Negotiations Aside, COVID-19 May Inevitably Shut Down Season Before It Starts

Max Goodman

Just when the baseball world thought deteriorating negotiations would undermine any possibility of MLB's return this summer, a familiar face reminded us all of its presence. 

The Philadelphia Phillies closed down its Spring Training facility in Clearwater, Fla., after five players and three staff members working at the site tested positive for COVID-19, the club announced on Friday. 

Just five miles up the road in Dunedin, the Toronto Blue Jays also shut down its complex after a player showed symptoms of COVID-19 on Thursday, ESPN's Jeff Passan reports.

Across the state, in West Palm Beach, an Astros player was diagnosed with novel coronavirus, per Houston's general manager James Click. 

Unfortunately, the Phillies, Blue Jays and Astros aren't alone and this surge of cases within Major League Baseball isn't limited to just Florida. According to Jared Diamond and Ben Cohen of the Wall Street Journal, 11 players from 40-man rosters of seven teams have tested positive for COVID-19 in June. While the players remain anonymous, it is known that one is in Arizona, two are situated in Texas and four train in Florida.

You can add the Yankees to the list of teams impacted by the virus this weekend. Reports surfaced on Saturday that four members of the organization had tested positive for COVID-19 down in Tampa, according to George A. King III of the New York Post.

Although the group is not believed to include players, a pair of infected individuals work at George M. Steinbrenner Field where several of the Yankees' big leaguers have been working out in recent weeks.

This sudden influx of players and staff members contracting the coronavirus is even influencing the league to revisit playing the 2020 season in a "bubble" closed off from the outside world in hopes of limiting the chances of the virus infiltrating big-league clubhouses. 

That idea was discussed at length back in April – with plans for teams to be sequestered in Arizona or quarantined at Spring Training sites in both Arizona and Florida – but fizzled out shortly after.

Up to this point, plans were for teams to return to their Spring Training sites for a brief resumption of camp. From there, all 30 clubs would play the course of a truncated campaign from home ballparks dispersed across the country, limiting travel by realigning divisions based on three geographic regions. 

Now, teams are considering switching Spring Training sites back to big-league venues in home cities. MLB is temporarily closing all Spring Training ballparks in Florida and Arizona in order to disinfect all facilities, per Bob Nightengale of USA Today. A negative test result will be required in order to enter any complex once they are open again.

That consideration turned into a reality for the Yankees and Mets on Saturday as Governor Andrew Cuomo confirmed the two clubs would be returning to New York for any resumption of Spring Training.

READ: Yankees' President Randy Levine: Commissioner Manfred Should Say 'We're Finished Talking About the Number of Games'

While it seemed the only factor holding MLB back from returning to the field was worsening negotiations between the players and owners over financials, Friday was a grim indication of what could happen moving forward. No matter when the two parties come to an agreement, the virus may have the final say as to whether or not a season can be played. 

In the Phillies' statement released Friday morning, managing partner John Middleton said his club is "committed to the health and welfare of [the organization's] players, coaches and staff." Middleton assured that the club's facility will be closed until "medical authorities are confident that the virus is under control and [the team's] facilities are disinfected."

Surely all teams that end up with positive test results in their midst will follow suit. That is, after all, how the Yankees handled two Minor League ballplayers testing positive at the organization's complex in Tampa back in March. Those two have since recovered, but weeks of deep cleaning and closed doors were a necessary step to permit further usage of the facility. 

READ: Several Yankees Employees Test Positive for COVID-19

Each of these aforementioned examples have occurred with a limited number of personnel present within these spring facilities. What happens when a full active roster, coaching staff and more are frequenting the area and together during games?

Philadelphia's statement concluded with a sobering reminder.

"In terms of the implications of this outbreak, on the Phillies' 2020 season, the club declines comment, believing it is too early to know," it reads.

Even with protocols in place to keep those frequenting these Spring Training sites safe, the virus found its way in on multiple occasions across the country. With more testing on the way, who knows how many more individuals within baseball will come back with positive results as well. 

An agreement at the negotiation table may be imminent, or at least on the horizon, but will the virus allow the game's return?

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For more from Max Goodman, follow him on Twitter @MaxTGoodman. Follow ITP on Twitter @SI_Yankees and Facebook @SIYankees