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MLB releases draft of COVID-19 testing, safety protocols

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A draft of Major League Baseball’s health-and-safety manual for post-COVID-19 playing has leaked to Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic and Jeff Passan of ESPN. The current release — which Rosenthal and Passan detail, but each of which says is only partial — lays out an elaborate testing and safety protocol scheme which is reportedly going to be supplemented before a formal proposal is made.

The short version: it’s EXTRAORDINARILY complicated.

According to the draft plan, a copy of which has been given to the MLBPA but which has not yet been seen by most players, the testing component relies heavily on saliva testing, not the swab-up-the-nose testing, which is considered a far more workable and replicable form of mass COVID-19 testing (you can read a detailed story about that kind of testing here). Passan says that MLB could be conducting up to 10,000 COVID-19 tests per week under their plan.

At the moment it seems like a very tall order to produce that many tests, and turnaround could be an issue early — it could be 24-72 hours before those tested know their results — but I suspect MLB’s use of the private PED lab, and ramp-up going forward, could alleviate that to some degree. Left as an open question: the ethics of MLB creating and using those kinds of testing resources for an entertainment product at a time when the nation is still behind in the amount of testing we’re doing of the general population. Discuss amongst yourselves.

The thing is, though, the testing may be the easy part.

Beyond the testing are detailed rules about reporting to spring training and stadiums for games, travel, where people can sit or stand in the dugout and multiple other matters. And I do mean “detailed.” There are diagrams of who can sit where and everything in Rosenthal’s piece. The Players not participating in the game would sit in the stands, separated by at least 6 feet. Players would have to stand six feet apart during the National Anthem. High-fives and fist bumps are prohibited. So is spitting, be it tobacco juice or sunflower seed shells. Players would be discouraged from showering at stadiums after games. They would not be allowed to take taxis or use ride-sharing apps on the road.

While the testing stuff seems almost workable, these protocols seem almost impossible to implement and enforce. The micro-level of behavior control it requires, implemented in a matter of a few weeks, seems extreme. Especially given how routine and habit-driven athletes are. The league is asking players to completely reinvent their deportment for 10-12 hours a day. More when on the road. Passan’s own report suggests that there is already skepticism among people who are familiar with the document, and at this point, I have to share that skepticism.

All that said: it’s a draft. It’s not a final plan or even a final proposal. But do not think for one moment that how much money the players are going to get is the only tough issue remaining.

Nationals back off of minor league stipend cut

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Yesterday it was reported that the Washington Nationals would cut the weekly stipend paid to their minor leaguers from $400 a week to $300 per week through the end of June.

For frame of reference, MLB had agreed to pay all minor leaguers $400 per week through May 31. Several teams have agreed to extend that, with the Royals and Twins agreeing to do it all the way through the end of August. The Oakland A’s decided to stop the payments in their entirety as of today. The Nationals were unique in cutting $100 off of the checks.

The A’s and the Nationals have taken a great amount of flak for what they’ve done. The Nats move was immediately countered by Nationals major league players announcing that they would cover what the organization would not.

The A’s are, apparently, still sticking to their plan. The Nats, however, have reversed course:

One can easily imagine a situation in which Nats ownership just decided, cold-heartedly, to lop that hundred bucks off of each minor league check and not worry about a moment longer. What’s harder to imagine is what seems to have actually happened: the Nats did it without realizing that anyone would take issue with it, were surprised by the blowback, and then reversed course. Like, what kind of a bubble where they living in that they did not think people would consider that a low-rent thing to do?

In any event, good move, Nats, even if I cannot even begin to comprehend your thought process.