An initial wave of Orioles players and coaches are due at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on Wednesday for testing ahead of a three-week training camp to prepare for the 2020 season. As of Monday evening, executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias said that no one from the team has opted out of the season yet, even as other players from around the league announced their intentions of doing so.
Elias also said that the Orioles fortunately haven’t had any positive tests for COVID-19 as players return to their home stadiums this week for sanctioned workouts for the first time since the pandemic shut the game down in March. But he knows things could change.
“Our approach is that this is an unusual situation that everyone’s got their own circumstances,” Elias said on a video call with local reporters Monday. “We’re not pressuring anyone or shaming anyone that feels they should be here. We’re making that known and I think it’s well-received, and so far, no one has decided not to come. We’ll see how it goes.”
Outside of the on-field, competitive aspect of the game, perhaps nothing is more crucial to the league’s restart than those two aspects — positive tests within the sport, and what will happen to those who decide not to play for health and safety reasons.
Around the game Monday, players started to inform their teams that they wouldn’t be participating in the 2020 season. First, Arizona Diamondbacks right-hander Mike Leake opted out, and according to a team announcement, so did Washington Nationals star Ryan Zimmerman and pitcher Joe Ross.
While players who have (or live with others who have) underlying conditions that could make them more vulnerable to the worst effects of COVID-19 could be paid their pro-rated salary and receive service time if they opted out, players who do not were not guaranteed anything.
Asked what the Orioles would do if a player opted out, Elias said that they’re going to follow the rules while understanding the unique circumstances surrounding this return to work.
“We recognize that this will be fluid, and everyone is having to make personal decisions and circumstances may not be fully understood until the season starts, but so far, we are expecting full participation — which you see in news around the league that that’s not the case everywhere,” Elias said. “I wouldn’t be shocked if that ends up happening, but that’s going to be a part of this.”
Anyone who chooses not to play for the Orioles or any other team this year would be doing so to reduce the risk that they contract COVID-19, with states such as Florida, Georgia and Texas experiencing a recent resurgence in cases. Elias said that the organization had one international minor league player monitored when “there was some signs that he may be a positive case,” but that never developed into a confirmed case.
“Other than that, we’ve been remarkably lucky thus far,” Elias said. “I don’t expect that to continue throughout the season. We’re going to have cases. That’s been the expectation for Major League Baseball all along. We’re going to do the best we can to prepare for it, to contain it in situations that occurred, to keep everyone healthy even when they do test positive, and try to have the best outcomes we can. We all know that we’re heading into a situation that is not without its pitfalls and we’re going to do the best we can.”
At Oriole Park at Camden Yards, where the Orioles will host their initial 44-player camp beginning with a workout Friday after players report for testing Wednesday, they’ll try to keep players as safe as possible. Maryland’s coronavirus metrics have continued to trend downward, with the statewide testing positivity rate at 4.84%.
Elias said that the clubhouse has been rearranged and auxiliary spaces will be used to “create a more spacious atmosphere” and adhere to social distancing requirements while players are indoors.
They’ll also be subjected to strict schedules that Elias said manager Brandon Hyde and major league field coordinator/catching instructor Tim Cossins have mapped out for players, especially in the early days of individualized work before game-like situations begin for pitchers and then hitters.
“It’s a cozy building to begin with and we’re not going to be able to just have everyone there and everyone hanging out,” Elias said. “It’s going to have to be real scripted plans for who’s working where and when. It’s a big effort.”
All those precautions will also take place at the Orioles’ secondary camp site, where they’ll house the rest of their 60-man player pool, Elias said, though he wasn’t prepared to say when that camp would open or where it would be. He said that it will feature players who, unlike the initial list of 44 players, aren’t in contention to be on the Opening Day roster.
Eventually, prospects trying to get playing repetitions will be added as well, but they’re “being very cautious about fleshing out that list” because it’s difficult to remove players without releasing them once they’re on it and the Orioles don’t want to lose any talent because of that, Elias said.
At both sites, the Orioles will be “taking great care to execute the league’s protocols to the fullest and make sure that any amount of planning or care that is not only required but suggested or prudent, that we’re being sure to take,” Elias said.
Latest Baltimore Orioles
“We take this very seriously,” he said. “We have from the start. I think that the state of Maryland has had a similar approach, and we certainly don’t want to stop that now.”