In any other circumstance, the Orioles optioning a set of well-regarded young players to Triple-A Norfolk at this stage in March, as they did Thursday, would be a normal occurrence as a team culls its roster and prepares for the start of the regular season.
The league’s shutdown because of the coronavirus pandemic, which could span months as Major League Baseball plans to follow CDC guidelines on virus mitigation, means the team sending outfielders Ryan Mountcastle and Cedric Mullins, plus right-hander David Hess and infielder Ramón Urías to Norfolk might be the only typical baseball act that happens for a while.
“Normally we’d be having spring training right now and there would be the types of decisions that take place every day as spring training ticks down,” Orioles executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias said. “Now, we’re just frozen in time.”
Those moves, he said, were teed up last week before the game was shut down in the middle of spring training. A week on, he said most of the efforts from the organization have been figuring out how to keep players safe both in their travels and in their preparations for the season — whenever it might start.
Elias said that a handful of major league players chose to stay in Sarasota, Florida, where the club holds spring training and where some facilities are available to them, though all were given the option of going home. Minor league players were sent home Saturday, and Elias said only those who are rehabilitating injuries or didn’t feel it was safe to return to their home countries remain in Florida. Major League Baseball announced Thursday that minor league players shut out of spring training camps will receive allowances from teams through April 8, and a plan is underway to compensate those players during the postponed portion of the regular season.
He said the team’s doctors and trainers are checking in with players and staff daily monitoring for symptoms of the coronavirus, and none have reported any as of Thursday night.
“We feel really good about where our players and staff all are in terms of their safety — that they are where they want to be, that they have people around them,” he said.
Past that, however, the baseball aspect of the shutdown remains unknown. With a two-month ban on large gatherings urged by the government, Elias said that the expectation is that the game’s hiatus extends at least into May. Preparing players, especially pitchers, for an unknown starting date means it’s hard to plan.
“I think the part about it that’s unprecedented is the unknown resumption date,” he said. “If we knew it, we wouldn’t have to hedge against something that’s maybe shorter than expected or longer than expected or worse. Because of that it’s uncharted waters.
“Particularly with pitchers, our experts — our pitching experts, our training staff, our strength and conditioning staff — have been talking since this started and formulating very specific protocols. But we’ve also got to be mindful first and foremost of the public health situation that’s going on, and the fact that we don’t want our players spending undue time in public or with groups of people until those guidelines change. We’re going to do the best we can.”
Elias said most of his efforts have been internal, focusing on getting players and staff where they need to be while figuring out next steps in baseball operations. He wasn’t sure where whatever season preparation teams will have once a start date is established will be, or what kind of schedule will be created when that time comes.
His hope, however, is that schedule contains as many games as possible.
“Right now, we know this is going to go into May at a minimum, just based on the federal guidelines that have come out,” Elias said. “I think commissioner [Rob] Manfred alluded to those, and anything after that, as soon as we can go, we all want to go play baseball. I think it will mean a lot to the country when we’re back playing baseball again, too. So, the sooner the better. But I think that we’ll take what we can get, too. We just want to play.”
Mancini ‘doing really well’
Elias said that Trey Mancini was “doing really well” a week after the 28-year-old outfielder had surgery to remove a malignant tumor from his colon, echoing some of the hopeful tones he struck when providing a similar update last week.
“His spirits are great, his physical condition is great,” Elias said. “He’s been up walking around, he’s out of the hospital, he’s just doing terrific. Things are going well, but obviously it was a major event he went through and it’s a process. He’s got more appointments and tests and we’ll update as we go as best as we can. But I feel really good about the prognosis and how he came out of surgery and where he is and where he’s going.”
Mancini left the team in early March for a non-baseball medical procedure, which came after he was dealing with illness at different points throughout camp.
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The homegrown outfielder turned 28 years old on Wednesday, and the Orioles posted supportive messages from his teammates, manager Brandon Hyde, and superfan Mo Gaba on social media.