MLB tells teams to end organized workouts in protective coronavirus measure

MLB issued guidelines Sunday telling clubs to cease any organized informal workouts, further closing down camp activity and, thus, making it more and more obvious that regular-season games will not be played before May — if then.

MLB is saying that this is being done to further honor governmental requests for social distancing during the coronavirus pandemic.

Commissioner Rob Manfred, Players Association executive director Tony Clark and key aides met in Arizona on Friday and Saturday before returning to their home bases Sunday. They continued to have dialogue to see if they could come to a joint agreement on how to handle items during a shutdown of where players can be and will they get paid.

The sides talked informally about what kind of schedule to create upon a return to play, including whether to waive collectively bargained rules that teams cannot play more than 20 days in a row or that teams must have a day after flying from west all the way east. But until there is further clarity of when games can resume, scheduling matters are more of a backburner matter.

The commissioner planned to hold a conference call with the 30 teams Monday at noon Eastern to update on where issues stood. But prior to that, MLB sent out guidelines Sunday morning that went into effect immediately and were to be honored until potential updates on Monday. The guidelines were in response to clubs’ request for the best information about keeping their personnel safe and healthy.

The memorandum read, in part, “The strong recommendation from our infectious disease and public health experts is that Clubs should avoid all activities in which players congregate in significant numbers or are otherwise unable to practice the “social distancing” protocols recommended by the CDC. The risk of a player in a Club facility contracting the virus is real, and we must implement protocols to protect the safety and well-being of our players and staff members. In addition, we must recognize that there is the potential for further federal and state restrictions that will impact our operations, including restrictions on travel.”

Many teams, such as the Yankees, had their players decide wholly or largely to stay and train en masse even after camps were officially closed Friday for all organized workouts. This latest memo probably will motivate more and more players to disperse. That will only make it more difficult to quickly reconvene when MLB gives the go-ahead that games will begin again.

Also, the lack of even informal team workouts likely will force a longer second spring training to ready for the season, especially if many players — think younger who have yet to make significant money — have to forgo training and find temporary work to pay bills.

All of that pretty much assures that it will take longer to start up first a new spring training and then regular-season games. Thus, the initial April 9 hope-for-return date — pretty much always a pipe dream — can be flushed. And a start in May or even longer is now more likely — all of it clouded by when the coronavirus pandemic will break to even allow a return.

The MLB memo covered several areas, notably:

— Teams were told that non-roster players (mostly minor leaguers and veterans in on non-guaranteed contracts) should return to their offseason homes. “If it is not feasible for a non-roster player to return home, which may be the case for some international players or players who reside in high-risk areas in the United States, Clubs should work with the player to provide suitable accommodations. Non-roster players who require ongoing treatment from the Club’s medical personnel may remain in order to receive treatment.”

— For 40-man roster players, the guidelines read that in MLB’s understanding with the union, they “must be permitted to remain at the Club’s Spring Training site, and are eligible to receive their usual Spring Training allowances. … We understand that many 40-Man Roster players have chosen to remain in camp to date, but we anticipate that may change in the coming days as events continue to unfold and players become better educated about current conditions.”

— Activities at club facilities both in spring and home cities had to be left open to major leaguers who desire usage. “Major League players should be provided access to the facility, which may be operated by a limited staff. There is no requirement that Clubs provide all services normally available during Spring Training (such as on-site meals), except that Clubs should continue to provide players who choose to remain with access to medical care. Until we develop appropriate protocols to minimize the risks to players (which we are actively working on), Clubs are not permitted to hold or organize any group workouts, practices, skill or conditioning sessions, or other player activities at their facilities.”

The guidelines call for “limiting the number of coaches and staff who may work with players at any one time, staggering the time period that players are in the same area of the facility, and implementing hygiene and social distancing policies.”

— Monitoring player health. The memo said team doctors and trainers should regularly communicate with player and staff every few days (if not more often) to check on health issues. “Any player or staff member experiencing the symptoms of coronavirus or the flu – which include fever, fatigue, muscle aches, cough, or shortness of breath – must immediately notify his or her Club.”

“In addition, players should be informed that if they test positive for the virus, or are exposed to someone who tests positive, they may be quarantined for a significant period of time and not be permitted to travel during that period.”

— For Dominican Academies, the memo stated clubs should reduce staff by sending home players who have “a convenient and safe place to remain during the hiatus. … We recognize that it may not be feasible or prudent for all players to return home, including players from Venezuela or players who may not receive adequate support or medical care. By having some players return home, however, Clubs may be able to accommodate in their academy other players, including players currently in the U.S., who have no viable options.”

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