Major League Baseball and its players ironed out details of a 60-game season that will start in earnest late next month, while the country deals with the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Despite it taking forever in an ugly, often-public negotiation, the implemented season and agreement on health and safety protocols might have been the easy part.
Execution will be altogether different.
A’s general manager David Forst discussed the protocols and challenges inherent to getting this unique campaign off the ground in a Wednesday video conference with local reporters.
His main message? This will be a difficult task.
The A’s will as many as 42 players from a 60-man pool on July 1 for a second training camp at Oakland Coliseum. They’ll start testing players who have been working out away from the team for months, while aiming to resume baseball activity on July 3 or 4.
Oakland will have a roughly three-week runway before the regular season starts to get necessary work done while keeping players, coaches and staff healthy. That last part won't be easy, even with strict adherence to protocols.
“The challenge is avoiding the virus,” Forst said. “I don’t know how to break it down specifically. You’re putting a lot of people in a small, confined space, which is the one thing medical experts are telling us not to do. We’ll have to limit clubhouse time as much as possible. Guys will have to wear masks as much as possible. I know [manager Bob Melvin and bench coach Ryan Christenson] are working schedules and ways to keep things outside on the field as much as they can.
“I think you’ve seen, unfortunately, a lot of positive tests with other clubs and other sports even before you bring everybody together. It’s going to be a challenge.”
The Philadelphia Phillies, Tampa Bay Rays and Colorado Rockies have confirmed positive COVID-19 tests already, some while working out at spring facilities. Adding more bodies to the mix will heighten the difficulty, especially while using a cramped, aging venue like the Coliseum.
The A's must construct some temporary facilities to make all this work. They'll build an intake facility in Lot F to conduct initial coronavirus testing and those done every other day once camp starts and throughout the season.
Oakland will use its current clubhouse and the Raiders' former locker room, a much larger space that includes another training room and coaches room, to enhance social distancing during camp and the regular season. The A's will have to work on the visiting clubhouse’s tight quarters, with a possibility the team will build some auxiliary facilities for teams coming to town.
The A's won’t add bullpens or batting cages to the facility for camp, though a centerfield cage will be used and the team could wheel in an extra home plate to allow two batting practice sessions to go on at once.
Most preseason game settings will be created through intrasquad scrimmages, though the league allows for exhibition games in the three days before the regular season starts.
“Obviously, the Giants would make an easy partner,” Forst said. “I have not talked to [San Francisco president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi] yet about doing that. We’re going to wait for the schedule. The folks at MLB mentioned playing against the first team on the schedule if you want that as well. Up until those last three days, it will just be intrasquad games.”
The rosters will shrink to 30 once the season starts, with a taxi squad the A’s hope to station in Stockton. The Ports are their Single-A affiliate, and the big-league club is in discussions with the city and the team to set up an outpost there. No deal has been finalized at this time.
Forst admittedly hasn’t spent much time thinking about baseball within the confines of a quirky, shortened season. Those conversations will come later and in great detail, but the team is focused now on executing the safety protocols designed to keep everyone healthy.
Having the A's talented roster stay healthy would certainly help Forst excel in 2020, but he didn’t want to mix safety with competition. In his mind, those two goals remain separate.
“We’re all trying to make this season happen,” Forst said. “Everyone’s going to do their best to avoid spreading the virus when possible. To think of it or anything else as a competitive advantage right now, I don’t think I would put it in those terms.
“… In a way, you sort of feel like the players and all 30 clubs, we’re sort of all in this thing together trying to make this season happen and provide entertainment and a quality product. I’m trying not to [think about it that way], and I hope our people aren’t getting caught up in that right now, as opposed to making it to July 24th to start this thing.”