COVID-19 Roundup: Manfred Announces Testing Plan

This is the latest installment of a series in which the FanGraphs staff rounds up the latest developments regarding the COVID-19 virus’ effect on baseball.

Rob Manfred Lays Out a Testing Plan

On Thursday night, commissioner Rob Manfred released details of the league’s plan for protecting players and personnel upon the start of the baseball season. In an interview on CNN, he laid out some key bullet points of their design:

  • Players and on-site personnel will be tested multiple times a week, using an MLB-owned lab that previously conducted PED tests.
  • Should anyone show any symptoms, they will be immediately tested, regardless of the regularly planned testing schedule
  • Additionally, anyone who has been in contact with any individual who tests positive at any point will immediately be tested as well
  • Anyone testing positive will be quarantined, effective immediately, until they have tested negative twice in a one-day span

Further details will likely emerge in the coming days. For now, it represents a meaningful step forward in the league’s planning, at least publicly. Until now, every plan we’ve heard has been couched in hypotheticals: assumptions of testing availability, general assurances that they are considering the issue, and so on. This plan is concrete and covers contingencies.

At this stage, it’s nearing an actionable final form. While Manfred hasn’t provided all the details, he did mention that the league has put together 80 pages of contingency plans and protocols. That doesn’t mean it’s ready for implementation yet — making the whole operation hum is still a daunting task. The league also hasn’t addressed why it will be testing several times per week rather than daily, the protocol that other sports appear to be heading towards. And of course, while Manfred stated that a positive test wouldn’t necessarily mean an entire team would need to be quarantined, that would throw a wrench in the works.

But despite that, this is a sign that baseball will likely have some form of a season this year. The owners haven’t yet staked out a good-faith position on player pay. They couldn’t come to an agreement on the draft, despite that being a reasonably advantageous negotiating position — the player’s union has traditionally been willing to give on draft matters in exchange for current considerations.

Having a plan changes the breaking point. Before now, it wasn’t merely a matter of money, but also safety. Assuming the league can follow through on this testing regimen, though, playing baseball this year seems feasible. Where those games will be played, and whether the league and the player’s union will come to an agreement on fair compensation for those games, remains to be seen. But a concrete plan on how to keep players safe is a huge step in the right direction.

Get Well Soon, Art Howe

Art Howe, the longtime player and manager perhaps best known for managing the Moneyball A’s, has been hospitalized due to COVID-19, he told reporter Tulsi Kamath. After feeling ill on May 3, he tested positive, and has been fighting it ever since.

His symptoms still haven’t subsided; per Howe, the ICU plans on keeping him until he doesn’t run a fever for 24 consecutive hours. He’s cautiously optimistic that his symptoms are improving, but understandably worried, given that he’s had the illness for 12 days at this point. Still, he’s hopefully through the worst; he reports seeing some improvement to his health over the past few days.

CPBL Welcomes Fans

Richard Wang, the English language announcer for the Taiwanese CPBL, reports that the league will begin allowing fans into games starting immediately. Social distancing will still be enforced; only 2,000 fans will be allowed into each stadium, and only family members will be able to sit together.

Regardless, having fans at games again is a huge step forward. The atmosphere of fanless games has been at times disquieting; like watching a Marlins game but amplified. The televised experience will greatly improve with crowd noise, a huge consideration given the fact that the game will rely heavily on television broadcasts until a COVID vaccine can be found. The in-person experience might still be odd — again, unless you’re a Marlins fan — but the stadiums will have concession stands with bento boxes, which are sealed and thus safer to eat.

Taiwan has been far ahead of the curve in responding to COVID, drawing top marks from international observers, which gives them a leg up when it comes to a return to normalcy; the US will hardly be allowing fans into games anytime soon. But it’s still a great sign that with the right government response, life can return, at least somewhat, to the way we experienced it six months ago.

Cincinnati Furloughs Employees

The Reds became the latest team to announce that they will be furloughing employees. Additionally, they’ll be reducing salaries for at least some of the remaining employees. The furloughs will affect roughly 25% of the team’s personnel, and will take place on June 1.

The furloughed employees will still have healthcare benefits, and the team announced that they’re hoping to bring them back as soon as baseball returns, and expressed the usual platitudes about their respect and appreciation for the furloughed staff in their statement. They aren’t the first team to do so by any means — the Marlins have currently announced the largest furloughs, at roughly 40% of their staff — but it’s a tough blow for the affected Reds employees, and a reminder that baseball’s return matters for more people than just the owners and players.

Revenue Sharing Looks Unlikely in 2020

Per a report from Ken Rosenthal and Evan Drellich, MLB is likely to halt revenue sharing for the 2020 season. Revenue sharing has existed for decades, sending local revenue from the biggest-market and highest-grossing teams to the small-market, and hence generally low-local-gross, ones. In 2020, with nearly no gate revenue to speak of, the system wouldn’t make much sense, and so the league is likely to shelve it.

Rosenthal and Drellich theorize that teams with the smallest local revenue may be the (relative) beneficiaries of this season’s fan-less baseball, but generally speaking, revenue sharing merely helps even out local revenues. It doesn’t cover local or national TV deals, which will be teams’ main source of income this year. The decision to cancel revenue sharing, then, is almost a formality — but it’s a further reminder that this year won’t be business as usual, and that the disruptions will affect different teams differently.

MLS Extends Training Ban

Major League Soccer extended its training ban through June 1 yesterday. The ban prevents players from practicing in groups. It also keeps team facilities closed unless players need medical treatment that can’t be safely done remotely.

The timeline of this extension isn’t directly meaningful for baseball — it expires a month before even the most optimistic plans for restarting regular season play and weeks before spring training would restart — but it’s certainly not good news. Other sports are a useful bellwether for estimating the public health climate as it relates to baseball. An end to the training ban would be an excellent sign as to how government officials perceive the safety of bringing sports back.

This article has been updated to reflect that Art Howe contracted COVID-19 in May, not March.

Ben is a writer at FanGraphs. He can be found on Twitter @_Ben_Clemens.

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3 years ago

Hi Ben. Thanks for the write up and contributions as always. A small correction: I believe you meant that Art Howe contacted COVID19 on MAY 3rd and not March. The way you wrote reads as if he’s had it for 2 months. Cheers.