MESA, Ariz. -- Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein spent much of his day on Friday helping players and staff map out their immediate plans in light of Major League Baseball’s decision to suspend all Spring Training operations.
MLB's response to the global coronavirus pandemic falls in line with the rest of the sporting world. Both the NBA and NHL have suspended their seasons, Major League Soccer has suspended play for 30 days, and the NCAA announced that all winter and spring sporting championships, along with the March Madness basketball tournaments, have been canceled.
“I don't think most of us have had a chance to process it, yet,” Epstein said on a conference call on Friday evening. “It's all so new and changing so rapidly. And it's such a heavy subject and there are so many serious ramifications, not just for our organization, not just for our industry, but for society as a whole.
“It's really impossible to reach your arms around. Most of the day, we just spent trying to get as much information as possible and then make the best decisions as possible, using the guiding principles of following the science, using empathy and being as transparent as possible.
“And, I think at the end of the day, all of us have a moment before you put your head on a pillow where you realize just how much has changed, and just what we're all dealing with, and the potential consequences for society as a whole if we don't pull together and handle this in the best possible way. We're all in this together.”
Given this unprecedented moment in sports history, here is an FAQ with some of what is known at this time:
When will the season start?
There is no official start date for the season at this time. What we do know is that the start of the season will be delayed. Opening Day had been scheduled for Thursday, March 26, with all 30 teams playing. The Cubs were scheduled to face the Brewers in Milwaukee.
MLB will continue to evaluate ongoing events. Guidance related to daily operations and workouts will be relayed to all 30 clubs in the coming days.
How will the schedule change to accommodate the late start?
According to the release sent by MLB, the league and teams have been preparing a variety of contingency plans regarding the 2020 regular-season schedule. MLB will announce the effects on the schedule at an appropriate time and will remain flexible as events warrant, with the hope of resuming normal operations as soon as possible.
What's going to happen with the rest of Spring Training?
Forthcoming Spring Training games were canceled as of 3 p.m. CT on Thursday, and 2020 World Baseball Classic qualifying games scheduled in Tucson, Ariz., were postponed indefinitely. On Friday, MLB and the MLB Players Association agreed to suspend all Spring Training operations.
What about Minor League Baseball?
Minor League Baseball announced Thursday that the start of its regular season, originally scheduled for April 9, will be delayed indefinitely.
Where will the Cubs' players go?
The Cubs have suspended all formal team activities and have encouraged players to take this time to tend to their families. MLB, following discussions with the MLBPA, announced Friday that players have the option of remaining in Arizona or Florida, heading to their team's home city or going home.
A large group of Cubs players will remain in Arizona until at least the end of the month for informal workouts. At that point, some players might opt to move their training to Chicago (Wrigley Field) while awaiting updates on the start of the regular season. Epstein said the majority of Minor League players will be heading home for now.
The Cubs' spring complex in Mesa, Ariz., has undergone a deep clean. Epstein said that step was just a precautionary measure and not in reaction to anyone being ill. He also added that “appropriate steps” will likely be taken to clean Wrigley Field, too.
If a player elects to head home, can they return to Arizona before Spring Training officially resumes?
Epstein said that any player who leaves and wishes to return to the team’s spring complex prior to Spring Training’s resumption will first have to go through a “medical protocol” as a precaution.
Will the players have specific instructions for their workouts, whether they head home or remain in Arizona?
Epstein said players will be in regular contact with coaches and members of the team’s training and medical staffs, but their individual workout programs will be similar to how they might train in January. The general idea will be for the players to stay sharp and in shape and ready to return when MLB reverses course.
Will Cubs manager David Ross and his coaches stay in Arizona?
Epstein said that most of the coaching staff, including Ross, will head home for the time being. The Cubs plan on keeping a “skeleton crew” on site to accommodate the players who are still using the weight room and doing light baseball activities.
Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzer recommended to owners of Chicago sports teams that no major sporting events should be held until at least May 1. Will the Cubs have to abide by that?
Here's what Epstein said on that situation:
"A number of municipalities across Major League Baseball have given directives to the teams about not using the facilities. And I think it's wise for us to follow the direction of the municipalities, and Major League Baseball as a whole is factoring that in with what is and isn't possible going forward."
Ross and a number of Cubs players and staffers dealt with flu-like symptoms this spring. Were any of them tested for COVID-19? Will anyone be tested in light of MLB's decision?
Ross was in the hospital for one day in February and noted that he tested positive for the flu. Epstein said on Thursday that no player, coach or staff member has met the current criteria in the United States to be tested for the coronavirus.
"Our stance is that the more testing, the better," Epstein said. "And we hope our country gets to the point where we can have a lot of testing, so we can better assess the situation and make better decisions going forward."
Do the Cubs have any plans to send staff members home?
Epstein said that the team is in the process of establishing a work-from-home policy for the time being for nonessential staff. By that, he means employees who hold jobs where "it's not absolutely fundamentally important for the operation of the organization to be physically here."
Epstein said that he and a small group of front-office members will remain in Arizona for at least the next few days to assist players in their transitions. Once things are more settled, that front-office contingent might also return home to Chicago.
“I think practically and symbolically,” Epstein said, “it's important to be here until the players are fully settled.”
How might this affect the Cubs once play resumes?
The only players known to be working their way back from health issues are relievers Brad Wieck (heart procedure in February) and Brandon Morrow (right calf strain). The delayed start to the season could afford Wieck time to return to full strength and contend for a bullpen job. Morrow remains more likely to begin in the Minor Leagues.
Epstein, however, issued this reminder: "Those [types of roster issues] are secondary compared to making good, smart decisions with players' well-being, staff well-being, family well-being and public health in mind."
Reaction to MLB’s decision:
Here was what Cubs veteran Jason Heyward had to say on the matter:
"I think if they move stuff back and they say pause for a second, then I feel like we all know and trust that it's within good reason. If that means we've got to start later, then so be it. We've just got to be safe."
Statement from Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts:
"The health and wellness of our fans, players and associates is our team's top priority. In light of rapidly changing developments resulting from the coronavirus, we believe Major League Baseball's decision is in the best interests of the safety and well-being of the public and the game of baseball.
"While our hope is to play baseball at Wrigley Field soon, we will continue to work in close coordination with Major League Baseball, as well as with Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker and Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot and their administrations to ensure that we make the best decisions to protect public health and safety.
"In the meantime, Major League Baseball is preparing a variety of contingency plans in concert with clubs regarding the 2020 regular season schedule and will be offering updates as soon as possible."