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MLB's sweeping health-and-safety proposals would bring big change to baseball

MLB's sweeping health-and-safety proposals would bring big change to baseball

Major League Baseball has submitted a detailed list of safety proposals to the players’ union, extensively outlining how the game would be played amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal reported on the more than 60 pages’ worth of measures that will drastically impact the day-to-day lives of the players and make changes to the way the sport looks to viewers watching on TV.

It's a lot. But the volume of proposals shows the challenges facing this league and all the others as they try to return to their respective fields in the middle of a pandemic.

How — and how often — will players be tested?

Of the utmost importance is the league’s testing plan, and Rosenthal reported on detailed new descriptions of how that would work after it was reported on by USA Today and by The Wall Street Journal last week.

Players, managers, coaches, umpires and team staffers who come into contact with players will be tested multiple times per week, though not on a daily basis, mostly via oral or nasal swabs, with test results coming back within 24 hours. Blood tests will be conducted less often. Everyone will have their temperature taken twice a day.

Those with temperatures above 100 degrees Fahrenheit, exhibiting other symptoms or confirmed to be in contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19 would be sent for a rapid test.

Anyone heading to a ballpark will be required to take their temperature at home, and if their temperature is above 100 degrees, they will not be allowed in.

Anyone who tests positive must self-isolate away from the game, though it was not specified for how long.

All clubs are required to perform contact tracing, though not specified is whether the league will follow the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control guidelines of recommending that anyone who came into contact with someone who tested positive — in this case, teammates and players on other teams — self-isolate for 14 days. Under those guidelines, if a player tests positive during the season, his entire team would be recommended to self-isolate. It was reported earlier this week that Major League Baseball does not wish for teams or the league as a whole to shut down and wouldn’t require such isolation.

According to Rosenthal's report, Major League Baseball is committed to using the best available testing to improve the invasiveness of tests and the speed of results. Additionally, the league plans to provide free testing to players’ families and health-care workers and first responders in major league cities as a public service.

How will the league encourage social distancing?

The most upheaval to the everyday life of Major League Baseball players seems to be coming in the form of the league’s efforts to keep players as far away from each other as possible.

Players are typically on top of each other in a clubhouse, team facilities, while traveling and of course during games, where the dugouts are usually packed with people. Though baseball lends itself to distancing more than sports like football or basketball, there are still unavoidable instances when players are fewer than the recommended six feet apart each other — think every time a hitter steps to the plate near the catcher — or are required to come into physical contact, tag plays being the most common in the latter category.

But baseball’s proposed version of social distancing will begin in spring training, where players will arrive in staggered shifts and workouts will at first be limited to groups of five or fewer pitchers and catchers at a time.

RELATED: How MLB plans to alter spring training in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic

During both spring training and the regular season, it’s on teams to discourage people from gathering in team facilities. Meetings will take place virtually or outdoors, where people can spread out. Lockers will have to be six feet apart from one another, a huge change to the typical zero feet apart from each other they typically are. That will be an impossibility in major league clubhouses, requiring the creation of auxiliary clubhouses, which the league prefers be located outdoors. Showering will be discouraged for players, as will be use of indoor hitting facilities, which players use all the time. Group dining is discouraged, and saunas, steam rooms and cryotherapy chambers are a no go, as well.

During games, only “necessary” players will be allowed in the dugouts. This is one of the few things that doesn’t get a detailed explanation. Does that mean only players playing in the game at a given moment? Will reserves and starting pitchers not playing that day be required to sit in the stands with inactive players?

And here’s the one that could be most noticeable on TV: Defenders are encouraged to step away from base runners in between pitches. It means Jose Abreu and Anthony Rizzo will definitely be getting their steps in, taking frequent breaks from holding runners on at first base.

Obviously there will be no mound visits, but catchers will be allowed to stand on the grass in front of home plate and give signs to infielders.

How will the league attempt to prevent the spread of the virus?

While baseball might lend itself to distancing better than other sports, all it takes is one pitch for two people to touch the ball and potentially exchange germs. Pitchers are constantly touching their faces, heads and bodies before delivering a pitch to a catcher, who then touches the ball, or the batter, who puts the ball in play, only for it to be touched by a fielder or multiple fielders.

