A quick programming note at the top here: With the baseball world slowing down due to COVID-19, our Spring Training Daily pieces will be going on an indefinite hiatus. We will check in as events warrant, but they just won’t be daily for now. However, you can still check our constantly-updated player news page for all the latest developments.
It is now official - the latest casualty of the global coronavirus pandemic is major league baseball's Opening Day. MLB announced they will delay the start of the regular season by two weeks and could push it back even further if the epidemic worsens over the next few weeks. All remaining spring training games have been canceled. The NBA and NHL also suspended their regular seasons. The NCAA had been planning to play their March Madness tournament in empty arenas but on Thursday they made the tough choice to completely cancel the tourney. There had been speculation that MLB would play games in empty stadiums but they opted instead to postpone the season for at least a fortnight even though most contests are held outdoors and the players are widely dispersed across a large field. The major sports leagues essentially had their hands forced after multiple states - including California, New York and Washington - banned gatherings of more than 250 people.
It is not yet known for certain if spring training practices will continue or if the players will be sent home. The league is leaving this decision up to the individual clubs. No teams have declared plans to disperse their personnel at this time. The Mariners and Diamondbacks have announced their players will stay in camp and continue holding workouts. Some teams are holding optional workouts starting on Friday. If spring training is shut down it would cause the regular season to be delayed even longer as pitchers would need to restart their throwing programs to ramp back up to full readiness. When the league decides the worst is over and they are ready to resume the season they will probably need at least two weeks of spring training to prepare for real games to commence.
This is highly disappointing news for legions of diehard baseball fans clamoring for a taste of their favorite pastime after a cold, dark, damp and dreary winter. Opening Day is the official start of spring for many people including myself. Opening Day is an official holiday here in Cincinnati with a parade and large celebrations downtown. Here's to hoping the coronavirus fades away mildly and meekly along with winter and America can get back to home runs and hot dogs after only a two-week interruption.
The season had been set to kick off with all 30 teams playing on March 26th. The earliest date now is April 9th, although it could be much later. There is some talk that any games canceled early in the season could be rescheduled in October, possibly in warm-weather cities or those with domed stadiums. This would necessitate a delayed start to the playoffs and could result in some mighty chilly World Series games. The league could also make up some games by scheduling double-headers throughout the summer or possibly by canceling the All-Star break to get in more regular season games.
On the bright side, a delayed season with the games being made up later in the year could work in favor of some players who are nursing injuries that were expected to keep them on the shelf in April anyway. Aaron Judge (rib), Giancarlo Stanton (calf), Blake Snell (elbow), Chris Sale (elbow), Carlos Carrasco (elbow), Eugenio Suarez (shoulder), Adalberto Mondesi (shoulder) and Mike Clevinger (knee) are some prominent players who could use the late start to escape an injured list stint.
The delayed season could end up costing the owners and the players a lot of money. MLB's statement announcing the postponement stated it was "due to the national emergency created by the coronavirus pandemic." That language was no accident -- those same words are also used in the Uniform Player's Contract that all players sign, which states that the commissioner has the right "to suspend the operation of this contract during any national emergency during which Major League Baseball is not played." This means the league could be planning to avoid paying the players for any games permanently canceled during the emergency. Of course the owners wouldn't be making any money either. Each of the clubs also employs hundreds of non-player personnel as well and they could also miss out on paychecks during a stoppage.
The last time a season's start was delayed was in 1995 following a player strike that ended the 1994 campaign early and canceled the World Series. The players were not paid for games they missed. The 1990 season was delayed for one week following a very brief spring training due to a lockout of the players. The 1972 season was delayed by two weeks due to a player strike. The 1981 season had a two-month break in the middle of the summer due to a player strike. In 2001 no games were played for a week after the September 11 terrorist attacks.
