Five logistical hurdles MLB would need to clear before using Arizona plan to end coronavirus shutdown
MLB's plan is more complicated than it might appear
This week, it was reported that Major League Baseball and the Players Association have discussed starting the 2020 season entirely in Arizona as the league tries to reopen after its coronavirus shutdown. In that scenario, all essential personnel would be "sequestered at local hotels," where they would essentially live in isolation. Some of the other proposed measures prioritize social distancing — such as using robot umpires and having players sit apart in the stands, rather than together in a dugout, per ESPN's Jeff Passan.
It's clear that MLB is trying its best to have a 2020 season. It's even more clear, however, that the all-Arizona proposal is a work-in-progress. To prove as much, we wanted to shine the light on five major logistical issues that the league needs to figure out if this is to become a reality.
The most obvious potential snag is the availability of testing for the coronavirus. If every team tests each player on the 26-man roster daily, then that would mean MLB is burning through more than 20,000 tests a month — and that's without including coaches, trainers, scouts, executives, grounds crew, umpires or anyone else who might come into contact with those individuals. The state of Arizona, as a whole, has thus far administered just more than 33,000 tests.
Perhaps testing will be more widespread in the United States in a month's time, or perhaps MLB would leverage its cultural clout and financial might to secure better access to more testing. Whatever the case, the league needs to be able to identify and isolate anyone who tests positive to prevent a widespread infection.
That can be accomplished only with a ton of proactive testing.
While Arizona is an obvious landing spot for MLB thanks to its dense concentration of ballparks, there is one downside to the state: the heat.
Chase Field may have a retractable dome, but the other ballparks in the area do not. With Phoenix routinely topping 100 degrees from June to September, the league will have to either 1) scrap its desire to do weekly doubleheaders; or, 2) ask players to play in the extreme heat.
Neither is ideal, and the latter could put players and other personnel at risk for ….
If ballgames are being played, then ballplayers are going to get hurt. That could mean a strained hamstring, or it could mean a torn ACL. Either presents an issue for MLB in this altered format.
Not only would MLB have to provide quality healthcare for its players during a pandemic, it would have to have a plan in place for whenever a player requires a nonessential surgery, which many doctors have opted against performing until the coronavirus is under control.
Injuries are inevitable, and the other side of the topic is what teams do when they lose a player.
In theory, MLB could allow for expanded rosters (Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic reported the league and union have talked about expanding rosters all the way to 50 players following the shutdown), or could permit each team to employ a taxi squad. But some teams will be feasted on by the injury bug more than others. What happens if a team requires more players than it has available to it? And what happens to the minor-league players who are not included on the initial roster, anyway? Do they simply go without playing this year, or are they going to be isolated from the big-league players, on the off chance they're required to fill in for those who either get hurt or become ill?
Those are all notable considerations.
We'll finish with the most important part of the equation for the players: their families.
As Passan noted, players might have to go four-plus months without seeing their wives or children. It would be understandable if they pushed back on that part of the scenario; they're humans, after all, and no one wants to be separated from their loved ones for that long.
If MLB permitted players to bring their families with them to the Arizona compounds — a sensible compromise — then that would necessitate the league securing more resources, be it space, food, tests, and everything else.
This is a major undertaking on MLB's part, as they're essentially trying to establish a small town in Arizona in about a month's time. You can understand why folks in and out of the game are skeptical it can happen — not without many major developments and a lot of good fortune.