Even though baseball players don’t come into physical contact as frequently as basketball players, they are still throwing their germs around the diamond on a regular basis.

So what’s the league going to do about that? There will be a new baseball any time a ball is put in play and touched by multiple players.

Additionally, you can say goodbye to Gatorade buckets. There will be no communal drink stations, instead players will either have to bring their own personal drink containers with them into the dugout or teams will have to install contactless dispensers with disposable cups.

As previously reported, there will be no spitting or high fives allowed. Also banned is the use of smokeless tobacco and sunflower seeds, as well as fist bumps and hugs. No hugging. It's something we've all had to get used to over the last few months but still a little shocking to see listed as part of a set of rules. Players will be encouraged to wash their hands after every half inning and every time they handle equipment.

Non-playing personnel — whether that means only managers and coaches or anyone not currently on the field is unclear — will be required to wear masks. Lineup cards will no longer be exchanged, instead getting sent between managers via an app. Dugout phones will be disinfected after each use.

Anyone leaning on the dugout railing during a game must do so while using a personalized towel.

How will the league ensure safety when teams travel to other cities?

When an idea to quarantine the season completely in one location was discussed earlier this year, players balked, not wanting to be sequestered away from their families for months.

That was a perfectly reasonable complaint, but the alternative is what’s being proposed now: still having teams travel from one city to another in the middle of a pandemic.

The league’s geographically structured season schedule remains a bit of a head-scratcher. Teams will only play opponents from their division and the corresponding geographic division in the other league. So, for example, the White Sox will exclusively play their four AL Central rivals and the five teams from the NL Central during the 82-game regular season. That’s being done in an effort to “minimize” travel, though what makes a flight between Chicago and Pittsburgh safer than a flight between Chicago and Tampa remains unexplained.

Anyway, the league’s current proposal includes plenty of travel between cities, and there are plenty of travel-related measures included in the health-and-safety proposals.

RELATED: 2020 MLB Draft to be held remotely, like NFL Draft before it

Everyone is pretty much being asked to isolate at hotels while on the road, though that’s only an official decree for the non-players in a traveling party. Players will not be mandated to abide by such rules, only strongly encouraged. Probably something to do with getting them to sign off on all this.

Los Angeles Angels star Mike Trout criticized the quarantined-season plan when it was being discussed, saying he wouldn't want his life to become strictly going from a hotel to work every day. Well, that’s what the league is basically suggesting for teams when they travel.

Non-players are simply not allowed to leave their hotels for anything other than games without approval. Players are only allowed to have immediate family members in their hotel rooms and are discouraged from — though not prohibited from — socializing with other family or friends in other cities.

When at home, players are allowed to stay wherever they want — their homes — but are supposed to avoid public areas.

That’s a lot. What do we make of all this?

Kudos to Major League Baseball for taking this extremely seriously. From this exhaustive list of proposals, it seems they are doing everything they can, next to making it a rule, to make sure that players only go from where they sleep to where they work without coming into contact with anyone else.

It sounds like there will be an awful lot of testing, even if there are still some red flags that arise. It still seems possible that an asymptomatic player who is infected could transmit the virus to others before knowing he’s positive, one of the main concerns folks from all walks of life have in the middle of this pandemic. And though it wasn’t specified in Rosenthal’s report, previous reports have outlined that Major League Baseball will not require the teammates of players who test positive to isolate, ignoring the contact-tracing guidelines as outlined by the CDC. That could be problematic and could lead to more positive tests.

But in general, while it still might not be a good idea for a professional sports league to forge ahead with a season in the middle of a pandemic — the relaxing of preventative measures by certain states across the country is reportedly projected to cause a steep increase in the number of cases and deaths — the league does seem to be taking a massive amount of precautions.

How much of this will be enforceable remains an issue. High fives, fist bumps and spitting are like breathing to baseball players, and even those with the best intentions to do what they can to abide by these measures and prevent the spread of the virus might have a difficult time retraining themselves.

Playing baseball and providing a 100-percent safe environment seem to be mutually exclusive in these times. But if the league is going to press on with a season, these proposals do a lot — even if they don’t do everything — to attempt to keep everyone healthy and safe.