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Minor League season also pushed back
"In light of the current coronavirus outbreak, and after consultation with medical professionals and our partnership with Major League Baseball, Minor League Baseball will delay the start of the 2020 Championship Season." Minor league games had been scheduled to begin on April 9, which is nearly a month away, but are now delayed indefinitely. It wouldn't be a surprise if we didn't see the first minor league game until May.
Health Scare in Baltimore
Orioles outfielder Trey Mancini had surgery on Thursday to remove a malignant tumor from his colon. Mancini had not played in a Grapefruit League game since March 2nd and now we know why. The tumor was discovered in a colonoscopy last week. The team has not publicly revealed how long Mancini will be sidelined. Post-surgery clinical testing results will not be available for another week. He will have to recover from the invasive surgery and could possibly be faced with chemotherapy if the test results are particularly worrisome. Obviously baseball will take a back seat to Mancini's long-term health. He is the best hitter on the Orioles and their most fantasy-worthy player. He registered a .291 batting average last year with 35 home runs, 97 RBI and 106 runs scored.
Mondesi Nears Return
Royals shortstop Adalberto Mondesi was in the starting lineup for Thursday's game against the Mariners but the game was canceled due to rain. It would have been Mondesi's first game action of the Cactus League season. He was limited to just 102 games last year due to groin and shoulder injuries. He had surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder in October and was expected to need up to six months to recuperate. He is ahead of schedule and could be ready to begin the season on the active roster, with the delay of the season potentially working in his favor. Mondesi ranked second in the majors in stolen bases with 43 bags even though he received only 443 plate appearances. Fantasy owners would love to have that speed in their lineups but the rest of his game is suspect -- he has a career .696 OPS and hit just nine home runs last year.
National League Quick Hits: Phillies outfielder Roman Quinn is having a hot spring and could end up getting regular playing time in center field when the season starts. The speedster is not known for his bat but his wheels could make an impact in fantasy leagues. ... Braves hurler Kyle Wright is making a strong case for a rotation slot. He threw five innings of one-run ball on Thursday against the Tigers and now has a 2.03 ERA and 15:4 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 13 1/3 innings this spring. ... Nationals starter Patrick Corbin held the Yankees scoreless for four innings. ... Nationals reliever Sean Doolittle has allowed six runs in 3 1/3 spring innings and better shape up fast if he wants to start the season as the closer... Cardinals starter Adam Wainwright shut out the Marlins for five innings while Marlins starter Jose Urena did the same thing against the Cardinals. ... Jake Arrieta walked off the mound with a trainer during his start against the Rays on Thursday. He was later diagnosed with minor right shoulder stiffness. Arrieta said he is not concerned and wouldn't even call it an injury. ... Phillies reliever Seranthony Dominguez is headed for an MRI on his right elbow and the team is reportedly worried he might need Tommy John surgery. ... Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen has allowed just one run with 11 strikeouts in six innings of work this spring.
American League Quick Hits: Blue Jays third-sacker Vlad Guerrero Jr. walloped his third homer of the spring and has started the spring on a roll. Guerrero will turn 21 years old next week. He failed to live up to his draft position last year after being selected in the fifth or sixth round in many fantasy drafts. He registered a rather ordinary .272/.339/.433 slash line with 15 home runs and 69 RBI in 123 games. Expect better things in his sophomore season but don't pay for a star on draft day until he proves he is one. ... Tigers starter Spencer Turnbull tossed three scoreless innings against the Braves and has yielded only one run in 11 innings of work this spring. ... Tigers outfielder Cameron Maybin is just 2-for-26 this spring. He is expected to start in right field when the regular season starts. ... The Mariners announced that Marco Gonzales will be their Opening Day starter. He went 16-13 with a 3.99 ERA in 34 starts last year. ... Yankee slugger Aaron Judge will need to pass a CT scan on his fractured rib before he will be cleared to resume hitting. It is expected to be at least another week before he gets the scan. ... Mariners second baseman Shed Long has a .129 batting average through 11 spring games. He is putting his starting job in jeopardy.