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Umpires’ assignments will change due to pandemic baseball

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We’ve spent an awful lot of time talking about how the players will deal with pandemic baseball, but the umpires are affected too. They travel more than the players do, after all. They don’t have a home park. They, also, (a) get people up in their face during arguments; and (b) have to yell and project their voices, which is itself a risky thing to do in the time of COVID-19.

Last night Jesse Rogers of ESPN reported on some of the changes in routine the umps will have to deal with in 2020. Starting with spring training, where groups of three umps each will be embedded with big league camps, will watch bullpen sessions and batting practice and stuff as a means of easing themselves back into game shape, just like the players are.

During the season things will change a good deal too. In normal times umps travel to a new city after every series and are rotated across the league so they are not seeing one team more than others, which could create creeping, unconscious biases or grudges in one direction or another. Now, to limit travel, an umpire crew may stay in a certain city across an entire homestand, for example. And in two-team cities they may just go across town to the other park as opposed to getting on a plane and heading to Cleveland or wherever.

Masks are an issue too. Rogers reports that they will be encouraged for umps but not required. Which seems to be heat/weather driven. The MLB/MLBPA guidelines have already specified that arguments between players and umps should be minimized or eliminated, but human nature may overtake that at times putting players and umps face-to-face in argument. Even if they avoid that, though, I’m wondering how much spit flies from a mask-free ump standing behind a catcher and a batter in the normal course of a game. When you’re bellowing out “strike!” and “out!” scores of times a game, you have to imagine it’s a non-trivial amount.

Just another complicating factor in what will already be a complicated season.

Angels’ Andrelton Simmons opts out of final 5 games

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ANAHEIM, Calif. — Shortstop Andrelton Simmons has opted out of the remainder of the Los Angeles Angels’ season.

The Angels announced the four-time Gold Glove-winning shortstop’s decision Tuesday before they faced the San Diego Padres.

Los Angeles (24-31) is still technically in the playoff race with five games left in the regular season, and Simmons clearly caught the Angels by surprise, although the club said it respected his decision.

The 31-year-old Simmons, who can be a free agent this winter, is finishing his fifth year with the Angels. After spraining his ankle in late July and missing 22 games, Simmons is currently batting .297 with 10 RBIs while playing his usual stellar defense, albeit with four errors in 30 games.

“At this time, I feel this is the best decision for me and my family,” Simmons said in a statement. “We don’t know what the future holds, but we would like to sincerely thank the Angels organization and Angels fans for welcoming and making us feel at home.”

Manager Joe Maddon acknowledged he was caught by surprise when general manager Billy Eppler told him about Simmons’ decision Monday night after Simmons went 1 for 4 with an RBI single in the Angels’ home finale. Maddon texted Simmons, but hadn’t heard back by Tuesday afternoon.

“I’ve really enjoyed this guy a lot,” Maddon said. “I’m a big fan. This guy is a good baseball player, and I’ve enjoyed the conversations, too. It’s just unfortunate. He’s really a big part of what we’re doing right now.”

Simmons is a favorite of Angels fans for his defensive wizardry, and owner Arte Moreno has described Simmons as perhaps his favorite player to watch on the roster. Simmons has batted .281 with 36 homers and 281 RBIs during his five seasons with Los Angeles, and he won the Gold Glove in 2017 and 2018.

“He’s a thinking kind of a player, and I’ve enjoyed him a lot,” Maddon said.

Simmons will be a free agent this winter, and the Angels have an obvious replacement for him in David Fletcher, who has a .374 on-base percentage while regularly hitting leadoff for the Angels during his breakout major league season. Fletcher has been playing second base since Simmons’ return from injury.

But the Angels haven’t publicly closed the door on Simmons’ return, and he could be given a qualifying offer. Maddon has repeatedly said he would like Simmons to return in 2021 if possible.

The Angels haven’t had a winning season during Simmons’ five years in Anaheim, although Simmons said last week he wasn’t discouraged by the lack of team success. Simmons played his first four major league seasons in Atlanta, and he hasn’t appeared in the postseason since 2013.

Simmons also said he hadn’t been involved in any recent contract talks with the Angels, but he had enjoyed playing for the club. When asked if he wanted to return to the Halos, Simmons said he would have to “plead the fifth.”