This might seem like an obvious statement on its face as Major League Baseball opens summer camps in hopes of beginning their 2020 season later this month. Health, more than ever before, will play a major factor this year.
The COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic has already caused major disruptions to all of our lives this year, not just in professional sports. But narrow our focus to just that for now.
An agreement was struck between MLB and the MLBPA (player’s union) that allows for stringent health protocols to help protect the players, team staff, their families, and others around the game.
Part of that agreement allowed for players to opt-out of a 2020 season. Some have already done so, including high-profile Dodgers left-handed pitcher David Price.
The biggest public name released to this point who has contracted the virus is Atlanta Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman. Dozens of others around the game also have tested positive. The Phillies are not immune.
Seven players were reported as being held out from the Phillies summer training camp due to the COVID-19 protocols. Whether that means they actually contracted the virus, have been in contact recently with someone who has, or they are showing symptoms is unknown as yet.
Those seven players are Aaron Nola, Hector Neris, Scott Kingery, Adam Haseley, Tommy Hunter, and Christian Bethancourt. The list includes the club’s top starting pitcher, their closer, and the Phillies starting second baseman and center fielder.
It is unknown how much time any of the players will miss, though it is hoped all will be ready for the start of the regular season on Friday, July 24.
The Phillies big free agent signing this past off-season, pitcher Zack Wheeler, also has a health situation looming in that his wife is pregnant, due to deliver right around Opening Day. Depending on timing, it seems probable that Wheeler will miss two or three starts.
Zack Wheeler, when asked if he considered not playing: pic.twitter.com/6VcBAyGbxN
— Matt Gelb (@MattGelb) July 5, 2020
How would you rate the Phillies chances this year if both Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler, the team’s top two starting pitchers, decided to opt-out of the 2020 season as Price has done?
Another superstar wrestling with his decision whether to play or not is Mike Trout – only the best player in the game today.
“It’s a tough situation for everybody,” Trout said per Aldan Gonzalez of ESPN. “I talked to a lot of guys across the league and they’re texting me a lot. I’m not gonna name any names, but they’re all thinking the same thing: ‘Is this gonna work?’”
Let’s say a best-case scenario unfolds for Major League Baseball over the next three weeks. A few more players, maybe a couple dozens, maybe even a few really big names like Trout, decide to opt-out. But most players stay, and the season begins as hoped.
There is still not going to be a vaccine to combat this virus for the remainder of the scheduled 2020 MLB season, including the postseason. So, at any point a player or players, possibly a key player, could test positive.
The planned 2020 MLB season could unfold well for a team, say the Phillies, for 45-50 games. The Phillies do get Nola and Wheeler and the others back sooner than later. They play well. In September they find themselves at 30-18 and in first place or battling for the division crown. And just then, Bryce Harper tests positive for COVID-19.
I believe this, or something like it, is going to happen to some team with some key player at some point in this coming 2020 season.
Sure, injuries happen every year, including to key players. In a “normal” 162-game season the Phillies could contend into September only to lose Harper for the year to injury.
But this is different. COVID-19 is a looming specter that will hover over the entirety of the 2020 Major League Baseball season. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying there shouldn’t be a season. But what I am saying is that health will play a major factor. It already has, and will continue to do so.