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3/15 Update: Major League Baseball has sent a memo instructing teams to send non 40-man roster players home except for those receiving treatment at team facilities. Players on 40-man rosters may remain at spring training sites and have access to team facilities, but no group activities such as workouts, practices or conditioning sessions are permitted. (Source: Evan Drellich, The Athletic)
When the day began Friday, teams had been advised by Major League Baseball to keep both their major and minor leaguers near their spring training facilities and permit travel only on a limited basis.
By late afternoon, that was reversed.
Club officials confirmed Friday afternoon that players are being allowed to return home in wake of the novel coronavirus outbreak that has caused the cancellation of spring training and delayed the start of the regular season by at least two weeks.
Major league players have the option of remaining at their club’s spring training facilities, if they wish, under the new guidelines. Some clubs have permitted minor leaguers to stay as well, while others have sent their minor leaguers home.
No timeline was provided for when players who leave will be required to return to their spring training sites.
“This is really a developing situation,” Red Sox president of baseball operations Chaim Bloom said. “It’s been agreed that now our players can leave if they choose to and go home or go wherever they need to go. We’re trying to make sure that happens in a safe and orderly manner. We’re working on that as we speak.
“For players who want to stay here, we will have the facility available to them and obviously we’re going to continue and intensify all the precautions we’ve taken to make sure this a clean and safe environment for everybody that’s here. This is a new situation for all of us.”
It was a reversal from earlier in the day, when general managers and managers largely said they would remain at their spring training facilities and that players would be kept nearby.
“We’re taking that mainly from Major League Baseball, which has asked the players to remain at the spring training sites and not to travel absent exceptional circumstances without express authorization from the Commissioner’s Office,” Astros GM James Click said earlier in the morning. “I know that the Commissioner’s Office and the Players Association are working together on providing additional information, but as of right now the information that we have been given from the league is to ask the players not to travel absent those exceptional circumstances.”
That going home is optional, not mandatory, is significant for minor leaguers on the teams permitting them to stay. Minor leaguers are not paid during spring training and are only paid once regular season games begin. With the start of the minor league season postponed indefinitely, they were already facing a financial crunch.
“That’s something we are still working on,” Bloom said. “Our minor leaguers will also be able to leave should they choose to. Obviously it’s a larger number of players there and there are some other issues there. For those who stay around here we want to continue to support them as best we can, make sure this is a good environment for them. We recognize especially as you get into the population of minor leaguers, this may be the best option and we want to make sure it is a good option, but also that they have the ability to go other places if they need to. It’s something we’re working on.”
The decision to allow players to return home casts doubt that the regular season could start on April 9, the earliest possible date, after MLB announced its two-week delay.
Players will need time to ramp up for the season, with more time likely required the longer they are away.
“I think it depends on how long the hiatus is,” Click said prior to the announcement stating players would be able to leave spring training sites. “I would assume that the longer that it goes, the longer that we’re going to need to ramp back up. That said, my understanding is that part of the reason for keeping everybody nearby (was) so that if we get clearance from higher authorities that we are going to start ramping back up, that we can do that in an accelerated timeframe.”
Astros manager Dusty Baker was a player during the 1972 strike that canceled the first week and a half of the season and the 1981 strike that interrupted the middle of the season. He was also the Giants manager the last time Opening Day was delayed in 1995 as part of the player strike that carried over from 1994.
“The similarities are the fact that I’m hoping that the guys will continue to work out and stay in shape and not lose the conditioning and shape that they’re in now,” Baker said. “In 1981 … we were all on our own and I continued to work out. I swam a lot, I worked out everyday. I just knew that baseball that was going to return. I was playing whiffle ball with my nephew, just anything I could do to stay in shape.
“These are some of the things I can call upon. Baseball will be back. It’s going to be boring, but I think it’s a must that you stay in shape and keep your mind ready to come back to baseball at some point in time.”
International operations are largely in limbo, with teams in the early stages of discussing what to do at their Dominican academies. Some facilities are currently open but restricting who comes in or out, while others are closed down as they usually are this time of year. The Dominican Republic had five confirmed cases of COVID-19 as of late Friday evening, according to CNN.
Scouting operations have also largely shut down, in part because few games are being played. In addition to a total shutdown of professional baseball, every Division I college and a significant number of junior colleges and high schools nationwide have canceled or suspended athletic events.
“Obviously there’s no games to be played right now. Our amateur scouts are in a holding pattern at this point,” Royals general manager Dayton Moore said. “If there’s games being played somewhere we will be smart about how we operate, whether that’s stay off airplanes or how we get to those games.
“If players are performing we’ll have somebody in the ballpark, but right now there’s just not a lot of games being played. We’ll just manage that and observe what happens in the industry and react to the landscape here.”