Can Major League Baseball cancel one team’s season and still finish a viable league season with the rest of the teams? What about canceling two teams’ seasons?
The Cubs, among others, might like to know.
In fact, they might find out sooner than they want to.
Because less than a week into a scheduled two-month season in the middle of a pandemic, the Miami Marlins are taxing even their expanded player pool with an outbreak the last three days that includes at least 15 positive COVID-19 tests among players and two more among the coaches.
Their season has been suspended through Sunday. And because they were in Philadelphia when it happened, the Phillies’ games through Friday also have been postponed as the Phils await a partial incubation period and daily testing results.
“It raises questions,” veteran Cubs pitcher Jon Lester said. “We’re all concerned about safety and the protocols. We just have to keep continuing to trust in what we’re doing and hopefully we’re doing the right thing.”
That’s the thing. The Cubs are the only team without a positive test among players since intake testing began a month ago. They’ve looked almost as good on the field as they’ve been successful being safe off of it.
And it might not matter, depending on what happens elsewhere in the league.
“I think we all knew that coming in,” Lester said. “There’s a lot of what-ifs and a lot of questions. Hopefully, this is just a little bit of a blip and we can continue to move on.”
If not, the what-ifs start to include questions such as, “How many Marlins does it take to screw up a baseball season?” — or at least to make up a legitimate big-league roster.
For now, MLB is pressing on, despite what some consider a “nightmare” scenario for the league in Miami.
“I don’t put this in the nightmare category,” baseball commissioner Rob Manfred told MLB Network on Monday. “We built the protocols to allow us to continue to play. That’s why we have expanded rosters. That’s why we have the pool of additional players. And we think we can keep people safe and continue to play.”
As for whether there’s a critical-mass level within the league or within a team that could cause a shutdown, Manfred said, “There is certainly both. A team losing a number of players that rendered it completely non-competitive would be an issue that we would have to address and have to think about making a change — whether that was shutting down a part of the season, the whole season, that depends on the circumstances.
“Same thing with respect to league wide,” Manfred said. “You get to a certain point league wide where it gets to be a health threat and we would certainly shut it down at that point.”
Does that mean a worsening scenario in Miami could lead to one team being shut down and the league season persisting? That’s at least unclear. That is not expressly covered in the 101-page Operations Manual the league and union devised.
Ian Happ, the Cubs’ player rep for the union, said Monday after talking with the union about the Miami outbreak that he had heard no conversations involving any scenarios that would include shutting down one or more teams and continuing play.
And what if it wasn’t the Marlins? What if it was the Yankees? Or the Dodgers? Or another projected championship contender from a major market?
Manfred said he remains “optimistic,” that positive tests were anticipated and that he thinks the safety protocols will hold strong enough to continue.
For what it’s worth, some Cubs are optimistic, too — in part because of the Miami scare.
“I think we’ll be able to finish out the season because this may be a wakeup call that we need to stick strong and keep going on these protocols,” Cubs outfielder Steven Souza Jr. said. “Because if we can, this is a huge lift for not only each organization and city, but for the country.
“You can’t think selfishly right now,” Souza added. “And I know it’s a hard thing for us to do by nature. But we have to take into account teams that we don’t like because we play against them, [consider] the fact that [not staying disciplined] could ruin it for everyone.”
Souza's teammate Kris Bryant took extra precautions Monday during the Cubs’ first road game — against a team that put two players on the COVID-19 IL over the weekend — by putting on a mask each time he reached base in the game.
But if the Marlins have taught the Cubs anything, it’s that their perfect coronavirus record will only carry the league as far as the other teams allow.
“This could put it in danger,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, said of the Marlins’ big outbreak this week on Good Morning America. “I don’t believe they will need to stop, but we just need to follow this and see what happens with other teams on a day-by-day basis.”
Said Lester: “It’s a little bit scary, but you just have to try to really trust in this process and trust in the protocols that we have in place.”