At last, the Toronto Blue Jays know where the club will be holding training camp. Great. Now all that’s left to determine is who will be at Rogers Centre next week, what an abbreviated three-week camp will entail, where the club will play its home games this season, what its schedule looks like, and how it’ll handle any COVID-19 related absences.
As was always going to be the case when trying to play baseball during a global pandemic, there are more questions than answers. But we do have some information as to how the Blue Jays will proceed from here. And what the build-up to the strangest season anyone has ever seen will look like.
When will training camp start? What will it entail?
Toronto’s training camp has technically already begun. A small group of Blue Jays players who have cleared MLB’s intake protocol and produced two negative COVID-19 tests are currently free to use club facilities in Dunedin, Fla, where the team has gathered.
But many of their teammates are still waiting for clearance. While MLB only requires one negative COVID-19 test as part of its intake protocol, all Blue Jays players must pass two before they’re permitted to enter training camp. That extra step was necessary in order to satisfy public health concerns from the Canadian government. And all that testing takes time.
But the club expects the majority of tests to be returned by the weekend, at which point the club will fly to Toronto on a private charter. That plane will arrive at a private extension of Pearson International Airport, where players and staff will disembark and travel directly to Rogers Centre on private buses that have been cleaned to standards set forth by the Public Health Agency of Canada.
Once players are on-site at Rogers Centre, more formal, organized workouts will begin. Those will be staggered throughout the day in order to encourage physical distancing, with players broken up into groups.
High-touch surfaces — door knobs, faucets, dials, handles — will be disinfected hourly, and all areas will be thoroughly cleaned daily. The club will utilize four different locker rooms in order to distance players, with every other washroom sink taped off and communal toiletries removed.
Hitters will have access to both the home and visitors batting cages, while pitchers will be spread across five different mounds — the game mound plus the pair in each outfield bullpen. The Blue Jays have explored the possibility of adding temporary mounds, but club President Mark Shapiro said the team was leaning against it.
“I think we’ll have the capability of getting our work in,” he said. “Particularly looking at us not working out as one group of 60 players, but as two groups of 25-30 players.”
Throughout training camp, all players and personnel will live at the hotel connected to Rogers Centre within a dedicated room block isolated from the general public. Hotel staff will wear masks and undergo daily health assessments and temperature screenings prior to their shifts.
Players and staff will not be permitted to leave the premises during training camp, travelling between their rooms and the ballpark within the stadium’s boundary. This will obviously require a high degree of discretion and discipline. But if someone was caught leaving the stadium, they could potentially be punished under Canada’s Quarantine Act, which can carry six-figure fines or imprisonment.
That alone ought to be dissuasion enough to ensure no one within the Blue Jays party violates training camp rules. And Shapiro says he and Blue Jays GM Ross Atkins have been encouraged by the feedback they’ve received from players during consultations as they worked to move training camp north of the border.
“They were part of the process. We did not unilaterally make the decision. We made the decision with them,” Shapiro said of Blue Jays players. “It was collaborative and cooperative from the start. They’ve been educated. There are clear penalties in place beyond anything we would do for a violation of a quarantine — which have been communicated to them. But I don’t expect those to be an issue because we’ve been talking to them from day one and they understand their responsibility and the expectations coming in.
Will the Blue Jays play any exhibition games against other MLB clubs?
MLB has permitted clubs to play up to three exhibition games towards the end of training camps against nearby teams or its first opponent of the regular season. But Shapiro said the Blue Jays will forego that option, instead relying on intrasquad games played within Toronto’s player pool. There is no limit on the number of intrasquad games a team can play during training camp.
Shaprio also said MLB is closing in on setting its schedule for the 2020 season, and that the Blue Jays would adhere to it regardless of where the club’s home is. Toronto’s primary options for its home games remain the Rogers Centre in Toronto and TD Ballpark in Dunedin, two facilities the club owns, eliminating the possibility of any scheduling conflicts. But as of now, the location of Toronto’s home schedule is TBD.
Will any Blue Jays player or staff opt-out?
So far, five MLB players have chosen to opt-out of the 2020 season: Mike Leake, Ryan Zimmerman, Joe Ross, Tyson Ross, and Ian Desmond. Last week, Shapiro indicated he didn’t expect any Blue Jays to exercise their right to do so, and on Thursday he said that expectation remains the same.
Of course, things can change as training camp wears on and the pandemic evolves. There is also the potential of staff opting out, as some members of Cleveland’s organization have chosen to do. But Shapiro said he wasn’t currently expecting any opt-outs among Blue Jays staff, either.
