Blue Jays president Mark Shapiro held a media conference call on Friday to shed light on how the club handles uncertainty. Entering a pivotal weekend for Blue Jays players and staff, these are some of the biggest questions the club faces as it attempts to play baseball during a pandemic.
Where will the Blue Jays players and staff be when the MLB training camps open next week? And where will the regular season games be played?
These are the biggest questions – so big that they deserve their own piece to explain where things stand. Short answer: we will know by Monday.
Wherever the Blue Jays end up playing, will fans be able to attend?
Right now, in almost every part of Ontario, you can have a beer on a restaurant terrace, have your hair cut or nailed, and wander around a mall. But if the Blue Jays end up playing the slate of their 2020 calendar at the Rogers Center, it’s extremely unlikely that fans will be able to attend.
“No,” said Shapiro, when asked if he had had discussions with government officials regarding the possibility of spectators at the games. “We don’t expect to have fans from anywhere. ”
In the midst of a raging pandemic that has killed nearly 125,000 people in the United States and more than 8,000 in Canada, this is understandable. But it’s not one that many other MLB clubs take.
In Texas, where records of new daily cases have been broken several times in recent weeks, the Texas Rangers and Houston Astros are preparing to welcome fans as part of the state’s aggressive reopening policy which allows professional sports sites to admit 50% of their capacity.
Meanwhile, in Florida, where new average highs have been set for 19 consecutive days, Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez meditated publicly on fan reception at Marlins Park in July and St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman said he was “open-minded” to allow fans to watch the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field. https://www.tampabay.com/sports/rays/2020/06/25/st-pete-mayor-open-minded-about-allowing-fans-at-rays-games/
And in Minnesota, where cases have been trending down since a peak in May, Twins president Dave St. Peter said the club had ongoing conversations with government officials about the possibility of allowing the Target Field fans, and that he was “hopeful.” happen somewhere this season.
This is the difference in pandemic policy between Canada and the United States. And the big difference as a result in the number of COVID-19 cases and the infection rates clearly demonstrate the results of these decisions. If the Blue Jays receive government authorization to play at the Rogers Center, do not expect to be able to purchase a ticket.
Ben Nicholson-Smith is Sportsnet’s baseball editor. Arden Zwelling is a senior writer. Together, they bring you the most in-depth Blue Jays podcast in the league, covering all the latest news with opinions and analysis, as well as interviews with other insiders and team members.
How many Blue Jays players have tested positive for COVID-19? How many will be? What happens when they do it?
Shapiro wouldn’t say exactly how many positive tests the club has had so far, although it will become clearer next week if there are notable absences at the opening of the Blue Jays camp. What he said was that the club is preparing for many more to come.
“I can tell you that we expect a lot of positive tests,” said Shapiro. “As the tests go up, the numbers go up. So if we test each person on admission, I can’t characterize what that means, but I would expect a lot of positive tests. This will be part of the transition process to creating a closed environment as much as possible around our players. ”
In its 101-page operations manual, MLB described an extensive admission process that all players and staff must undergo upon arrival at training camps, including a symptom and exposure questionnaire before arrival, temperature checks, saliva and blood samples, and a 24-hour 48-hour Auto-Quarantine pending test results. The question is not all players find out they are carrying coronavirus through this process – how much is it.
Anyone who produces a positive sample must self-isolate and cannot return to the team until they have tested negative on two separate tests at least 24 hours apart, shown an afebrile temperature for at least 72 hours, performed an antibody test, and was considered no longer at risk of infection for others by a team doctor and a committee of two other doctors and non-medical representatives of the MLB and the MLBPA.
It is interesting to note that the MLB does not specify in its operations manual whether or not there is a positive test threshold that would require the closure of a team’s training camp. In a meticulously detailed document, which provides diagrams describing where players and coaches should sit in the canoe and stipulates the size of the condiment packaging in the team’s dining rooms, the omission is blatant.
For this reason, next week should be very informative as to the degree of infection that the league is ready to tolerate. What happens if 10 of the 60 players on a team are positive? What if it’s 15? What if three-fifths of a team’s starting rotation has to spend the first two weeks of quarantine training camp in their hotel room? What if it is both the starting and reserve receiver? Once the test has started, we will find out.
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Will some Blue Jays players retire from the season?
Currently, all medical personnel in the league are in the process of determining which, if any, players from a club can be described as high risk individuals. This would include any player with a certain characteristic, condition or medical history that makes them more likely to suffer from a serious illness by contracting COVID-19.
Anyone considered a high risk individual will have the right to sit during the season while receiving their full salary and time. It is expected that several players in the league will choose this option rather than exposing themselves to an increased risk of contracting the virus. Could this include Blue Jays?
