WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – Major League Baseball plans to suspend all baseball activity and encourage players to head home, according to multiple people with knowledge of a fast-developing situation. The league is expected to send out a memo to its 30 teams on Friday afternoon, which will outline three options for players. This plan of action came from discussions between the league and players’ union, and is in response to the coronavirus outbreak.
The first option is for players to remain in their respective spring training cities and keep receiving daily allowances for food and living. The second is for players to go to the home cities for their teams. And the third, the one most players are most likely to exercise, is to travel to wherever they live during the offseason.
Those who discussed the matter with The Washington Post did so anonymously so as to speak freely about the situation.
At around 3 p.m. on Thursday, MLB announced it had canceled the rest of spring training games and delayed the start of the regular season for at least two weeks. When that timeline was publicized – making April 9 the new Opening Day – many around the league, from players to low-level employees, were not convinced. Because baseball needs a spring training, to give pitchers a chance to build arm strength, and players a chance to ramp up physically, the early reaction was that the delay would be much longer.
An immediate suspension of all activities will back that claim. Teams will not hold formal workouts, according to people familiar with the situation, and players who remain near spring training cites will be able to use the batting cages and weight rooms. The Washington Nationals had initially planned to remain in West Palm Beach, as a full team, to keep preparing for the season. But now their plans will certainly change, along with the rest of the sport.
“This is weird,” Martinez said Thursday, shortly after MLB announced the cancellation of remaining exhibitions. “This is movie-esque. It really is. You see all these movies on pandemics, and then now all of a sudden, we’re in one.”
Ask Martinez about repeating as champions, something no team has done since 2000, and he had offered a correction: “Compete, not repeat. We just have to repeat the process.” Those in baseball – players, coaches, even fans – are addicted to routine. Spring training starts in early February. The season starts in late March. Most games start at 7:05 p.m., night after night, setting minds and bodies to a reliable clock.
That was, of course, until this week.
Pandemics alter everyday life, and for the Nationals that means altering preparation for the season. They’re aware that that is moot compared with what the world is facing. Max Scherzer laughed Thursday when a reporter asked about his morning bullpen session. Martinez has said, over and over, that the most important questions for baseball are about the safety of family, friends and fans.
But with an uncertain schedule and no telling when games could begin, these creatures of habit will have to adjust. If the delay in the schedule did last the minimum two weeks, the Nationals would open against the Dodgers in Los Angeles on April 10. Their expectation is that it will be further delayed, echoing reports from around the league, and reinforced by the decision to shut down until further notice.
“It’s going to be tough. I don’t think any of us know what’s coming or how long this is going to last,” said Nationals starter Patrick Corbin on Thursday, relaying the same confusion felt by his teammates. “I don’t know. Maybe we’re going to have to play catch at home. I have no idea.”
The Nationals already faced a puzzle with their pitching staff, because much of it was used heavily during the title run. That ended Oct. 30, the last day of the 2019 baseball calendar. Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Patrick Corbin, Sean Doolittle, Daniel Hudson and Will Harris pitched in Game 6 or Game 7 of the World Series. Tanner Rainey and Wander Suero had the longest and most-taxing seasons of their young careers.
Coming into spring training, the club had a detailed plan to avoid injury and a championship hangover. For some pitchers, such as Doolittle, Hudson, Corbin and Aníbal Sánchez, that meant easing into action. For others, such as Scherzer and Strasburg, the plan was similar to past years. Harris has been recovering from a left abdominal injury and was just coming around. Sánchez, at 36, felt his arm was in a good place after a solid start last week.
Yet now, with an extended lead-up to the season, baseball faces a tricky situation: Pitchers need time before they can appear in real games. Beyond uncertainty surrounding the coronavirus, the concern for pitchers’ arms is a big reason MLB couldn’t just pick an Opening Day date and stick to it. The league will have to consult clubs, who will have to consult their pitchers, who will have to be confident they won’t hurt themselves.
“I got up to three or four innings,” Corbin said Thursday. “If this is a long enough break, I can’t see us coming back and going anything over that. I think whenever the starters are going to be ready, that’s kind of when the season would start back up.”
“All the players, we understand now, completely, the severity of what we’re dealing with here,” Scherzer added. “And we understand why such preventive measures have to be taken for the public health and to keep that in mind, to try to keep this from really being a doomsday scenario.”