The Coronavirus Shutdown Will Have a Strong Impact on MLB Player Readiness

Chris Halicke

The coronavirus pandemic has impacted the world of sports in the most drastic way. All professional leagues came to a screeching halt over a week ago and now await further guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC).

Major League Baseball is currently following the most recent recommendation from the CDC, which discourages the continuation of any events that have gatherings of 50 or more people for eight weeks. The end date from the time the recommendation was made is May 10th. 

As a nation, our focus is and should be on public health and being safe and responsible, but it's also acceptable to wonder how and when we will have sports in our lives again. In an interview with WFAA, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban is optimistic that the NBA could return as early as mid-May. 

This, of course, is music to the ears of even the average sports fan. Having some semblance of sports in our living rooms, even if games were played with no fans, would make sheltering in-home much more bearable. 

Even for the eternal optimist, a mid-May start for any sports league would be a very warm welcome. With the restriction of 50 or more people in place through May 10th (for now), that limits any baseball exhibition or regular season games through then. No matter how Spring Training 2.0 looks, a baseball game exceeds the 50-person limit by just players alone. There'd be 52 players present between the two teams, not to mention the managers, coaches, front office staff, and whatever media would be allowed. 

So, the question then is when can we expect the baseball season to actually begin?

Unfortunately, that question remains unanswered. The situation remains very fluid, given our human inability to predict the future. However, we can look at what we've learned so far to help us gauge a good starting point to set MLB's over/under start date.

Shortly after everything came to a sudden stand still, Rangers manager Chris Woodward was very clear on how long teams may need to ramp things back up to be ready for the regular season. 

"I think MLB is pretty aware that you can't just give us a week," Woodward said. "I would say three-to-four weeks, we would need a heads up. Hopefully sooner than later, they'll give us a start date which we can work backwards from there. Julio [Rangel], our pitching coaches, and our pitchers are very aware of this. They're trying to do the best they can. As soon as we can get more information, we can start making a schedule according to that. Until then, we just have to make sure our pitchers continue to throw and continue to be built up."

As for the players, pitchers are the most affected by the shutdown. From the time they report to spring training, it's a six-week process to get built up for the regular season. Rangers starter Kyle Gibson has been staying as ready as possible amid a very fluid situation. 

“Guys aren’t going to be taking these next 45 days off. So, I think for us, we are going to be ready whenever the phone call comes and MLB says they're ready," Gibson said Monday on SiriusXM's MLB Network Radio. “You are going to have guys who take a week or two off right now just to get acclimated back to their house and stuff...but I am going to try and stay as ready as I can and do a couple of bullpens a week.”

While it's great news that starting pitchers can continue to throw and try and stay ready, it will undoubtedly have a negative impact on how long it will take for pitchers to build themselves back up to being ready for the regular season. 

"The longer we're off, the longer spring training is going to have to be," Gibson said. "If that first time on the mound, if I can go two innings...that'll be my goal. So, I'm going to stay as ready as I can."

“As long as you are doing 20- to 30-pitch bullpens, it’s two outings to get back to four innings. You might even be able to do it on the second outing. So I think the hardest thing will be trying to mimic the level of competition in the bullpen and try to keep the intensity up.”

From looking at what we know from the CDC recommendations to what Woodward and Gibson have said about starting pitchers needing time, a realistic best-case scenario based on conjecture would be early- to mid-June. 

If MLB gives teams four weeks to conduct an abbreviated spring training, teams could begin workouts on May 11th and conclude the weekend before June 8th. Then, MLB could hit the ground running as early as that week. 

We can speculate all we want, but nothing is concrete right now. If the situation in our country worsens, the CDC could recommend further delays in mass gatherings, which in turn, further delays the start of the season. It could even put the season in jeopardy altogether. 

For now, pitchers throughout Major League Baseball are doing what they can to remain ready for when baseball activities can resume. All of us are hoping for the best-case scenario to play out. We all miss sports, but everyone, including the Texas Rangers, understand that baseball is currently secondary to public health. 

“All players are going to be in the same spot," Rangers GM Jon Daniels said via conference call last week. "We’ll do what we can in the meantime to keep the guys active and healthy, but we have to understand that’s going to be limited. There is a risk some guys are going to take a step back in readiness. That’s not something I want players to be concerned about to the point they are making poor decisions.”

Optimism and reality could possibly go hand in hand. Maybe we will get sports sooner than we expected. Just don't expect baseball to be the first sport to return.

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