The Blue Jays will have a ball when they get on the field at Rogers Centre
July 02 2020
How will positive COVID-19 tests be handled?
MLB’s 2020 Operations Manual introduced a new term into baseball’s large lexicon: the COVID-19 Related Injured List.
A positive test for COVID-19 would obviously necessitate placement on that list — but one is not necessarily required. Players can also be placed on the COVID-19 Related IL due to exhibiting symptoms associated with the virus or having confirmed exposure it.
There is no minimum or maximum length of placement on the list. But in order to be removed from it individuals must produce two consecutive negatives tests at least 24 hours apart, be without fever and respiratory symptoms for 72 hours, complete an antibody test, undergo a cardiac evaluation, and be deemed by a committee of physicians as no longer presenting a risk of infection to others.
With nearly 2,000 players being tested this week during the intake process for training camps across the league, it’s fair to expect a large number of individuals will be placed on the list. Last week, when the NBA tested 344 of its players, 25 returned positive — a 7.3 per cent infection rate. It’s not unreasonable to anticipate a similar number across MLB.
Where things get tricky is in how these cases are reported. As New York Yankees GM Brian Cashman outlined earlier this week, teams have not been permitted to disclose which players are on the COVID-19 Related IL because Infections are not “employment-related” as outlined in MLB’s Basic Agreement. It will be up to individual players who test positive to approve whether that information is made public or not.
Ben Nicholson-Smith is Sportsnet’s baseball editor. Arden Zwelling is a senior writer. Together, they bring you the most in-depth Blue Jays podcast in the league, covering off all the latest news with opinion and analysis, as well as interviews with other insiders and team members.
But the flaw in this design — which surely someone, somewhere identified as MLB was conceptualizing its 2020 Operations Manual — is that clubs are still announcing all players who are placed on an injured list in order to free up roster space. Thursday, the Blue Jays official transactions page showed four players being placed on the 10-day injured list (retroactive to June 30) without explanation: Jonathan Davis, Brandon Drury, Elvis Luciano, and Hector Perez.
In turn, Toronto added four individuals to its player pool: Bryan Baker, Patrick Kivlehan, Josh Palacios, and Breyvic Valera, who was claimed off waivers from the San Diego Padres. Toronto’s player pool, which is capped at 60, stood at 58 prior to those transactions. So, at least two spots were opened. And aside from placement on the COVID-19 Injured List, the only way to remove a player and create room in the pool — according to the 2020 Operations Manual — is as follows:
For 40-man roster players: trade, waiver claim, return of Rule 5 selection, release, outright assignment, designation for assignment, placement on the 60-day injured list, or placement on one of the suspended, military, voluntarily retired, restricted, disqualified, or ineligible lists.
For non-40-man roster players: trade, release, or placement on the military, voluntarily retired, restricted, disqualified, or ineligible list.
Considering none of the Blue Jays players who went on the injured list Thursday were subject to any of the transactions above, it’s fair to speculate that at least two of them were placed on the COVID-19 Related IL, if not all four. (It’s worth reiterating that placement on the COVID-19 Related IL does not require a positive test.)
A similar scenario played out in Philadelphia on Thursday, in which four players popped up on the Phillies official transactions page as being placed on the 10-day injured without explanation. It was later reported that all four were placed on the COVID-19 Related IL.
One imagines situations like this will continue to arise throughout the season, as some players are placed on the injured list or unavailable to compete for explained reasons such as broken bones or muscle strains and some are not. And that raises the question as to whether MLB’s attempt to protect the privacy of its players is actually doing the complete opposite.
Asked to comment Thursday on the inevitable speculation over unexplained absences, Shapiro pointed to the challenges of operating a professional baseball league during a global pandemic. The club will do everything it can to protect the privacy of its players. But it also has to play by MLB’s roster rules.
“It’s a challenging environment. Not just for the media, not just for our fans, not just for our players, but for us as well,” Shapiro said. “Privacy and respecting the privacy of our players and understanding regulations and laws that exist is going to govern my no comment on that. I think over time players are going to be capable of commenting for themselves.
“Until then, those are going to be things that are going to have to be one more piece of a world that we’re living in that is full of uncertainty — and I can’t help you any more than that. Obviously, I’ve dealt with a sea of uncertainty for the last two-and-a-half months and that’s just one more piece that we’re all dealing with.”