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MLB shuts down spring training sites with coronavirus back on the rise

Pandemic could prove bigger obstacle than financial disputes

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Oakland Athletics v Chicago Cubs Photo by Rob Tringali/SportsChrome/Getty Images

News about a potential 2020 MLB season has mostly centered around the financial negotiations between the owners and players, which have hit yet another standstill. But now the focus is shifting back toward the original cause of this crisis, the coronavirus pandemic.

After a rash of positive tests in multiple organizations, MLB is shutting down all spring training sites in Arizona and Florida, reports Bob Nightengale of USA Today and others.

The Phillies were the first team to report cases, with five players and three staffers (plus more family members), and the Astros later had one player in camp test positive. The Angels had two players test positive, but they hadn’t been working out at any team facility. Four members of the Yankees organization tested positive. Meanwhile, the Blue Jays had one player in camp exhibit symptoms after interacting with some Phillies minor leaguers, though he’s still awaiting test results.

All of this comes amid rising cases in several states around the country. California and Arizona both saw record-high numbers of new cases on Thursday and then again on Friday. Other states including Texas, Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, Arkansas, and Utah have seen higher numbers too, even after accounting for the effect of increased testing. Baseball isn’t alone among sports leagues, either, with the NFL and NHL reporting many as well.

It remains to be seen how the unflattened curve of the pandemic might affect the chances of a 2020 baseball season, but unlike money the virus is an issue that can’t be negotiated with. TJ Quinn of ESPN says: “A senior MLB official tells me the virus is a ‘much bigger threat’ to the season than the labor battle. They’re carrying on with the plan to have teams in their home ballparks, but recognize it could all fall apart quickly.”

For now, the recent news of positive cases has pressed the pause button on the already interminable economic battle, reports Nightengale. It also complicates any timeline for getting spring training started, and thus having time to fit in even the meager partial-season that’s currently being discussed. As a reminder, infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci has already cast doubt on the viability of playing in October due to the threat of a second wave.

And just in case you thought 2020 couldn’t get any worse, Nighengale provided another harrowing detail. In an effort to avoid long extra-inning games during an already unusual schedule, the majors will adopt the minor league rule of putting an automatic runner on second base to begin each extra frame. On top of that, they’re considering the possibility of calling tie games, and of players being allowed to re-enter the game in extras.

These foundational changes will come as blasphemy to many, though for now they’re only temporary. The auto-runner would only be during the 2020 regular season but go away in the postseason, and the other ideas are only being talked about for now.

Of course, none of that will matter if the season gets wiped out entirely by the pandemic. While we wait for the next developments in the story, here are some robots dancing in the stands at a game in Japan.