On Sunday, the Cubs announced their summer camp roster, a sign that Spring Training Round 2 is truly right around the corner.
This is bound to be a Spring Training unlike any other, held in teams’ home cities, in the middle of the summer and a pandemic.
The introduction to MLB’s 101-page operations manual for this season acknowledges, “As comprehensive as this manual is, it does not address every aspect of MLB and Club operations for the 2020 season. Additional guidance may be provided throughout the season.”
So, some of this may change. But so far, here are the answers to some of the most pressing questions as baseball gears up for a return:
When will players be tested for COVID-19?
The process has already begun. Each player will go through intake screening at least 48 hours before his report date. The players will be given staggered appointment times in order to keep too many people from gathering at the screening site.
During the intake screening, players will have their temperatures taken and give samples for two types of COVID-19 tests: one diagnostic (via saliva or oral/nasal swab) and one antibody (blood) test.
During Spring Training and the season, players will take diagnostic COVID-19 tests every other day and antibody tests about once a month.
When will players report for Spring Training 2.0?
Before Major League Baseball set a schedule for the 2020 season, the players had to confirm that they could report by July 1. Workouts are expected to begin no earlier than July 3.
Players and personnel will report on a staggered schedule. Essential clubhouse personnel will be followed by managers and coaches. Then the players: first pitchers and catchers, and then position players.
What are the Spring Training phases?
Phase 1: Individual and small group workouts. Only pitchers and catchers will be there for this phase. Groups are to be limited to five players.
Phase 2: Larger group workouts and intra-squad games. Larger groups are permitted, but small group workouts are encouraged when possible.
Phase 3: Spring Training games. The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal reported on Thursday that MLB would allow teams to scheduled up to three exhibition games.
Who will the Cubs play in those exhibition games?
In order to limit travel, the White Sox seem the likeliest candidate. Plus, who doesn’t like a preseason rivalry game? Rosenthal reported that clubs without nearby potential opponents can schedule exhibition games against their opening-day opponents, but the Cubs aren’t in that position.
How big will the roster be?
Teams submitted their 60-player pools on Sunday. By opening day, teams will have to identify their 30-man active rosters. Two weeks later, teams will have to cut those active rosters down to 28. Two weeks after that, they will have to shrink their active rosters to 26. If a team plays a double-header after that point, they will be able to bring up one extra player for those games.
The rest of the player pool will train at the club’s alternate training site. For the Cubs, that will be South Bend.
For road games, teams will also be able to travel with three taxi-squad players. If they bring all three, at least one must be a catcher.
When will the regular season schedule come out?
The actual schedule release date is unclear, but the league submitted a 60-game schedule to the players association for review last week. After that step, teams received copies of their preliminary schedules. A finalized schedule is pending team input.
Opening Day is scheduled for July 23 or 24. Teams will play their division rivals and the teams in the other league’s corresponding geographical division. So, the Cubs will play teams in the NL Central and AL Central.
What are the chances they pull this off in the middle of a pandemic?
Great question. If MLB commissioner Rob Manfred decides the safety risks are too great to continue, or if so many players test positive for COVID-19 that the integrity of the season is undermined, the league reserves the right to cancel the season.
But how many positive tests is too many?
Local authorities’ actions could also complicate the season, for example, if a COVID-19 outbreak becomes so serious that a governor or mayor shuts down Major League Baseball in his or her state or city. Manfred has the authority to move a team in that case, or for other health and safety reasons.
As COVID-19 cases fluctuate throughout the country, it’s impossible to predict how much of the season MLB will be able to complete.