Minnesota Twins players Mitch Garver and Josh Donaldson addressed local media on a conference call Thursday afternoon, and it covered a wide range of subjects — many of which would come as no surprise to curious fans.
- What are they specifically doing to maintain as much of their Grapefruit League progress as possible?
- What are they doing to pass the days when they aren’t working out?
- Where are they staying in the interim?
Donaldson stayed in Fort Myers as long as he possibly could — including closing on a new home in the area — before relocating to Alabama, while Garver has relocated to the Twin Cities, where he’s working out and hitting with teammate Max Kepler as much as possible. Garver also said he raided the Target Field workout room for some equipment to help him stay in shape — something that could be an unusual wrinkle for a player who squats for nine innings per game.
But one question that couldn’t go unanswered was about the potential of teams playing their schedules in Arizona in a sterile environment with no fans and as little off-field fraternization as possible.
Earlier this week, ESPN’s Jeff Passan outlined a plan where teams could relocate to Arizona and play games at Chase Field — home of the Diamondbacks — in addition to 10 spring training facilities in the area. That’s one advantage Cactus League teams have over their Grapefruit League counterparts — no long bus rides during spring training.
And while Passan reported there were still some stumbling blocks in the way of executing this appropriately, this was also met with trepidation from players — as well as their families.
Eireann Dolan — who is not only the wife of Washington Nationals reliever Sean Doolittle, but a social activist who hosted an Oakland A’s show entitled “Call to the Pen” on Comcast SportsNet — was especially vociferous in her thoughts (threaded tweets):
Kaycee Sogard — wife of Milwaukee Brewers infielder Eric Sogard — was a bit more concise in her disdain:
Garver had a tepid, but tempered endorsement to how it could work, but still had some questions. For what it’s worth, it sounds as though the plan has been amended to possibly include Grapefruit League stadiums, as well as the potential of making separate leagues with the respective winners of each side facing off in the World Series.
In effect, it would blow up divisions as we know them — at least for this season, anyway.
The plan, even if it comes to fruition, is still clearly in its infancy, and Garver raised some legitimate questions:
- Where would players live?
- In a related question, what accommodations would they be working with?
- Who would be allowed to join the players in their living arrangements?
- Would they only be allowed to go to the field and straight back to the hotel/living space?
- Will there be meal money?
“When that initially came out, I think on paper it looked like a really, really good deal and aside from the sickness-like pandemic thing, I think that it’s feasible,” Garver said. And while that quote might come across as potentially insensitive, both Garver and Donaldson emphasized the value of baseball paling in comparison to what the pandemic means to human lives. “I trust our union and I trust that they’ll make the right decisions and that we will continue to follow the government-mandated recommendations and we’ll continue to follow what (the) CDC says about everything to get this season started,” Garver added.
Where Donaldson seemed especially concerned was over the proposed rule changes, such as possibly playing more doubleheaders and/or seven-inning games. It has not been unusual for commissioner Rob Manfred to propose some aggressive and at times unpopular potential changes to the game to attract a new, more youthful audience, including in recent years:
- The possible removal of 42 minor-league teams
- Requiring relievers to face a minimum of three batters or completing an inning (which passed)
- One singular trade deadline
- Extensively curbing September call-ups
- Expanded playoffs
- Universal DH
- Sped-up pitch clock
- Beginning extra innings with a runner on second base
The roadblock in Donaldson’s view was that any of the more unusual rules put in place to potentially stem the tide of the extenuating circumstances might be viewed as a positive if the season is completed without any substantial issues — leading to a possible slippery slope where more aggressive rules would be implemented going forward.
“I think also too where I get worried about it is you’ve heard the commissioner say several times that he’s trying to have some pretty outlandish ideas to change the game or make it better for a younger generation or something like that,” Donaldson said. “Where I get concerned is making some of these changes now to where they start getting some crazier ideas and doing this in the future, and kind of trying to roll some of these things over, like ‘Hey it worked well during this.’
“We all understand that this is a unique situation, and there might be things that we have to do accordingly to it. And also knowing that this isn’t how we foresee the next season or seasons to come after this.”
In short, Donaldson felt like there may not be enough attention paid to the fact that these unusual changes, if passed, would again be a slippery slope to more drastic measures being taken. It’s already going to be a strange start to a potential season if this passes, with games almost mirroring a mid-week game played in a college stadium with almost literally no one else in the building.
For now, though, it appears to be just an abstract idea — and perhaps an unfeasible one.
MLB will have to act with extreme care with regard to both of these figures, since any player getting infected runs the risk of having to shut things down altogether with no real restart date in sight after that. Even if the league could re-boot spring training sometime in the next 2-to-3 weeks — by all accounts, probably an especially aggressive timeline — it’ll still take an appreciable amount of time for pitchers, especially starters, to get up to speed.
That’d probably be something in that vicinity — 2-to-3 more weeks — based on what we’ve seen from starting pitchers usually ramping back up after missing time due to injury.
To that end, it’ll be worth watching if the league decides to move forward with a plan that might only allow starters to get back in the 75-to-80-pitch range before starting games that matter in the standings.
In that case, the Twins would be especially well-appointed with as many as nine MLB-ready starters in the organization with the potential for 29-man rosters proposed.
Ultimately, there are still more questions than answers in this scenario.