MILWAUKEE -- David Stearns isn’t exactly sure what lies ahead for the Brewers and Major League Baseball, but he is sure it will look unlike anything before.
“We know it’s going to be an unusual season and going to be a different-looking season,” Stearns said, “but it’s going to be a baseball season nonetheless.”
Just how unusual was evident on Friday, when Stearns, the Brewers’ president of baseball operations, and Rick Schlesinger, the president of business operations, came together via Zoom to answer some of the questions facing the sport as it attempts to get back on the field for a 60-game regular season. Manager Craig Counsell was on a similar session later in the day, representing the first opportunity to hear from the Brewers’ leaders on everything from the roster decisions looming over the weekend and the start of a “summer camp” next week, to what game broadcasts might look like and what is happening behind the scenes on the business front.
Here are some of the topics they addressed:
What are the logistics of "summer camp"?
First things first. On Friday, MLB’s transaction freeze was lifted, giving teams two days to prepare for Sunday’s 3 p.m. CT deadline to set 60-man player pools for the upcoming season. (MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand wrote a guide to 2020 roster rules to help fans navigate all of the policies put in place for this unprecedented season.) Brewers officials were working through those decisions as of Friday.
The first day players can report is Wednesday, when they will undergo COVID-19 testing and physical exams. The first full-squad workout will take place at Miller Park on Saturday, July 4, Stearns confirmed, and will consist of about 45 players, including members of the 40-man roster and some non-roster invitees. Remember the impressive Spring Training performances of Logan Morrison, Justin Grimm and Drew Rasmussen?
“Our work at a conventional Spring Training in Arizona usually takes place exclusively in the morning and is spread around a number of fields,” Stearns said. “Here at Miller Park, we’re a little more constrained from a spatial standpoint, and so we’re going to stagger our work throughout the day. This will create slightly longer days for our coaching staff, but from a workload perspective and how our players get their work in for the next three weeks, we think it will be very productive and efficient.”
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Added Counsell: “I think the key to this year is to be flexible and be ready to change and to be ready to scribble everything off that you’ve already started and start over. That’s happened a couple times in the last couple days already. We’ve got a good start on it; the first workout will be a week from tomorrow, so we’ve got some time still and we’ll keep plugging away at it. We’ll be ready to go when we’re ready to have players.”
The 45 players in the first camp are those who the Brewers believe have the best chance of making the initial 30-man Opening Day roster. The Brewers plan to have two separate workouts each day, both consisting of a mix of pitchers and hitters, who will make use of every available corner of Miller Park, including holding some meetings on the open-air concourses, according to Counsell. Intrasquad games will replace the usual Cactus League slate, though there may be an opportunity closer to Opening Day for up to three exhibition games against other teams, Counsell said. Stressing the importance of MLB’s health protocols is high on the manager’s agenda as things get underway.
“It’s a little bit of a dichotomy because COVID is telling us to stay apart, but actually, the fact that we all have to do this together will actually bring us together,” Counsell said. “It is on every single person. It doesn’t matter who you are. If you’re in the clubhouse, you have as much responsibility to help pull this off as the next person. It is something that connects us for sure.”
Another wave of players will report 7-10 days before the start of the season to the Brewers’ Class A facility outside Appleton, Wis., to form a secondary camp. That group will include some top prospects, Stearns said.
“I do think we will have some number of younger prospects who realistically don't have a chance of performing in the Major Leagues this year as part of our larger pool,” Stearns said. “By the time we have a full complement of players in Appleton, there will be a handful of players who are there -- who are likely lower-level prospects, who are there to continue their development.”
Officially, Minor League seasons remain on hold, but the Brewers have committed to paying Minor Leaguers’ stipends through the end of August, Stearns said. Essentially, that means players will be paid through the end of a “normal” season.
What is the current health situation of the team?
Stearns said the Brewers have had “a small number of individuals in our organization -- asymptomatic individuals -- test positive [for COVID-19].” He did not specify the number of individuals, or whether they were players, coaches or staff.
“They are asymptomatic, and they are doing well,” Stearns said.
