Since the league shutdown in mid-March, the looming question hanging over Major League Baseball has been one of how a positive test or tests among players and coaches would be handled. Even earlier this week, as the league presented the the Players Association with a proposal to return to play, that aspect remained a critical unknown. This morning, Jared Diamond and Louise Radnofsky of the Wall Street Journal shed some light on those matters, reporting that MLB’s proposal would see players tested multiple times per week.
Major League Baseball, per the WSJ report, is confident in its ability to gain access to tens of thousands of test kits without depleting the supply available to essential frontline workers. The specifics of that arrangement aren’t clear, and detractors will surely argue that multiple tests per week for athletes, coaches, training staff and umpires could be better allocated. Granted, testing capacity is on the rise and could look markedly different by the time play resumes. Diamond and Radnofsky also write that the league will focus on acquiring primarily 24-hour tests as opposed to more immediate, rapid-result tests.
That, of course, comes with its own potential for pitfalls; an asymptomatic player, coach or umpire who tests positive would still have been in contact with others for a full day before learning of the diagnosis under that scenario. Paired with going a day or multiple days between tests, it’s not hard to envision infections spreading quickly.
Notably, Diamond and Radnofsky underline that a positive test would not result in a stoppage of play under the current proposal. Any person or persons who test positive would be immediately quarantined, while those who’d been in contact will be more closely monitored. Specifics on the protocol for contact tracing and increased or more aggressive testing in the wake of a positive test remain unknown.
With all that in mind, it’s not particularly surprising to see SNY’s Andy Martino cite an unnamed agent who states that there’s “no question” some players will opt not to play in 2020. He adds that no specific proposals on how exemptions for at-risk players would be handled — a debate that carries its own set of intricacies regarding service time and salary.
Some players with heightened risk due to underlying medical conditions have recently voiced a willingness to play, but others have been more outspoken about their concern. There are also many players with underlying conditions that aren’t public knowledge, to say nothing of family members and loved ones who could be at greater risk. Concerns figure to be prominent among coaching staffs as well, where numerous personnel are in their 60s and 70s — some with more troubling medical concerns.
Of course, there’s no situation where play resumes and the risk is wholly eliminated. The goal is to dramatically reduce the risk, and regular testing coupled with temperature checks and other regulations will work toward that end. In the Korea Baseball Organization, there’s been a ban on spitting, high fives and handshakes. Similar restrictions will likely be put in place in MLB, and although strictly enforcing them will be difficult, the players know it’s in their best interest to work to curtail those habits. USA Today’s Bob Nightengale writes that players and personnel will be discouraged from using rideshare services such as Uber and Lyft, and they’ll also be advised against signing autographs and taking pictures with fans at their hotels.
MLB is also wary of the potential for another notable wave of virus cases in the fall and winter, Nightengale adds, which is why the league ultimately scrapped a plan that would’ve seen postseason play push into December. The aim now is for an 82-game season with an expanded, 14-team postseason format that can be concluded in early November.
The health component is the most important piece of negotiations between the league and the players union — although it’s certainly not the only one. The two sides still need to reach some kind of agreement on salary, and players appear loath to accept a revenue sharing system that would represent even greater reductions than the prorated salaries to which they already agreed back in March.