Cubs, MLB brace for positive COVID-19 tests as Summer Camp rosters submitted

Cubs, MLB brace for positive COVID-19 tests as Summer Camp rosters submitted

After submitting their Summer Camp list of players to the league at Sunday’s deadline, the Cubs have 10 openings on the roster to add players along the way, internally or from outside the organization.

Intrigue? Drama? Surprising — even shocking — additions to come?


But whatever news of interest might lurk in those numbers, an uglier, more outrageous number is sure to be lurking in the activity leading up to this week’s Summer Camp openings.

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That will be the number of positive COVID-19 tests among the 1,800 being accepted into these big-league camps and alternate, taxi-squad sites.

Just beware of knee-jerk reactions to a number that is almost certain to be measured at least in the dozens.

It’s certainly debatable whether any U.S. sport should chance convening at all for a season as coronavirus cases surge in most states during what is still the so-called first wave of the virus — much less if even a few players test positive during the initial testing being done as players report.

But the league and the union have accepted the inherent risk involved in staging a 60-game season plus postseason. Both sides understand infections are inevitable. And after roughly 5.3 percent of NBA players tested positive in recent incoming testing, that might be a reasonable baseline percentage of positive tests to expect among baseball players.

That would mean 95 across baseball, or an average of three to four per team. 

Considering that a disproportionate number of professional baseball players live in Florida, Arizona, Texas and California — where some of the steepest spikes in new cases are now happening — it might not be surprising if the number exceeds 150.

The Cubs began intake-screening testing Saturday and have more than 50 players still to test in the next few days. Once the training camps open, players are to be tested no less frequently than every other day as long as that team remains playing, under the Operations Manual.

MORE: Cubs begin testing team for COVID-19 ahead of resumption of spring training

Baseball officials are under no illusions that they are going to fare any better than the NBA in testing results — never mind soccer's English Premier League (17 positives out of 1,829 players through nine rounds of testing over a month-long period).

In fact, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune reported Sunday that the Twins have sidelined their two coaches over age 60 for the season out of concern over higher risk for severe COVID-19 reaction because of their ages.

Former Cubs manager Dusty Baker, 71, said recently he expects to be especially careful and vigilant when he and the Astros start up this week. Former Cubs manager Joe Maddon, 66, said he has been even more mindful than usual with nutrition and his fitness regimen since the shutdown in anticipation of being as prepared as possible when his Angels restart.

Meanwhile, among those players on the initial roster pools released Sunday were Rockies high-risk outfielder David Dahl (who had his spleen removed in 2015) and Nationals closer Sean Doolittle, one of the most outspoken players on social media when it comes to concerns over the coronavirus (his wife having a pre-existing condition that makes her potentially more susceptible to a serious reaction).

So, how many positives this week are too many to safely continue with plans to play? Some might reasonably say the answer is one.

MLB and the union appear to be prepared for the number to be at least a matter of dozens, depending on how they’re distributed — with the best hope that the initial testing will produce most of the positive tests the league experiences through its nearly four-month schedule of training, regular season and playoffs, and that they won’t be clustered in large single-team masses.

Even among baseball’s most optimistic core, there remains plenty of doubt this sport or any other can pull off a successful resumption of play this summer — with variables changing almost daily.

One of the additions to the final manual covering the strange and risky 2020 effort that got a recent breathless headline or two is that the league retains the right to suspend or cancel the season if travel restrictions are imposed in the country, “material change in circumstances” arises regarding risk to players and staff, or so many players become infected that the “competitive integrity of the season is undermined.”

No kidding. That’s a given with any plan — no different than MLB shutting down spring camps in March. Regardless, the league has more at stake in pulling this off than anyone else, so it’s far more likely that state or local authorities — or the players — would encourage a shutdown before it got that far.

But if the teams can weather the initial storm of positives this week, successfully quarantine those individuals, avoid large outbreaks among individual teams and then get through the next three weeks intact, then, well, that’s when the hard part starts.

So mask up, keep safe distances, wash your hands frequently and play ball — with sanitized fingers crossed.


Cubs' Tommy Hottovy quips how good Yu Darvish's Twitter game is

Cubs' Tommy Hottovy quips how good Yu Darvish's Twitter game is

Yu Darvish is one of the most active Cubs on Twitter. He frequently updates his fans on his budding YouTube channel, his training and pitching outings. He's been outspoken on his concerns over COVID-19.

Darvish obviously stayed in touch with the Cubs during baseball's shutdown, but pitching coach Tommy Hottovy joked Sunday how the club could have kept up with the right-hander by checking his Twitter timeline alone.

“You can communicate with Darvish and get good updates but if you follow him on Twitter, it’s just as good," Hottovy said, laughing. "Just getting his updates on new pitches he’s coming up with and the new "Supreme" that he [added]."

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Last month, Darvish posted a video debuting his latest pitch, "The Supreme," a two-seam/splitter hybrid. If you count the various versions of his pitches, he has upwards of 11-12 available in his arsenal.

If you're looking for a Cub to keep an eye on on Twitter, Hottovy's endorsement (joke or not) shows Darvish is a great choice.


Why Jon Lester hasn't yet thrown live batting practice in Cubs Summer Camp

Why Jon Lester hasn't yet thrown live batting practice in Cubs Summer Camp

Four of the five pitchers in the Cubs' presumed starting rotation were scheduled to throw in controlled intrasquad games over the weekend.

Yu Darvish (two innings) and Kyle Hendricks (three) faced off on Saturday. Tyler Chatwood and Alec Mills -- who is expected to fill the last spot in the rotation while Jose Quintana (thumb) is out  -- were penciled in for Sunday evening.  Jon Lester was othe odd man out.

“The one thing about Jon,” Cubs pitching coach Tommy Hottovy said Sunday, “and he’s talked about it a lot through this down period, was he was a guy who really wanted to manage his throws. He wanted to, as he put it, save as many bullets as he possibly could. That doesn’t mean by any means he wasn’t throwing a baseball. He was staying active. He’s in a really good spot.”

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Lester, 36, has thrown two bullpens in the past few days, according to Hottovy. On Sunday, Lester simulated at-bats during his bullpen session. Lester is scheduled to throw live batting practice in two to three days.

Each of the starting pitchers’ throwing programs during the shutdown was tailored to his location, resources and needs.  Both then and now in Summer Camp, Hottovy said he wants to keep his pitchers “on a good schedule but listen to what their bodies are telling them.”

The season is set to open in less than three weeks.