings at all times in the clubhouse and related areas. They are not required to wear face coverings on the field or in the bullpen or dugout during games or practices, or when engaged in physical activities such as batting practice or workouts.
Non-playing personnel are required to wear face coverings at all times in the dugout and bullpen.
Each club’s medical staff is responsible for ensuring compliance for all MLB-mandated health and safety protocols. MLB may conduct random audits to ensure proper procedures are being followed.
Testing and procedures will be overseen by a Joint Committee consisting of one non-medical representative from MLB, one non-medical representative from the MLB Players’ Association and two physicians (one appointed by each of the parties). Any disputes not solved by a majority vote of the committee will be resolved by an independent expert agreed upon by the MLB-appointed physician and the MLBPA-appointed physician.
Players, on-field personnel and team officials may not take public transportation between their homes and the ballpark.
On the road, players and other members of a team’s traveling party are not allowed to leave the team hotel to eat or use any restaurants open to the public. They can only eat at a private dining area for the team provided by the hotel or order food via room service or a delivery service such as Grubhub or Postmates.
Umpires must complete COVID-19 education prior to the season and throughout the course of the regular season.
MLB is providing free testing to household members of the covered individuals and to medical workers and other first responders in each club’s home city.
Individuals who test positive or show symptoms are required to immediately isolate themselves. Each team is required to designate a “Dedicated Isolation Area” at their spring training site, alternate training site and home ballpark where individuals who test positive can isolate until they are relocated to their homes or an outside medical facility.
Once home, individuals who tested positive are required to self-quarantine. They are required to remain isolated and restrict all activities outside their home until they are cleared by both their team physician AND the joint committee.
Individuals who test positive must have two negative tests taken at least 24 hours apart, show no fever for 72 hours without the use of fever suppressants, complete an antibody test and receive clearance from both team doctors and the joint committee before they are allowed to return to team facilities, in addition to satisfying any local regulations or requirements.
Clubs are required to identify and monitor individuals that came into contact with the person who tested positive. Those who were in close contact will be required to wear a surgical mask at all times (except on the field) and will be subject to increased testing, temperature checks and symptom monitoring. Teams are required to immediately clean all areas where the individual testing positive had recently been.
Each club is required to establish a COVID-19 action plan and submit it to the joint committee for approval. Action plans must contain specific procedures for isolating, testing and treating individuals who test positive.
Equipment can not be shared unless it is cleaned and disinfected before and after each use.
High-fives, fist bumps, hugs or other physical interactions “must” be avoided.
Communal drinks, such as Gatorade jugs, are prohibited. Only personal bottles or water from contactless dispensers (with disposable cups) are allowed.
Tobacco and sunflower seeds are prohibited at all times. Chewing gum is allowed.
Spitting is prohibited.
Lockers are recommended to be at least six feet apart. If not possible, teams can use temporary clubhouses and/or locker facilities in the stadium to supplement their available space.
Showering is discouraged but not prohibited. Teams are encouraged to limit the number of players using the showers at the same time.
In the weight room, each individual must have at least 36 square feet of space (six feet by six feet) of distance between them and any other person, including strength and conditioning coaches.
Clubs are encouraged to relocate weight room equipment to outdoor areas of the stadium if feasible.
All buffet-style and communal food spreads are prohibited. Meals and snacks may only be served in individualized to-go containers.
The use of video and replay rooms by players is prohibited. Players will be provided with personal tablets that can be loaded with content before and after games.
Whirlpools must be drained, disinfected and re-filled after each use. Players must wear a cloth mask over a standard surgical mask during hydrotherapy or cryotherapy treatment.
Using indoor batting cages is discouraged when hitting outdoors is feasible.
Pitchers will have their own personal set of baseballs to use during bullpen sessions.
Only players who are active and likely to play in that day’s game are allowed in the dugout. Inactive players will sit in the stands or other seating outside the dugout at least six feet apart from anyone else. Relievers not warming up are also encouraged to sit in the stands six feet apart rather than in the bullpen.
Dugout and bullpen phones are to be disinfected with anti-viral wipes after each use.
Players on opposite teams are discouraged from socializing or coming within six feet of each other before the game, between innings or after the game.
Teams “should” conduct any administrative, scouting or advanced work on a personal electronic device.
No team employee is allowed to access another team’s alternate training site unless approved by MLB.
Alternate training sites are closed to the public.
The designated hitter will be used in the National League.
All extra innings will begin with a runner on second base. The runner must be the final batter of the previous inning (or a pinch-runner for that batter). The only exception is if the final batter of the previous inning was a pitcher. In that case, the runner may be the hitter who preceded the pitcher in the order.
Pitchers must face a minimum of three batters or pitch to the end of an inning (previously announced for the 2020 season).
Any position player may appear as a pitcher at any time. (This reverses the previously announced rule change for 2020 where only position players designated “two-way” players could pitch unless it was after the ninth inning or the score differential was six or more runs.)
There is no limit on the number of pitchers a team can have on their active roster. A limit of 13 pitchers was previously set to take effect for the 2020 season.
Players and managers may not come within six feet of an umpire or opposing player or manager to argue or engage in an altercation. Fighting is prohibited and discipline will not be reduced or prorated based on the length of the season.
Pitchers are not permitted to lick their fingers but can carry a wet rag in their back pocket to use for moisture. Pitchers cannot use the rag while on the rubber. Umpires have the right to check the rag at any point.
There will be no pregame exchange of lineup cards. Lineups will be input into a mobile application provided by MLB.
The active roster limit will be 30 players for the first two weeks of the season, 28 players for the following two weeks and 26 players for the remainder of the season. There will be no expanded rosters in September.
Clubs may add an additional player to their active roster for a doubleheader while the active roster limit is 26, but not when it’s 28 or 30.
Clubs can carry three additional players as a “taxi squad” on all road trips in the event a replacement is needed on short notice. One of those players must be a catcher. Taxi squad players will not stay with the team during home games and will return to the alternate training site at the end of each road trip except for the catcher, who may remain with the team during home games as the bullpen catcher.
There will be no bat boys/girls or ball boys/girls. Duties will be performed by club staff.
ROSTERS AND TRANSACTIONS
Teams will declare a 60-man player pool. Only players in that pool are eligible to participate in summer camps or the regular season.
Players may be added and removed from a 60-man player pool via trades, releases, signings, waiver claims and other standard transactions. However, once a player is removed from a team’s 60-man player pool, he may not be added back by the same team.
Only players on a 60-man player pool are permitted to use any club facilities or participate in any team activities.
Players on the three-man taxi squad will not receive Major League service time unless they are activated. They will be paid at the minor league rate in their contracts, but will receive the major league allowance of $108.50 per day.
The 60-day injured list has been reduced to 45 days.
A COVID-19 Related injured list has been put in place. A player may be placed on the COVID-19 Related IL based on a positive test, confirmed exposure to COVID-19 or if he exhibits symptoms and requires isolation. There is no minimum or maximum length of placement. The joint committee must approve any placements or activations from the COVID-19 Related IL.