Belatedly, MLB Addresses Outbreak by Sidelining Marlins and Phillies

In the wake of an outbreak of the coronavirus that has infected 15 Marlins players and two coaches thus far — including four new positive tests reported on Tuesday morning — Major League Baseball showed signs of grasping the gravity of the crisis by backtracking on its previous plan for the team to resume play on Wednesday in Baltimore. Instead, the team’s next two series have been postponed; they won’t play again until at least Tuesday, August 4. The Phillies, whom they faced this past weekend, will be kept out of action until Saturday, August 1 (initially, the plan was for Friday). The postponements affect the Orioles, Yankees, and Nationals, and MLB is in the process of reconfiguring its schedule to absorb the impact of the weekend’s events.

Said MLB in a statement, “Given the current circumstances, MLB believes that it is most prudent to allow the Marlins time to focus on providing care for their players and planning their baseball operations for a resumption early next week.”

The Marlins were initially scheduled to play the Orioles in Miami on Monday and Tuesday, and then in Baltimore on Wednesday and Thursday. In an interview with MLB Network’s Tom Verducci on Monday — by which point the team had at least 13 known infections among players and staff — commissioner Rob Manfred suggested that the Marlins could resume play on Wednesday and Thursday in Baltimore “if the testing results are acceptable.” Even absent Tuesday’s positives, how a double-digit total of infected personnel could be deemed “acceptable” in this context is unclear, but in any case Manfred and the league have seen the light, so now that two-game series has been postponed, as has the Marlins’ three-game set against the Nationals in Miami from July 31-August 2, after which they have a scheduled off day. Per The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal, the “vast majority” of Nationals players voted against going to Miami for the series, and while it wasn’t their call to make, it’s noteworthy that the players publicly offered some pushback regarding the league’s plans.

Via the Washington Post’s Dave Sheinin, Nationals manager Dave Martinez said of the vote, “We all decided that it was probably unsafe to go there. It had nothing to do with the Miami Marlins. It was all about Miami and the state of Florida. This pandemic. [Players] didn’t feel safe.”

Whether or not MLB took the Nationals’ point of view into account, the postponement of the series makes sense in light of the circumstances.

As for the Phillies, they have not had any players or coaches test positive in the most recent batch of tests, though ESPN’s Marly Rivera reported that a member of the visiting clubhouse staff at Citizens Bank Park tested positive in a previous round of testing over the weekend. The team was scheduled to play four games against the Yankees this week — Monday and Tuesday in Philadelphia, Wednesday and Thursday in New York — but those games have all been postponed as well. The Phillies will resume play with a doubleheader on Saturday at Citizens Bank Park against the Blue Jays, though they will bat as the visiting team, since the Jays’ temporary new home, Buffalo’s Sahlen Field, is not yet ready for prime time.

Meanwhile, the Yankees will head to Baltimore to play the Orioles on Wednesday and Thursday, “in order to create more scheduling flexibility later in the season,” according to MLB. The league added that additional scheduling during the week of August 3rd would be announced later this week, which Sheinin suggested “probably hints at the Phillies’ scheduled series in Miami on Aug. 4-6 against the Marlins being either moved or postponed; in the event of the latter, the Phillies instead could make up the games against the Yankees that were postponed this week.”

The pause in play will not only allow the testing protocol to identify any additional players or personnel who are infected but also allow the Marlins to remake their roster, perhaps with additional players from outside the organization — they’ve already added relievers Josh D. Smith, Justin Shafer, and Mike Morin off waivers thus far this week, and reported signed Logan Forsythe — as well as ones from their 60-man pool (thankfully, all of the players at their alternate site in Jupiter, Florida have tested negative thus far). How long those players will be tasked with subbing for two members of the starting rotation (Sandy Alcantara and José Ureña) and four lineup regulars (Jorge Alfaro, Garrett Cooper, Harold Ramirez, and Miguel Rojas), all of whom have reportedly tested positive and whose recoveries are not yet confirmed, is unclear.

The hope is that the team can make up most of the postponed games, but that may not be possible, and it appears that the league has reached the same conclusion I did regarding the possibility of teams play differing numbers of games:

As both Sherman and Sheinin pointed out, this approach was taken during the strike-torn 1981 season, as teams played unequal totals of games in both “halves.” The NL West’s first “half” and the NL East’s second “half” were both won by teams that had one more win and the same number of losses as the second-place team, in this case in the favor of the Dodgers (over the Reds) and Expos (over the Cardinals). Likewise, during the strike-shortened 1972 season, the AL East was won by the Tigers, who had one more win and the same number of losses as the Red Sox.