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José Abreu: Dallas Keuchel's words or not, White Sox would have played better

José Abreu: Dallas Keuchel's words or not, White Sox would have played better

Dallas Keuchel spoke, and the White Sox responded.

That was an easy way to read what happened this week in Detroit.

After a seemingly listless performance in the series-opener — a 5-1 defeat that followed the sting of a missed opportunity against the Cleveland Indians one night earlier — Keuchel addressed the team. Then he told reporters what he told his teammates.

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“I would have liked to see the team play better tonight, especially after a kind of defeating loss last night,” the veteran left-hander said Monday. “We just came out flat, and I feel like we just stayed flat the whole game. … We've got some guys coming out and taking professional at-bats, being professional on the mound and doing what it takes to win, and we've got some guys going through the motions. So we need to clean a lot of things up. If we want to be in this thing at the end of the season, we're going to have to start that now.

“When you have enough talent to potentially win every game, it's very frustrating when you have games like this, and it just seems like we were out of it from the get go.”

The White Sox won the next two games in Detroit, scoring 15 runs on a combined 18 hits.

So Keuchel woke everybody up. His words spurred these White Sox.

Right?

“I think the conversation that we had with him, that he had with us, it didn’t really effect the way that we played the last two games,” first baseman José Abreu said Friday through team interpreter Billy Russo. “I think that we would do that either way.

“I do appreciate the conversation that he had with us. He had some concerns, and he’s a veteran. He shared those concerns with us, and I appreciate that. But it’s not a secret that the first game in Detroit wasn’t one of our best games. That was a bad game for us. But it wasn’t because we didn’t want to do good. It just was one of those games where we couldn’t do better in that particular time. The next two days, we did perform and we did what we were supposed to do.

“That’s why I think there’s no reason for people to put the spotlight on what Dallas said because we won the last two games. I think we would do it either way.”

Before anyone thinks of making the leap to clubhouse controversy, know this. Abreu, who’s been described as a team leader and certainly has been a mentor and a role model to the young players around him over the last few seasons, has been a vocal proponent of two things: the need for players to work hard and do the things they’re supposed to do to put themselves in position to win, and the high level of talent these young White Sox have.

With rebuilding cornerstones like Yoán Moncada, Eloy Jiménez and now Luis Robert firmly under his wing, it’s understandable Abreu would be protective of them and their fellow youngsters when called out for a lack of effort. And why shouldn’t he if that’s not what he’s seeing? Few are closer to those guys on a daily basis, and he would know if they weren’t living up to his own high standards when it comes to work ethic. Of course, Keuchel didn’t name any names, and those closest to Abreu might not have been the ones he was referencing Monday night.

Abreu has spent years talking up how good this group of players can be, and he knows what it's capable of. It's no surprise that he believed the White Sox capable of turning in a better performance than the one they did Monday night, and that belief would have been the same whether Keuchel opened up or if no one said a word.

RELATED: White Sox face Cardinals with another bullpen day in Game 2 of doubleheader

For what it’s worth, another White Sox mainstay was more willing to connect the dots between what Keuchel said and what happened in the days that followed.

“I hope they had some effect,” manager Rick Renteria said Friday. “I hope it affected them. I think any time you have a peer trying to motivate you, it's a good thing, especially somebody who's been around a little bit.

“As we've talked about before over the last three or four years, at some point we want the players to go ahead and take ownership. We've had guys doing it subtly, you guys haven't heard about it. In this instance, you heard about it. And I hope it did have an effect.”

This seems less like the White Sox answering the prayers of talk radio with a brewing battle inside the clubhouse and more just an interesting comparison of vantage points.

Keuchel knows what it’s like to win. He’s got a World Series ring on his finger. But Abreu knows this team. He knows these guys. Keuchel’s a newcomer, but one brought in partially because of his winning experience. Abreu has no winning experience in the major leagues, all six of his previous White Sox seasons ending in sub-.500 finishes, but perhaps no player in that clubhouse is more familiar with the intricacies of this franchise’s rebuilding process. And the White Sox made what seemed like an easy decision to keep him a central part of it with his three-year contract in the offseason.

