The Red Sox could see players opt out due to COVID-19.
Recently I wrote an article on players who drifted through the Boston Red Sox roster during World War II. The rosters of all teams became an eclectic collection of talent at varying levels of baseball skills. The manpower shortage made roster development a unique blend of former stars of questionable ability, players who under normal conditions would be consigned to the minors, players whose classification in the draft made them available, and just about anyone else who could function with minimal embarrassment.
There was an opportunity as somehow the St. Louis Browns – a historically inept franchise – won the American League pennant in 1944. The following season the Browns added Pete Gray – a one-armed outfielder – to their roster. Gray hit .218 in 77 games. The Reds were not to be outdone in the desperation department as 15-year-old Joe Nuxhall appeared in a game in 1944. We may soon see a back to the future moment.
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A war has been replaced by COVID-19, but the outcomes are becoming eerily similar to roster depletion. The latest Red Sox to fall under the COVID-19 protocols is staff ace Eduardo Rodriguez who joins a growing list of Red Sox players on the new IL.
The Red Sox are certainly not alone as every team is slowly getting players testing positive. A twinkling of good news is most are asymptomatic or have mild symptoms. Freddie Freeman of the Braves is the only apparent exception for now.
The Red Sox have not had any players choose to bypass the season as David Price recently did. Other players have joined Price on the sidelines choosing not to risk their health or other possibly more vulnerable family members. As with WW II when the biggest stars had a more important commitment, the biggest star in baseball – Mike Trout – is still undecided regarding playing in 2020.
"Those people aren’t allowed to travel, access the facility or have contact with others once they test positive. To return, those people must test negative twice in a row, have no fever for at least 72 hours, possibly pass a cardiac exam, and be deemed by doctors and MLB to present no risk to others. – LA Times"
The season remains in jeopardy but MLB apparently is determined to plow ahead with a 60 game schedule and no fans. The rosters certainly will have replacement players available as each team has a list of 60 who could see action. Negative circumstances often result in opportunity and some wedged among the 60 may get a chance to impress.
The same can also apply to veterans who are on the cusp of free agency such as Jackie Bradley Jr. who could light it up in the short season and reap the financial rewards. The same can be applied to players who are in the various stages of arbitration as arbitration is a numbers game and punishment in the process – like service time – will be protected.
So far there has not been a tsunami of players choosing to opt-out, but with a 40% season and a bit of financial acumen from previous contracts, the list may expand. Without star power, a season takes on a faux baseball appearance with gaps plugged by players who are either bench warmers or should be plying their trade in the minors. A watered-down product about as appealing as prohibition beer.
The season has barely started and the issues continue to surface that cause an impediment to moving forward and baseball is not isolated among sports. The NBA is in similar circumstances as is the NFL and college sports. Just what direction MLB will go may be determined by the players themselves just choosing to hunker down for 2020. That could be the wisest choice.