MLB faces additional Covid-19 issues in fragile 2020 season

St. Louis Cardinals president of baseball operations John Mozeliak watches one of his team's games recently at Busch Stadium. The club is now the second in the league to battle an outbreak of Covid-19. (Photo by Scott Kane/Getty Images)

Major League Baseball is once again at a crossroads in its young and fragile 2020 season after a second team has shown to have an outbreak of Covid-19.

Following an outbreak with the Miami Marlins that has now reached at least 18 members of their organization and caused that team’s season to be suspended for a week, the St. Louis Cardinals have since followed that up with four positives of their own, with possibly more to come. 

After St. Louis’ weekend series with the Milwaukee Brewers was postponed due to the Cardinals’ outbreak, MLB has now seen 18 games postponed thus far due to Covid-19 complications, raising additional questions as to whether the league’s health and safety protocols are sufficient and if the move to stage games in local markets and not use dedicated, quarantined sites to stage games was the proper move.

But league commissioner Rob Manfred, speaking with ESPN, said the league still intends to press on and attempt to complete the season.

“We are playing,” Manfred said. “The players need to be better, but I am not a quitter in general and there is no reason to quit now. We have to be fluid, but it is manageable.”

With the league’s entirely regionalized schedule this year, there has been no contact between members of the Marlins and Cardinals since Spring Training camps resumed last month in advance of the season restart.

According to multiple reports and industry sources, MLB has told the MLB Players Association that player adherence to health and safety protocols must improve in order to preserve the season.

“MLB will continue to follow a conservative approach in addressing positive test results because the health and safety of our players, employees, and the public at large is paramount,” the league said in a statement. “We are in daily contact with the Players Association, public health officials, and our medical experts in order to make decisions that will best protect individuals from being exposed to Covid-19.”

As those team-level issues continue to play out, more individual players have determined the turbulence of the season thus far and ongoing health risks were great and have chosen to opt out the rest of season. Among the players opting out over the weekend were Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Lorenzo Cain, New York Mets outfielder Yoenis Cespedes, and Marlins infielder Isan Diaz.

“With all the uncertainty and unknowns surrounding our game at this time, I feel this is the best decision for me, my wife, and our three kids,” Cain said.

The league and MLBPA did earlier this year discuss the potential of staging “bubble”-type sites to stage games in Florida and Arizona, not unlike what the National Basketball Association, National Hockey League, Women’s National Basketball Association, and Major League Soccer are all doing. 

But the daily volume of games MLB play and resulting additional facility needs, midday heat in those two states, and marked virus spikes in the areas near MLB clubs’ Spring Training facilities that had been considered for resuming play all served to shift the league and union toward the current model. 

In the meantime, the Marlins are slated to resume play in Baltimore on August 4 after what will ultimately be a nine-day layoff. The club is expected to dip heavily into its reserve pool, and the club in recent days has been actively signing free agents in an attempt to rebuild its roster.

The Philadelphia Phillies, the Marlins’ last opponent as their outbreak became known, will also resume play August 3 against the New York Yankees following a weeklong layoff of their own.

To ease the burden of numerous game reschedulings, the league and union agreed to a new rule for the 2020 season in which games in doubleheaders will be seven innings in length instead of the usual nine. The shift is aimed at easing stress on team rosters and help the league stay its overall schedule and head toward a newly expanded playoff format beginning late September.

“Given the frequency of doubleheaders, the effects of doubleheaders on rosters, and the need to reschedule games due to dynamic circumstances, both the clubs and players have determined this step promotes health and safety,” the league regarding the seven-inning games in doubleheaders.