Buster Posey opting out won't be norm because of coronavirus failures

Buster Posey opting out won't be norm because of coronavirus failures

Buster Posey could afford to opt out of MLB’s shortened 2020 season.

The Giants catcher is secure on and off the field. He’s well on his way to a spot on the Giants “Wall of Fame” and, potentially, enshrinement in Cooperstown. Posey has also made over $115 million in career earnings, according to Spotrac, with two more seasons under contract beyond this one.

Many of Posey’s fellow players -- and millions of his fellow Americans -- aren’t so lucky. They’re faced with an impossible choice: Return to work (and a paycheck) now, as states reopen despite a national inability (with some exceptions) to limit the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, or don’t and miss out on financial security during what is otherwise an extremely insecure time. MLB salaries didn’t rise at the same rate as league revenues over the last few years, and they almost certainly won’t rise at all next season in the wake of the pandemic.

Posey opting out is a reflection of his privilege, but it shouldn’t have come down to that. That Posey, correctly, deemed playing baseball was too risky for his young, growing family while a pandemic -- of which so much remains terrifyingly unknown -- ravages the country is a greater reflection of the failures of people far more powerful than an All-Star catcher.

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Nearly 135,000 Americans have died during the pandemic, according to NBC News reporting and state health officials. The United States has more confirmed deaths than any country in the world, earning that dubious distinction on April 11. Three days later, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred was one of many professional sports commissioners and executives tasked with advising President Donald Trump on re-opening the nation’s economy.

Manfred’s presence on that committee was not an explicit endorsement of the White House or federal policies relating to the pandemic, but that context simply can’t be ignored. He, representing MLB, advised a President whose government has continually downplayed the coronavirus’ threat and continually botched the response to it while advocating for Americans to return to work when there's no guarantee they can do it safely.

It’s only getting worse. Infections are climbing nationwide, as are deaths. ICUs are reaching capacity. Testing is short. This is the context in which MLB is set to return at the end of the month, with players traveling across state lines.

It’s an impossible choice that athletes abroad haven’t had to make, nor is it one that players in all North American sports leagues have faced.

[RELATED: Zaidi, Kapler fully support Posey's decision to opt out]

Four of Europe’s five biggest men’s soccer leagues have kicked off amid the pandemic, with each occurring in a country with a greater handle on the pandemic than the United States. Even England’s Premier League, playing in one of Europe’s hardest-hit countries, has only had 18 players and staff test positive for the coronavirus among over 16,000. MLB had 66 among nearly 3,500 initial samples.

While NBA and MLS players are resuming their seasons in Florida as the state continues to be a coronavirus hotspot, NWSL’s Challenge Cup has mostly gone off without a hitch in Utah. Yes, an entire team backed out before the start of the tournament, but even NWSL players weren’t facing a choice between a salary and health before play started: Their salaries are fully guaranteed this season.

Of course, NWSL has fewer teams, fewer players and thus fewer salaries to pay at much lower levels than MLB. Eight teams in a “bubble” is a lot more realistic than 30, let alone 15 for the National and American Leagues. But NWSL didn’t make a record $10.7 billion in revenue last year, nor did it sign a television-rights deal worth nearly $500 million per year just last month.

MLB players, like Posey, who opt out won’t get paid or receive a year of service time unless they’re deemed high-risk by a team physician. You can fault the MLB Players Association for not negotiating guaranteed salaries, but MLB showed time and again it was unwilling to concede much of anything at the bargaining table.

Posey had the security to step away from playing baseball this season, and his calculus was fundamentally different from the sport’s rank-and-file. It didn’t have to be, though, and the inability of less-secure players to do so is because of an insistence from those in the highest levels of power to return to business as usual.

But Posey's absence this season will be yet another reminder that there is no business as usual in the middle of a global pandemic.

Jeff Samardzija's rough start to season displayed by stat, odd moment

Jeff Samardzija's rough start to season displayed by stat, odd moment

There's a stunning stat from Jeff Samardzija's first three starts that shows how much he's struggling right now, but perhaps in this case all you need is an exchange from the Giants' loss Friday night. 

When Samardzija grazed Dodgers utility man Kiké Hernandez to load the bases in the fifth inning, Hernandez insisted over and over again to the home plate umpire that he had not been hit by the pitch. It was a strange sight, and the Giants even challenged the call -- with no luck -- to try to send Hernandez back to the box, but it seems that it's not a good sign that he wanted to be there in the first place. 

