This is the latest installment of a daily series in which the FanGraphs staff rounds up the latest developments regarding the COVID-19 virus’ effect on baseball.
MLB Considers Fan-Less Season
According to a report by Ken Rosenthal, the league is considering playing games in empty spring facilities in the event that a return to existing facilities and cities is impossible. The plan is still preliminary, and given the speed with which COVID-related health advisories have been changing, is far from settled, but the bones of the plan would see every team quarantine themselves in Arizona and play at spring training facilities.
There are still myriad details to be settled, as is the case for any effort to bring baseball back in the midst of a national emergency. The resources needed to quarantine 800 or so players, as well as gameday staff and other essential personnel, aren’t trivial when local and state resources are already stretched to their breaking point. The league would need special government dispensation for the gatherings. And players would need to be frequently tested — if any player tested positive for COVID-19, the league would likely shut down immediately to prevent the spread.
Still, from MLB’s perspective, if the alternatives are a pie-in-the-sky plan to play games in empty stadiums or no games at all, it’s clear to see why they prefer this one. It’s entirely possible that this is the only way a major league season can happen at all this year, so contingency planning of this type makes perfect sense. There are still wrinkles to be worked out, but backup plans like this are simply good business practice at the moment.
MLBPA Supports Non-Roster Players
The Player’s Association announced that it will distribute money to non-roster players who were still in big league camps when play was suspended on March 13. The payments start at $5,000 and vary by service time, with six-year-plus players receiving $50,000. Would it be better if some of that money made it into the hands of minor leaguers? Sure. But non-roster invitees have a greater need than the average rank-and-file major leaguer, and it’s heartening to see the money spread around. The payments are also voluntary, so a non-roster invitee with $50 million in the bank need not take them. Further details have not yet been announced.
Rangers Brass Take Pay Cuts
Texas Rangers executives are taking 20% pay cuts in an effort to make layoffs and furloughs less likely. Jon Daniels, the Rangers GM, doesn’t disclose his salary, but if it’s in the $5 million range, $1 million pays for a lot of shifts making comically oversized novelty meat products.
Joking aside, I expect more teams to follow suit; shaving executive salaries rather than furloughing workers is both PR- and employee-friendly, and with players also taking salary reductions, it’s reasonable to expect the executive suite to be hit as well. MLB has asked teams not to lay off or furlough staff before the end of April, but all signs point to baseball returning at a much later point in the calendar this year, if it returns at all. Executive pay cuts might bridge the gap to the resumption of play while minimizing layoffs.
Players Continue to Give Back
Justin Verlander and his wife Kate Upton announced that they’ll donate his entire salary during the league shutdown to people and organizations affected by COVID-19 and the resulting economic slowdown. Pro-rated, that would work out to around $290,000, though that could change depending on how the escrowed salary is distributed.
Meanwhile, Steven Matz announced that his TRU32 foundation will make a $32,000 donation to Elmhurst Hospital in Queens. The foundation is also making donations to first responders and other affected hospitals. Matz, a native Long Islander, has donated to first responders and hospitals for years, and his charity is specifically focused on helping firefighters and EMT’s.
Scouting Tasks Can Resume
JJ Cooper reports that the ban on any contact, in person or remote, between team personnel and prospective draftees has been temporarily lifted. Teams can now contact players remotely, though in-person contact is still banned.
Additionally, players can now send video of themselves to teams, as well as provide data from Rapsodo, Trackman, and other similar systems. The video and data must have been captured before March 27, a guideline intended to avoid providing draftees with an incentive to break shelter in place orders to record video or capture data. That hasn’t prevented some draftees from sharing video on their own, however.
Though the timing and structure of the MLB draft is still up in the air, scouting departments already have a great deal of data and video on most prospects with early-round grades. Allowing for remote interviews will let teams conduct a lot of the business they would already be doing around this time, particularly for warm-weather high school players and players on powerhouse college teams.
Update: This article has been updated to reflect a better estimate of Jon Daniels’ salary. The previous number was for the total value of his deal over multiple years.
Ben is a contributor to FanGraphs. A lifelong Cardinals fan, he got his start writing for Viva El Birdos. He can be found on Twitter @_Ben_Clemens.