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.
MLB’s Extensive List of Health and Safety Protocols Is Being Dissected
Last Saturday, a 67-page document laying out all of the health and safety measures considered necessary for a 2020 major league season was reported by The Athletic. In the week since, voices from inside baseball as well as the public health and epidemiology fields have weighed in on what the proposal means, where it goes too far, and where it falls short.
Beginning with medical experts — since they really are the most important voice here — the perspective seems to be that MLB’s proposal is extensive and thoughtful, but the actual execution of it will be challenging. That was the sentiment communicated by Andy McCullough and Marc Carig in a story for The Athletic that ran Thursday. Part of the challenge could be ensuring that measures are taken as seriously as they should be for as long as possible. If MLB’s protocols are effective, it will mean the virus isn’t spreading throughout clubhouses. That will make the threat seem less dangerous, which could lead to people letting their guard down and no longer following the rules as closely.
Troublingly, the steps toward that false sense of security has already begun. In a report by ESPN’s Jesse Rogers, players openly wondered why so many restrictions would be necessary in an environment where everyone has tested negative for the virus. As doctors have warned, however, false negatives exist, and allowing everyone to proceed with life as normal would be very risky regardless of test results.
The biggest issue in the minds of medical experts and players alike, however, appears to be the frequency of testing. In a story by ESPN, Mike Trout stated, “I don’t see us playing without testing every day.” That’s an important specification, because the initial proposal merely called for “regular” testing, with the only daily measure being temperature checks. Medical professionals are clear about the fact that people can be asymptomatic carriers of the virus for multiple days before even showing a higher temperature, which means that letting even a single day go by without a test could have enormous consequences.
When the players union responded to MLB’s proposal yesterday, testing was one of the issues put forth.
MLBPA has delivered its response to MLB’s health protocols. Includes notes on:
• Testing frequency
• Protocols for positive tests
• In-stadium medical personnel
• Protections for high-risk players and family
• Access to pre-, postgame therapies
• Sanitization protocols
— Evan Drellich (@EvanDrellich) May 21, 2020
Daily testing presents the same logistical challenges it always has, though. There still aren’t enough supplies for MLB to use that number of tests without depriving health professionals and others in need. Other topics referenced by Drellich, such as pre- and postgame therapy access, echoed what was reported by Ken Rosenthal as potential changes that executives wanted to see in future drafts of MLB’s proposal.
Overall, the disagreements and misunderstandings here seem small compared to the battles over player pay. In the case of health and safety, however, most parties seem to be pulling in the same direction. Stated Paul DeJong to ESPN, “There were a lot of rules and infrastructure to get in place and enforce … we’ll find the right mix. We can pull this off.”
Cubs, Pirates Implement Pay Cuts
Employees of the Chicago Cubs will face pay cuts of 10-35%, with the majority of cuts being over 20%. The Pittsburgh Pirates, meanwhile, have instituted pay cuts of 5-25% throughout their organization, in addition to furloughing about 20% of employees. Those furloughed by the Pirates are said to be those most impacted by not having fans in the ballpark for the foreseeable future, and do not include anyone in baseball operations.
Four Teams Announce Extensions in Pay, Benefits
Employees of a few organizations did receive some good news on Thursday, however. From Rosenthal and Dan Connolly:
— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) May 21, 2020
#WhiteSox another club keeping all employees with full salaries and benefits through 6/30, sources tell The Athletic. Some with CWS had hours adjusted because of changing workloads, but salaries stayed same. Others with no furloughs, pay cuts through 6/30: #MNTwins, #STLCards.
— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) May 21, 2020
Hearing #Orioles employees, who were assured they’d be paid through May, will continue to work into June from home. Sense is they’ll be paid through June and management is still hoping to avoid furloughs/layoffs as the organization awaits further word on a potential 2020 season.
— Dan Connolly (@danconnolly2016) May 21, 2020
In addition to these four teams, the Phillies, Tigers, Rockies and Padres had already indicated they will be paying employees well past the end of May.
International Players Not Subject To Two-Week Quarantine Upon Return
According to Tim Brown of Yahoo! Sports, international players who return to the United States for the 2020 season after spending the last two months in their home countries will not be asked to quarantine for the 14-day period recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Instead, they will be subject to the screening and testing given to domestic players.
By not requiring international players to quarantine for two weeks, those players will now have a longer period of time to sort out travel matters as MLB and the MLBPA continue to sort out the details of a season that still has no guarantee of happening.
Nationals to Hold Virtual Ring Ceremony
The Washington Nationals will record a virtual ring ceremony on Saturday and broadcast the event at 7 PM Sunday, celebrating their 2019 World Series title. It will air on MASN and MLB Network.
The date of the ceremony’s broadcast is no accident, as it falls on the one-year anniversary of the Nationals’ 19-31 record last season. The ceremony will also be used to raise money for the NATS4GOOD Community Response Fund.
Most players, coaches, staff and broadcasters won’t receive their rings until a later date. According to Brittany Ghiroli, that’s made some in the organization unhappy, as it creates a situation in which some players will have to see the ring for the first time via Zoom call, in the hands of teammates or coaches instead of their own.
Tony is a contributor for FanGraphs. He began writing for Red Reporter in 2016, and has also covered prep sports for the Times West Virginian and college sports for Ohio University's The Post. He can be found on Twitter at @_TonyWolfe_.