The Dodgers were remarkably comfortable against Samardzija, who is coming off a solid year but has had a nightmare start to 2020. In a 7-2 win over the Giants, they were quiet the first time through the order, then busted out for three homers the second time through. 

Samardzija walked off the mound in the fifth with the bases loaded. For the third time in three starts, he was charged with five earned runs. 

"I think he had a little bit of a lack of fastball command," manager Gabe Kapler said. "This is a very difficult lineup to get through even if you're locating your pitches."

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The Dodgers proved that with the three homers, which brings us to the stunning stat. In three starts, totaling just 13 2/3 innings, Samardzija has allowed six homers but struck out just five batters. Right now, he doesn't have the stuff or command to put hitters away. 

"Too many times we're getting these 0-2, 1-2 counts and battling for too long," he said. "We need to make sure that when we're getting them in the hole, we're finishing them. You give these big league hitters too many opportunities, they're going to take advantage of it. We've got to get them up and set them down as fast as possible."

Samardzija actually looked marginally better in the first three innings, getting six pop-ups and shallow fly balls. But those turned to homers the second time through, dropping the Giants into too large a deficit. The loss was their fifth in six games and put them five games behind the Rockies and 4 1/2 behind the loaded Dodgers after a little over two weeks of action. 

It won't get any better without a sharp turn from the starting pitchers, and the Giants don't have an obvious solution right now if Samardzija keeps struggling. Drew Smyly will be reevaluated when the road trip ends next Wednesday. Swingman Tyler Anderson already is needed for Smyly's spot. 

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The Giants will hope the stuff improves and the command returns for Samardzija, at least enough to make hitters look less comfortable than Hernandez did. 

"He didn't think it hit him," Samardzija said. "I told him it must have hit his jersey or something. They're all gamers over there, they all want to play. I respect those guys a lot. He's just being honest. It's a good quality."

Giants takeaways: What you might have missed in 7-2 loss vs. Dodgers

Giants takeaways: What you might have missed in 7-2 loss vs. Dodgers


The Giants went to great lengths to keep Jeff Samardzija from pitching at Dodger Stadium in a season-opening series. On Friday it was more clear why they did it. 

Samardzija gave up six runs -- five of them earned -- and departed in a jam in the fifth. The Giants never caught up, losing 7-2 at Dodger Stadium, where they got a split just two weeks ago. 

The Giants have dropped four of five on this long road trip, and it doesn't get any easier. They'll face Clayton Kershaw on Saturday and Walker Buehler on Sunday. Here are three things to know from a forgettable Friday ... 

Slow Start for Shark 

Samardzija's stuff looked a *bit* better, and he got six pop-ups and shallow fly balls in the first three innings. But the second time through the order, the Dodgers hit three home runs. He didn't last much longer. 

Samardzija was pulled with the bases loaded and no outs in the fifth after grazing back-to-back Dodgers (Kiké Hernandez strangely argued that he was not hit). Sam Selman helped him out, but Samardzija was still charged with five earned for the third consecutive start. 

In three starts, the veteran right-hander has allowed 15 earned runs in 13 2/3 innings. He has struck out just five of the 65 batters he has faced. This is an issue the Giants are going to have to confront. 

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Another One 

The Giants tacked onto their error count early when Darin Ruf couldn't handle a single to left, allowing Cody Bellinger to cruise into second. Bellinger immediately scored on Justin Turner's single. It seems like every error comes around to cost the Giants, and that was their MLB-high 18th of the year. 

It didn't go down as an error, but Donovan Solano failed to get a double play when he threw a ball into the dirt instead of to first. 

The defense has been a problem just about every night. 

[RELATED: How Yaz has turned into Giants star year after close call]

Sam to the Rescue 

How about we end with a positive? 

Selman came on with the bases loaded and Max Muncy at the plate and allowed just one run to score, then went out and pitched another scoreless frame. That was good work -- he struck out three -- and allowed the Giants to avoid getting blown out in the sixth. 

In the old days, the joke would be Samardzija needs to buy Selman a steak. Who knows what that looks like in a season dominated by quarantining. Maybe he'll order the rookie some nice room service?