White Sox

White Sox

Major League Baseball is reportedly closing the doors to all 30 teams’ spring training complexes in the wake of players from four different teams testing positive for or exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19.

The Philadelphia Phillies confirmed Friday that eight people — five players and three staffers — tested positive, with 32 more were awaiting test results. The Toronto Blue Jays confirmed that testing was underway after one of their players exhibited symptoms. The Houston Astros confirmed one of their players tested positive. And two members of the Los Angeles Angels tested positive, as well, though neither was working out at a team facility in either Arizona or Anaheim.

The league is reportedly mandating that every facility undergoes a deep cleaning and establishing that no players or staff members may return before testing negative for COVID-19.

The flood of troublesome news — this was all reported and/or confirmed within the span of several hours — comes roughly a week before the league hoped to start a second round of spring training ahead of a shortened 2020 season. While the league and the players’ union continue to go back and forth in an attempt to agree upon a number of games, the league’s most recent proposal had the three-week warm-up period beginning at the end of this month, with Opening Day coming in mid July. Earlier in the discussions, teams were expected to have a choice between conducting that second round of spring training at their home ballparks or their spring training facilities.

More than a threat to preseason workouts, however, the rising number of COVID-19 infections in numerous states across the country poses a larger threat to the season reaching its conclusion or happening at all.

After players balked at the idea of a quarantined season in one or two locations earlier this year, the league has moved forward with plans for teams to play the regular season and postseason in their home ballparks. With infections on the rise, the quarantined season idea has again been speculated as a possibility for baseball, but according to The Athletic's Ken Rosenthal, it's not being considered at the moment.

The league has additionally been adamant about the regular season wrapping by the end of September and the postseason ending by the close of October, fearful of a “second wave” of infections. But the home states of more than half the league’s teams are experiencing a rising number of cases right now.

That includes Florida, home to two teams’ home ballparks and half the league’s spring training facilities, where this week the state averaged more than 2,400 new cases per day. Texas, home to a pair of teams, averaged more than 2,600 new cases per day this week. Arizona, home of one team and the other half of the league’s spring training complexes, averaged more than 1,700 new cases per day this week. California, the country’s most populous state and home to five major league teams, averaged more than 3,300 new cases per day this week.

RELATED: MLB looks worse each day as virus bears down on plans to restart sports

Those numbers are sobering and as impactful a reminder as any that, with the status of the pandemic what it is in the United States, it might simply not be a good idea to stage a professional sports season.

As if those numbers aren’t enough, the league and the union still have to come to an agreement — something that’s proven difficult in other areas — on health-and-safety protocols for a season. And while 60-something pages’ worth of recommendations from the league showed it was undoubtedly taking the matter seriously, there remained red flags when it came to the most effective methods of preventing the spread of the virus.

The league’s testing plan featured non-daily tests and, in most cases, tests that wouldn’t return results for 24 hours. That could potentially lead to a scenario where an asymptomatic player arrived at the ballpark, was tested, played a game, exposed two teams’ worth of players and staff to the virus, got on a plane, traveled to another city and showed up at another ballpark before knowing he tested positive.

Similarly, the league’s proposal went against the contact-tracing guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which outline that those who came into close contact with someone who tested positive are recommended to self-quarantine. The league will not be making that a requirement of teammates of players who test positive, not wanting to shut down a team or the season as a whole.

Plus, while non-player members of a team’s traveling party would be restricted in where they were able to go while on the road, players would only be encouraged to limit their movement in road cities. Being confined to nothing but hotels and ballparks was what rankled some players when the quarantined season idea was being bandied about earlier this year, though since, the NBA has adopted that kind of plan for its restart.

It all makes for an enormous challenge for Major League Baseball to safely stage even a shortened 2020 campaign. It would seem impossible to eliminate risk, and while certain versions of the proposals from the league and the union contained the ability for high-risk or concerned players to opt out, it’s unknown how accepting the league will be if an agreement is reached or if the commissioner utilizes his ability to impose a season of however many games he chooses.

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