“I don’t know,” said Shapiro. “I didn’t expect it but I’m not sure. It is a negotiated right and I certainly respect it. ”
For players who are not themselves at high risk, but who live in close contact with a partner or family member who is, the decision is even more difficult. The league has not demanded that clubs pay these players their wages and allow them time off if they choose to sit – it is up to each team to do so or not.
Players in this category could face an awful choice between sitting a season or playing and being separated for months from a loved one who is immunocompromised or a newborn baby. This is the debate that Ryan Zimmerman, double star, is currently having.
The Blue Jays have until 4 p.m. ET on Sunday to submit their 60-player roster for the season, so any possible withdrawals will need to be raised in the next 24 to 48 hours. Speaking of…
What will the end of Toronto’s 60 player list look like?
With minor league baseball postponed indefinitely – more on that later – each club will operate with a roster of 60 players for the 2020 season, offering plenty of depth to cover potential injuries and absences related to the coronavirus. All 60 can be invited to training camp, but when the day clubs open only 30 with a three-player taxi team covering last-minute replacements.
This list of major leagues will increase to 28 on the 15th day of the season and to 26 on the 29th day. The remaining players will be stationed at an “alternate training site” where they can train, play inter-team games and be ready in case they are called. For the Blue Jays, this site will almost certainly be Sahlen Field in Buffalo, NY.
The Blue Jays may have a decent number of players in their pool of 60 who are never called on to join the MLB list, which presents interesting opportunities for club decision makers. Would they consider using a spot on a list of prospects like Jordan Groshans or Alek Manoah in order to expose them to a competitive environment and continue their development?
“I think the first thing we need to do is make sure that we are 110% comfortable with depth at the major league level in an environment where we have no idea how deep we could be need it, “said Shapiro. “I think it was the top priority. ”
It’s fair enough. If the Blue Jays are hit by a series of injuries or have a coronavirus epidemic that spreads several players but does not prevent the team from continuing to play, they will need to go deep into their player pool. Players like Groshans and Manoah are exciting young talents, but would the team like to find themselves in a position where they had to propel them into a big league game before either of them even touched the high-A?
These are the conversations the Toronto front office is having right now as it builds the 60 players it will field for the season. This list will be finalized on Sunday afternoon. And next week, Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins is expected to speak to the media and explain the club’s decision-making process.
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What happens to the other minor leaguers in Toronto?
For minor leaguers who are not selected from the Toronto 60-player pool, the wait continues. It is almost certain that minor league baseball will not be played this season, and the MLB has yet to announce an alternative arrangement. Ideas have been raised around a late summer educational league or a supercharged Arizona Fall League, with more teams, more players and more games. But as of yet, nothing has been determined.
“All of minor league baseball is on hold,” said Shapiro. “There have been discussions at the player development level and at the GM level about how we try to create and compensate – with creative thinking programming – for our player development. But we are not there yet. ”
As it tries to turn the page on reconstruction and graduate young local players from its major league roster, Toronto is particularly disadvantaged by this reality. And with a minor league system brimming with intriguing talent that needs rehearsals to keep improving, the Blue Jays would no doubt have an interest in supporting a potential league later this summer or fall, if it materialized.
Of course, it would cost money – and the axis of the protracted baseball labor dispute that devoured the last three months of our lives was the reluctance of some owners to spend it. So in order to launch a single prospect league, enough franchises should commit to paying, nurturing and educating these players.
The Blue Jays have been among the industry leaders in this regard, having increased wages for minor leaguers last season. Shapiro announced on Friday that the club will continue to pay its current league leagues until September 7, which would generally be the end of a traditional minor league season.
Advocates for Minor Leaguers – a nonprofit organization that does exactly what its name suggests – as of Friday afternoon, nearly half of the MLB clubs had not yet publicly announced an extension to the minor leagues beyond the end of June.
Continuing to pay minor leaguers is a positive step for the organization. It is a relatively inexpensive extension of goodwill during a difficult time. Now the challenge is to find a way for them to play ball.
“It’s something I’ve struggled with in the past eight and a half weeks, way too much – way too much of my downtime is spent thinking about it,” said Shapiro of the development opportunities that are lost this year. “When it comes to player development, there are times when I just think about the reality of a potentially lost season for the majority of our prospects and worry about our staff. And then I step back and remember that we don’t operate with isolated challenges.
“The challenges don’t just focus on player development. They don’t just focus on MLB. And they don’t just focus on the Toronto Blue Jays. We live in an environment where challenges are universal – with tens of millions of people out of work and so many other things happening around the world. So it’s hard to feel bad about what we are facing. “