This season — before it was all jumbled up by the pandemic — was supposed to be about the White Sox finally reaching the stage of their rebuild where they started to win. But it was also supposed to be about getting to that point. A schedule squeezed down to 60 games, and an American League playoff field expanded from five to eight teams, might have given the White Sox a better chance to do something they haven't done in more than a decade. But the shortened season robbed them of the typical six-month marathon in which a team can evolve into a winner.

Keuchel and Abreu both have important roles to play in getting the White Sox to where they want to be, and both of those vantage points will be critical along the way.

Remember: They both want the exact same thing.

“I told Rick Hahn this,” Keuchel said during spring training, “I said four out of the last five years I've made the playoffs, and I don't expect any of these three years to be any different.”

“I think it's just about time for us to start winning,” Abreu said around the same time. “It's just that time for us to start winning games and start to be relevant.

“The team that the front office put together, we're going to be able to do it. We have to be united. We need to be strong in good times and bad times if we want to be successful this season. With the guys that we have right now, that's something that's doable. That's our goal.

“I think expectations are high because we all know that this is the time for us to win.”


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White Sox face Cardinals with another bullpen day in Game 2 of doubleheader

White Sox face Cardinals with another bullpen day in Game 2 of doubleheader

Despite their preseason stockpile of starting-pitching depth, the White Sox will resort to their second bullpen day of the season in the second game of Saturday's doubleheader.

Lucas Giolito, the ace of the South Side staff, takes the ball in the first game against the visiting St. Louis Cardinals, who will be seeing game action for the first time in more than two weeks as they finally resume play at the end of a pause caused by nearly 20 positive tests for COVID-19 among players and staff.

White Sox manager Rick Renteria revealed Friday that Game 2 will feature another group effort by his relief corps. Remember that doubleheader games are now just seven innings long.

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This bullpen day comes just one week after the last. A week ago, in the second game of the White Sox series with the Cleveland Indians, Renteria called on seven different relievers in a 7-1 loss. While Matt Foster started things well, Drew Anderson, who was newly called up from the team's alternate training site in Schaumburg, fell apart in the fourth inning and was tagged for six runs. With the White Sox unable to solve Indians starter Zach Plesac that day, the remaining five White Sox pitchers mostly served in mop-up duty.

Now, that's certainly not to say every bullpen day will yield a similar result. The White Sox bullpen has looked like a strength this season, even if the team's relief ERA of 4.15 was just the 15th best in baseball as of this writing. But it's a perfect example of how quickly the White Sox starting-pitching depth has been drained and the position it's put the team in just a third of the way through this shortened 60-game season.

Reynaldo López and Carlos Rodón remain on the injured list with no timetables for their returns to the White Sox rotation. Gio González has been called on to fill in for López, and he's been unable to make it out of the fifth inning in any of his first three starts in a White Sox uniform, though the team has won two of those three games. There has been no replacement in the rotation for Rodón.

RELATED: White Sox, Cardinals to play doubleheader after Friday's game postponed

Back on Aug. 5, general manager Rick Hahn said both injured pitchers could be back in action within a few weeks, certainly better than season-ending diagnoses for those two key cogs. But a few weeks is a big chunk of this 60-game season. With Renteria not delivering timelines for either pitcher Friday, it seems Saturday's bullpen day might not be the last one we see from the White Sox this summer.

For those wondering where highly touted pitching prospect Dane Dunning fits into all this, Hahn specifically said that Dunning would not be called upon to take Rodón's spot last weekend. The general manager said on Aug. 5 that Dunning, coming off Tommy John surgery, had not yet worked his way to the kind of length the team wants to see from starting pitchers at the big league level. That's not to say Dunning won't appear at all for the White Sox this season, but as of nine days ago, he wasn't ready yet, not to mention that the front office continues to operate under the idea that an injury at the major league level should have no effect on when a prospect is ready for a promotion.

But with López and Rodón on the shelf — along with youngster Jimmy Lambert, who's on the 45-day injured list — Dunning not ready, Michael Kopech electing not to play this season due to personal reasons and Ross Detwiler limited to a relief role at the moment, there are few if any places for the White Sox to turn. The team inked veteran left-hander Clayton Richard to a minor league deal, but Hahn said going outside the organization for rotation help isn't very likely with the trade deadline approaching at the end of the month.

That all makes it seem like bullpen days might be something to get used to for a little while.


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