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Rob Manfred’s attempt to quell MLB’s PR mess did not go well

Rob Manfred’s attempt to quell MLB’s PR mess did not go well

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Rob Manfred’s day of public reckoning began around 6:30 a.m. in the West Palm Beach facility that houses the team his investigation damned.

Though, Manfred was on the opposite side from the Houston Astros on Sunday morning for a sitdown interview with ESPN, tucked into the small room Davey Martinez uses for daily press conferences and the eye doctor claims to dilate pupils. Manfred stated shortly after the sun came up the Astros’ attempt at a group apology was “not successful” then his day ended a three-hour drive away with him asking reporters to move onto topics other than the cheating scandal.

There are crass, alliterative phrases easily applied to what’s going on in Major League Baseball. Here, let’s call it a combination of PR fail from the league to the Astros to the players. They are all jostling for space inside the aflame dumpster, and Manfred is yet to get his arms fully around the situation.

Players remain irked it took this long for the league to do something. Privately, they talk about the multiple complaints filed in the past against the Astros -- unacted upon by the league in their view -- when discussing this current mess. The future of technology in the game is up in the air. Unfinished tattoos are being zoomed in on. Buzzers, whistles, banging. The chaos has spliced in so many directions, plugging all holes is impossible. 

So, Manfred is charged with recoiling what he unleashed. The league’s investigation into the Astros may have been too late, it may have left some issues on the table, it can be chastised for granting immunity. But, it was the right thing to do. It’s just hard to see that through the player-on-player sniping and the Astros’ endless bungling of the situation despite hiring a crisis management team.

Which puts baseball in a chaotic state. Not long after Manfred departed the facility, Nationals catcher Kurt Suzuki was trying to extract himself from any back-and-forth about the situation. Days of public insult volleying have pervaded the start of spring training. Some players, like Manfred, want to stifle the discourse.

“We’re kind of all trying to backtrack on what happened in the past,” Yan Gomes told NBC Sports Washington. “I think there are some sides that kind of don’t have the floor to make some comments. It’s kind of the world we live in. Everybody’s entitled to their own opinion. You guys (the media) have the floor to spread it around. Want to keep talking? You’re feeding the fire. Whatever it is, investigations have already been done. We should just move on. We’ve got to get ready for the 2020 season now. Bring this season on instead of keep going backwards.”

Manfred’s press conference on Sunday was, of course, focused on the Houston scandal. He asked to change the subject after seven minutes of questions. 

“This has been really fun, but I’d like to move on to other topics at some point,” Manfred said.

He’s in a tenuous position. He jabbed a media member for obtaining a private letter he sent. He tried to steer the press conference with at times vague answers (he is a lawyer by education and works for the owners). He was asked to justify his processes, which prompts him to be defensive. 

The challenge for him is similar to that of the Astros: any irritation from their end only further roils an already-festering situation. Houston learned this during its failed apology effort. When Manfred had gaps in his explanation (such as his answer about buzzers), speculation finds a home. 

Which is why, despite his desire or that of any player, this situation is so far from done. Saturday night in West Palm Beach, Max Scherzer will be on the mound to face the Astros. What shouldn’t be a thing will be just that. Every stop Houston makes this season -- the first visit to New York, when it comes to Washington, the All-Star Game in Los Angeles should any players make it -- will be another chance for the cheating to be brought up. And, so far, no one quite seems to know how to talk about it.

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Nationals GM Mike Rizzo preparing for when MLB season returns

Nationals GM Mike Rizzo preparing for when MLB season returns

Spring training slammed to a halt just two weeks before the season was supposed to open. The stoppage ended the pulse that comes with baseball, a daily injection of grind which lasts for six months and knows no breaks beyond a 24-hour respite here or there.

So, the stoppage is extra-strange in a sport constructed on daily endeavors. Especially one coming off its grandest lull the month before. Baseball’s winter was back to normal, for the most part, making the Winter Meetings a place for business again and finishing transactions well before spring training was to begin. Then everyone transports themselves into the sun to head toward the season.

This year, that all stopped. Abruptly. The coronavirus has shut the spring training facility in West Palm Beach and Nationals Park in the nation’s capital. Mike Rizzo is now like everyone else: isolated and waiting.

“You miss the ramp up to the end of spring training and all of the energy that that brings,” Rizzo said. “Opening Day and that type of thing. Those are all the things you miss. This is going to be a very, very special Opening Day for us when it happens. We still have that to look forward to. On the brighter side, the glass half-full view is we're the reigning world champions and we still are clutching hard to that trophy. We've got ourselves a banner-raising ceremony coming. We've got ourselves some beautiful rings that we're going to be able to wear around D.C. in the very near future. Although we're thinking daily and hourly about the humanity of what's going on right now, but we also have that to look forward when we get through this thing and we come out the other side and baseball begins again.”

The Nationals have made two rounds of transactions since baseball shut down. Some of the moves were procedural, others roster-building decisions (such as releasing Hunter Strickland). Most can be reversed if the Nationals decide to do so when/if baseball resumes.

“None of them preclude us from any of those players we optioned out to make it on the Opening Day roster,” Rizzo said.

So, what is he and the rest of the front office doing during this stoppage?

“We’re very busy,” Rizzo said. “There’s a lot of moving parts with what’s going on in the game right now, so we’re in constant contact. I’m speaking to ownership quite a bit, speaking to our staff quite a bit, we’ve got some projects that we’re working on as far as some long-range projects since we have a little bit of down time, some specific projects for the 2020 season as far as readiness and preparation and that type of thing.

“It’s impossible to put together any kind of player development-type of schedule until we get a little more clarity, but we’re in constant contact with our amateur scouting staff about the Draft and our player development staff on our Minor Leagues and our Major League staff also. We’re keeping ourselves busy.”

His staff is all working from home. They are on audio and video calls with each other. The medical staff is talking to players daily about the “coronavirus-mandated protocol that we have.” The trainers, strength and conditioning coaches, pitching coach, hitting coaches and positional coaches are also checking in with players.

In short, everyone is trying to make do after baseball -- and much of the world -- stalled, replacing day-by-day with wait-and-see.

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Report: MLB to give $400 weekly to Minor League players through May

Report: MLB to give $400 weekly to Minor League players through May

Minor league baseball players will continue to receive paychecks through the end of May while leagues are postponed to the coronavirus outbreak, the MLB announced on Tuesday. 

Players will be receiving $400 per week according to ESPN's Jeff Passan. They will also continue to receive medical benefits.

The funding is a league-wide initiative to help support minor leaguers until the start of their respective seasons or May 31, whichever comes first. This is an extension from the funding that was announced to fund players through April 8. 

There are exceptions to the funding. Those who signed Major League contracts, received housing, food or other services from the teams, and are on the Restricted, Voluntary Retired, Disqualified or Ineligible Lists will not receive the funding. 

During this time, Major League clubs will also not supply their affiliates with players. 

Minimum weekly salaries in the minors were projected to be $290 to $502 this season, according to the Associated Press.

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