The Marlins’ entire traveling party is currently self-quarantining in a Philadelphia hotel. Those who tested positive must remain there and self-quarantine for 14 days, according to MLB’s 2020 Operations Manual. The Miami Herald’s Jordan McPherson and Barry Jackson have reported that Miami-Dade mayor Carlos Gimenez said on Tuesday that everyone in the traveling party — including those who tested negative — would additionally have to self-quarantine for 14 days upon returning to Florida. The final say on that rests with governor Ron DeSantis, who had previously excepted sports teams traveling to and from Florida with regards to the quarantine, but may need to revisit that exemption in light of the Marlins’ exposure. DeSantis’ bravado and insistence upon reopening the state in late May has played a major part in Florida’s failure to contain the spread of COVID-19. The state’s total case count surpassed that of New York earlier this week and is second in the U.S. behind California.

The volume and severity of the Marlins’ outbreak and its impact upon the infected individuals should not be ignored. But leaving aside for a moment the issue of their quarantining and compliance with league rules and local regulations, MLB’s new course is at least a significant improvement upon the plan Manfred put forth on Monday, which Oxford College of Emory University epidemiologist Zachary Binney called “absolutely insane” and “the literal stupidest possible plan” given the possibility of players testing negative but incubating the virus. Binney found the new timeline more favorable but not without concerns:

On the news that thus far no Phillies players have tested positive in connection to their exposure to the Marlins, he wrote, “It’s unconditionally good news that no one is sick yet!“ while adding, “Infections could’ve been transmitted from Marlins any time from Fri-Sun. Meaning Phillies players could test positive as early as Monday (when these tests were done), but also easily not until Thursday or Friday.”

For the Marlins and Phillies, it could be a long several days as they wait to be clear of further infections and return to play. MLB, for its part, pointed out in its statement that of the 6,400 tests conducted since last Friday, no player on any of the other 29 teams tested positive. As we’ve seen over the past couple of days, however, it only takes a few positive tests from a single team to send the entire season into chaos.

Brooklyn-based Jay Jaffe is a senior writer for FanGraphs, the author of The Cooperstown Casebook (Thomas Dunne Books, 2017) and the creator of the JAWS (Jaffe WAR Score) metric for Hall of Fame analysis. He founded the Futility Infielder website (2001), was a columnist for Baseball Prospectus (2005-2012) and a contributing writer for Sports Illustrated (2012-2018). He has been a recurring guest on MLB Network and a member of the BBWAA since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @jay_jaffe.

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2 years ago

Is the self-righteous tone really necessary?

Come Down Easy
2 years ago
Reply to  Roger21

I didn’t catch too much of a self-righteous tone. Jay reported an epidemiologist-righteous comment but that’s because the epidemiologist had been proven to be right. Too many facebook certified epidemiologists out there these days.

2 years ago
Reply to  Roger21

There is no self-righteous tone here. There may be a question of whether MLB and the Marlins put the interest of their business ahead of the health of their employees and families or whether or not they are dealing with the fallout well. That is all appropriate.

Nobody wants this experiment to fail, least of all people whose lives depend on reporting sports. Jay knows better than any of us that if there is no baseball till next February’s spring training, there is a good chance that this web site folds and there si a good chance he is out of a job. THT hasn’t published anything in 4 months and Fangraphs home page most prominently displayed graph is a subscription drive. They need baseball more than you and I do.

pumpsie greenmember
2 years ago
Reply to  Roger21

Jay Jaffe lives in an area where 40,000 people died in a little more than a month. If I’m heading down to the trenches in 1916, It would serve me well to listen to the guy who’s been there.

Smiling Politelymember
2 years ago
Reply to  pumpsie green

Jay didn’t say Florida was dangerous–THE ENTIRE WASHINGTON NATIONALS TEAM DID

Barney Coolio
2 years ago

Were the Nationals planning on forfeiting those games if MLB did not cancel them?

Willians Astu-stu-studillomember
2 years ago
Reply to  Barney Coolio

I doubt they came to a decision about what they would do if it came down to an ultimatum to play or forfeit.

2 years ago
Reply to  pumpsie green

If only Ron DeSantis had virtue signaled harder and louder and been far more left wing. Then we could have forgiven him for the coronavirus deaths in his state as we do Cuomo and Newsom. I’m glad we’re making up for it by virtue signaling here though. That will help.