Baseball’s return depends on players and owners agreeing on safety measures, schedule and compensation. When that happens is anyone’s guess.
There is hope that the season can start in early July — government officials have to agree to that as well as the players and owners — which means the Twins and other clubs are beginning to build toward the start of another camp.
The ideal date to resume workouts reportedly is June 10, so planning must take place despite not knowing where spring training 2.0 will be held, how many players can be involved, whether exhibition games against other teams will be played, and if there will even be a minor league season.
And those are just some of the unanswered questions during this time of COVID-19.
“We have a lot of baseball people who are starting to ramp up,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said Thursday, “because if we are going to come back and play, this is when you are going to need to ramp up, right now, get it going before something is officially announced or before we have any specific dates we are working toward.”
The Twins have told employees they will be paid in full through June and there will be no furloughs, so clearly the team is optimistic about baseball’s resumption. MLB suspended uniform employee contracts on May 1, allowing teams to make such decisions.
Baldelli and Derek Falvey, the Twins president of baseball operations, spent Monday on a series of Zoom conferences to discuss plans and to continue checking in with players and staff. The Twins and other teams will need direction from the league office on how to proceed in some cases, leaving them to prepare for different scenarios.
“I’m optimistic that we’re going to get out there and play, and play in a safe environment.”
For instance, the Twins have not decided where to have the second stage of spring training. A three-week period for players to train will be needed and, most importantly, for pitchers to build up their arm endurance before games begin. While it would appear to be a slam dunk to return to Fort Myers, Fla., where the Twins usually train, they might be better off training at Target Field.
They probably would break up into small groups, each training at different times. Pitchers would have to get the bulk of their work done in intrasquad games, but there’s a chance they would spend the last week playing a regional opponent in a handful of exhibition games.
“We certainly have talked about that,” Falvey said. “I can’t speak for the other teams who are in Florida, but talking with some folks the opinions are mixed, depending on a lot of factors.
“Some of it is going to depend on, to some degree, what other teams are doing because you are somewhat impacted by knowing where the potential opponents are.
“There is still a lot to be worked out with respect to any exhibition schedule. For us right now … we’re planning on both locations at the present until we have it ultimately finalized as a league.”
Rosters are expected to be expanded to as many as 30 players per team, and there have been reports about a taxi squad of extra players to add up to another 20 players. Keep in mind that the Twins needed 55 players to get through last season. How will the taxi squad players maintain game sharpness if there are no minor league games this season?
“There are things that still remain to be figured out on the league level,” Falvey said when asked about the fate of the 2020 minor league season. “I would say at the present, our focus is on controlling how we develop our own players for as long as we need to.”
Twins players have been working out on their own for about 10 weeks, with head trainer Michael Salazar, director of strength and conditioning Ian Kadish and their staffs checking in with them through Zoom and FaceTime to track their progress.
Or they could wait for someone like designated hitter Nelson Cruz to broadcast another one of his workouts on Instagram, which he did during the early days of the shutdown.
“I’m swinging every day, I’m working hard every day,” Cruz said, “I know I talked to a few of my teammates, and they’re also working out.”
Each player was given a workout program when the club left Fort Myers in mid-March. Some were also given training equipment.
“It’s been a challenge for all 30 clubs, I’m sure, and everyone is a little different,” Falvey said. “You have someone like Nelson Cruz, who is set up back home with his own gym and is fairly equipped where he is, while we have other players we recognize are more challenged in what they have access to.”
Falvey and Baldelli have been very pleased how the players have stuck to their programs during the shutdown. That should make the transition easier when it’s time to summon them back for another training camp.
That’s a camp Twins officials expect to happen this year.
“We stay ready for everything,” Baldelli said. “Rarely are we surprised at what goes on and what happens. That being said, I’m optimistic that we’re going to get out there and play, and play in a safe environment.”