CLEARWATER, Fla. — In a meeting with team executives Saturday, Phillies players were given the choice to return to their offseason homes or remain in Florida to use the club's training facility.
"We understand every player and circumstance is different and we urged them to make decisions in their own personal best interest," general manager Matt Klentak said Saturday afternoon.
"At this stage, it appears quite a few will stay in Clearwater for an undefined period of time. Some may stay a short period of time then leave, while others may stay longer. It's a fluid situation.
"We also have quite a few who have opted to return to their families, and the staff is similarly split, some staying and some leaving."
In response to the health crisis created by the coronavirus, Major League Baseball on Thursday suspended formal spring training and moved opening day back at least two weeks, from March 26 to, at the earliest, April 9.
With President Trump declaring a national state of emergency on Friday, schools closing and local governments limiting the size of public gatherings — and the virus still spreading — it's difficult to imagine MLB opening its season on April 9. A longer delay, perhaps until May, is a real possibility, though nothing is official.
"The way that we typically proceed is we work backward from a target date," Klentak said of opening day. "So, if March 26 was the original target day, we work backward knowing pitchers need to throw the appropriate number of innings and hitters need the appropriate number of at-bats to be ready.
"The challenge now is we have a moving target. The best advice we can give players is stay in general baseball shape but remain flexible because we don't know when we might resume."
Players can stay in baseball shape at home or in Clearwater.
"Operationally, we plan to have a January-style camp with some staff but without formal workouts, without fans and media, to allow players to access medical care that the Phillies provide and continue to work out. Again, players have the ability to choose whether they want to be in Clearwater. Nothing is formal but we'll keep our doors open to those who want to be here."
In addition to when the season will start, there are a number of practical issues that are still unresolved. It is not clear whether players will still receive their per diems. Also, several players have outs in their minor-league contracts next week. What happens to them? And what about players from Latin American countries? Will they be allowed to get back in the country if they go home and travel is suddenly restricted? And will the number of games be reduced once the season gets going?
The Phillies' minor-league camp was closed on Saturday. Team officials are debating whether to send minor-leaguers home and should have a decision by the end of the weekend.
It is still not clear what will happen when the health crisis lessens or becomes resolved and baseball is able to set an opening day. Will there be another spring training, perhaps in Clearwater or even in Philadelphia? Players will need at least a couple of weeks of full-speed baseball work and competition to be ready to play.
"We don't know the answer to that," Klentak said. "There has been a lot of discussion about the possibilities. A lot of people are asking that question. Some who have been in the industry for a long time have cited how when baseball returned after the work stoppage in '95, there was an abbreviated spring training, but there's been no formal guidance from the league nor is it fair for me to speculate about that."
Klentak praised the players and staff for the understanding and professionalism shown while dealing with the uncertainty of the past few days. He said the Phillies have no known cases of coronavirus, though he was not sure if anyone had been tested.
Pitcher Jake Arrieta stopped to chat with a reporter on his way out of camp Saturday morning. At the time, Arrieta was unsure of whether he would remain in Clearwater or head home to Texas. He said he had one piece of advice for teammates and that was to prioritize family and health.