Red Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom, as well as general manager Brian O’Halloran and team president Sam Kennedy, spoke in depth Friday on where Major League Baseball is headed in the wake of the remainder of spring training being suspended and the start of the 2020 season being pushed back at least two weeks due to the coronavirus outbreak in the United States.
Earlier Friday, the league made it official that major-league players have the freedom to either remain at their club’s spring training facility, return to their club’s city, or go home themselves at their own discretion.
In a meeting between Red Sox executives, coaches, and players on Friday, Bloom and Co. echoed that same sentiment.
“We’ve just gotten word, and are getting the word out to our players, that since starting to discuss this, it’s been agreed that now our players can leave should they choose to, and go home or go wherever they need to go,” Bloom said in a conference call. “We’re trying to make sure that happens in a safe and orderly manner. We’re working on that as we speak. For players who want to stay here, we will have the facility available to them.”
The Sox have yet to gather a headcount on which players will be staying and which players will be leaving, but despite no official word from the league, they gave their minor-league players the same option as well. Although remaining in Fort Myers may be the most ideal route for them to take due to financial restrictions.
“We recognize, especially as we get into the population of minor leaguers, this may be the best option for them,” Bloom stated. “And we want to make sure that is a good option.”
Typically, the weeks leading up to April involve the movement of dozens of players, major and minor-league alike, in numerous transactions between clubs. But, with the United States now being in a state of national emergency and all, rosters may become frozen for the time being. Or in other words, no roster moves will be allowed until Major League Baseball can resume baseball activities. Nothing has been made official regarding this matter as of now, but Bloom did say that, “We are fully prepared that the next several days will include new information.”
There is also a possibility that rosters could be expanded from 26 players once the 2020 season does start to make up for less preparation time, although, according to Bloom, “There is no indication right now that anything will change.”
Because there is no definite date for a new Opening Day outside of April 9th, which is unlikely to happen, there’s a very real chance that additional spring training games will need to take place once the league resumes in order for players to up their workload once more.
“The short answer is, we don’t know,” Bloom said in regard to a later addition of spring training games. “We don’t have enough of a sense of what this will look like when we start up again.”
Regarding that point about players needing to increase their workload before the season starts, one thing that makes this outbreak-induced delay so challenging is that we simply don’t know when regular season baseball will be back.
As The Athletic’s Chad Jennings notes, “Bloom pointed out that spring training buildup is usually based upon working backward from a known point in time. Opening Day is usually on a specific date, and so players work to be ready on that exact day.
Right now, baseball has no idea when Opening Day will be, so there’s no working backward. The issue of building and sustaining is particularly tricky for pitchers as teams try to find a balance between sustaining their current status and not overworking for a start date that might be far, far down the road.”
How teams will prepare with no set Opening Day date in sight will be interesting to see, and according to Bloom, it will be “one of the tougher questions that I think every club is going to have to answer.”
Turning to some positive news, no Red Sox player has yet to test positive for coronavirus, and the club has even set up their own task force to deal with issues surrounding the virus, per Kennedy.
For the time being, JetBlue Park and the entire Fenway South complex will remain closed to the media and the public through Sunday, while all Fenway Park employees outside of stadium security have been told to work from home.
Fenway Park will also undergo a three-day cleaning starting Saturday morning where “every square inch [of the park] will be disinfected and cleaned,” Kennedy said.
In times like these, baseball takes a back seat as there are more pressing matters at hand. It may stink now, but baseball and the Red Sox will be back eventually.