The first few days of second-phase Major League Baseball camps in the age of the coronavirus have been less than ideal, with some players testing positive and others opting out of the coming 60-game season. Delays in receiving test results also resulted in cancelled practices for the Oakland A’s, Houston Astros, Washington Nationals, and an optional workout for the Los Angeles Angels.
High-impact stars like Freddie Freeman of the Atlanta Braves and D.J. LeMahieu of the New York Yankees have tested positive for COVID-19, while Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher David Price and Nick Markakis, Freeman’s Atlanta teammate, have decided to not play.
Top-ranked All-Stars such as Mike Trout of the Los Angeles Angels and Buster Posey of the San Francisco Giants are also considering opting out.
“There’s still some reservation on my end,” said Posey, who would make a prorated amount of $21.4 million this season and the same $21.4 million next year, the final guaranteed one of his contract. “I want to see how things progress here over the next couple of weeks. It would be a little bit naïve or silly not to gauge what’s going on around you.”
The season is slated to start July 23, but the spread of the coronavirus across the U.S. has MLB studying surges in Texas, California, Florida and Arizona, which are home to 10 of its teams.
Even if the season isn’t played, a real confrontation seems to be in the offing between the players and owners with a new Basic Agreement to be collectively bargained next year. The current one expires Dec. 1, 2021.
For MLB, there’s about $3 billion in local and national television revenue on the line with slightly less than 50-percent of that earmarked toward player salaries.
In a statement just released Monday, MLB reported that the virus tests this past week on 95-percent of all players have been completed – 3,740 with only 86 still outstanding. On Friday, MLB noted that 31 players had tested positive during that first phase of intake screening.
Players who passed that phase will now be tested again every other day.
“Unfortunately, several situations included unforeseen delays,” MLB said in a Media Statement. The league has yet to release updated positive results of its tests.
Trout, the three-time American League MVP winner, said he’s considering the idea of not defending this past year’s MVP title. He’s concerned, among other issues, of infecting his pregnant wife.
“It’s a tough situation for everybody,” Trout said. “I talked to a lot of guys across the league and they’re texting me a lot. I’m not going to name any names, but they’re all thinking the same thing: ‘Is this going to work?’”
Financially, Trout has a lot to lose if he becomes ill with the virus and perhaps disabled by the aftereffects. Freeman’s wife Chelsea said the virus hit the Atlanta first baseman “like a ton of bricks,” causing body aches, chills, and high fever.
Trout has 10 years remaining after this one on the 12-year, $426.5 million contract he signed with the Angels in March 2019. He’s only 28 with the second half of his career ahead of him.
In the most recent agreement forged between the owners and the union, players with pre-existing conditions or family health issues can opt out, still be paid and accrue service time. Players who simply decide not to play because it’s not in their best interest have that right, but must forgo both salary and service time.
“I think it’s a big concern,” said Trevor Story, the Colorado Rockies shortstop and a former teammate of LeMahieu. “It weighs on each player day-in and day out not only for their personnel health, but for their wives and their families. This thing doesn’t discriminate.”
Thus far, Story has yet to opt out, although eight of his MLB colleagues have decided not to play. Story, 27, is one of those players at the lower end of the spectrum on a two-year, $27.5 million deal through next year, a prorated amount of $8 million this year, and $17.5 million in 2021, plus a $2 million signing bonus. He has no known health issues, children or qualifying family circumstances. For now, he’s intent on playing.
“Still if things get out of control that might change things a little bit,” he said.