Under the agreement between MLB and the MLB Players Association, players have the right to opt out of the 2020 season if they or a family member are in a high-risk category. As of Friday, Stearns said he had not been informed by any Brewers players that they intend to exercise that right.
Will there be fans in the stands at some point in 2020?
“Right now, obviously, we’re under the guidelines of the city of Milwaukee,” Schlesinger said. “Those guidelines do not permit us to have fans at the games. The one thing that we have done is been in close contact with the city of Milwaukee -- health officials, Mayor [Tom] Barrett and all the folks who have the health and safety of our population as their No. 1 priority.
“If there is an opening of the city and if there’s a way to accommodate some fans, we absolutely would love to do it. I don’t anticipate that we’re going to have an opportunity to have the stadium full in 2020. But even if we have a limited number of fans through appropriate social distancing and other health and safety protocols, it would be certainly an aspirational goal of ours, in conjunction with MLB and the city of Milwaukee. If we can make it happen, I’d absolutely love it.”
To Counsell, beyond health and safety, the prospect of playing in empty stadiums is one of the most significant story lines.
“I’ve believed for a long time that no fans in the stands is the biggest part of this season,” Counsell said. “It’s a test of focus, without question, of concentration. And it is one of the major hurdles that guys are going to have to face this year.”
Until real, live fans return to the stands, Schlesinger said he likes the idea of installing cutouts of fans in empty seats, and the Brewers will explore doing so at Miller Park. The Giants plan to do so at Oracle Park.
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“If they can’t be here physically, I do think our fans would certainly appreciate the opportunity to have their image in the stands,” Schlesinger said. “We have a lot of fans who have not missed a Brewers game in many, many years. If they can’t physically be here, having their image here would be something fun to do to sort of honor their streak of consecutive attendance.”
In other business-related matters, the Brewers' team store at Miller Park will reopen for in-person sales beginning at 11 a.m. CT on Tuesday. As a courtesy to others, shoppers are asked to wear a mask. Schlesinger said the team would soon release information about opening the stadium restaurant in late July.
As far as ticket credits and refunds, Schlesinger said additional information would be communicated to customers over the next 72 hours.
And despite the shortened 2020 season, the Brewers remain “full-speed ahead,” Schlesinger said, on the transition from Miller Park to American Family Field for '21 as part of a naming rights deal struck with the Madison-based insurer.
What do we know about the 2020 schedule?
As of Friday morning, Schlesinger said he still was not sure whether the Brewers would open at home or on the road, but the Brewers were making plans to recreate some of the pomp and circumstance of Opening Day; perhaps a recorded version of the traditional national anthem performed by Mike and Dan Attanasio, the sons of Brewers principal owner Mark Attanasio. Perhaps the Racing Sausages will run outside for the television audience.
Teams will be scheduled to play 60 games -- 40 within their division, plus 20 against American League teams from the corresponding division.
“The way I'm looking at it and the way I think we're going to approach this,” Stearns said, “is we're waking up in the middle of the season and it's a five-way race for the Central Division championship. That's probably not too dissimilar to what we thought it was going to look like at the front end of the season. …
“So, that's where we are. We're in late July, we have a really tight division and have a really exciting pennant race coming up. If you think back to a normal season, when you're in those late July moments, I don't think anyone feels like you're in a mad dash to the finish line. I think you still recognize there's a long season left and a lot of season left. We've learned that first-hand over the past couple of years when even just a month or half a month of baseball at the end of the season can change the outcome of a season. We're cognizant of that. We understand that every game is going to take on more importance because there are fewer games, but we also recognize that 60 games is still a lot of games.”
Opening Day is slated for July 23 or 24.
“In the 40-plus conversations with players the last couple of days, everybody’s excited,” Counsell said. “I think everybody was at a point of exasperation. Now I think we’re all excited to get back to work. … The more you talk about it and the more I’m thinking about it, these rules and everything that everybody’s going through, it actually does serve to bring us together. I think I’m looking forward to helping put that together and to see what we turn into. It will be really fun. It does feel like there’s more unknown this year, and right now that’s exciting. It feels like it’s going to make it a really maybe crazy trip, but a fun trip.”
Adam McCalvy has covered the Brewers for MLB.com since 2001. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram and like him on Facebook.