MLB threatens harsh discipline for teams violating facility access protocols before spring training

PHOENIX — Major League Baseball sent a detailed memo to its 30 teams Monday restricting access to their facilities and limiting voluntary workouts before the start of spring training, according to a copy of the document obtained by USA TODAY Sports.

While Cleveland and several major league teams planned to open their spring-training facilities this week to their players and staff for voluntary workouts, MLB sent the memo to every team’s front office with strict regulations, threatening harsh disciplinary measures to any team violating the procedures.

“We have been informed that some clubs intend to increase the number of players at their Spring Training facilities in January and February prior to the commencement of spring training,’’ the memo reads. “As you are all aware, COVID-19 is surging in the United States, and conditions may worsen after the holiday season. We have not yet received firm guidance from our medical experts on whether it is safe to conduct organized workouts in Club facilities under current conditions, and the protocols that would be required to conduct such workouts safely.

“We also have not yet negotiated with the Players Association over the health and safety protocols that will be applicable to 2021 Spring Training and the 2021 season. Finally, the intensive COVID-19 testing protocol that we utilized in 2020, which is necessary when the risk of community transmission is high, will not be available to clubs from central baseball until the start of Spring Training.

Athletics pitcher Burch Smith runs the stairs during a Spring Training workout at RingCentral Coliseum last July. (Photo: Kyle Terada, USA TODAY Sports)

“As a result, until the commencement of spring training … clubs may not direct, encourage, or request (even on a voluntary basis) that players travel from their present locations to the club’s spring training site for the purpose of utilizing club facilities."

Spring training is scheduled to commence Feb. 17 with Opening Day on April 1, but MLB has discussed delaying the season with the surge of COVID-19 cases. Major League Baseball Players Association is adamant that the season start on time, with the players receiving their full salaries after receiving only 60 games of pay in 2020.

MLB informed clubs in their memo sent Monday that only three categories of players may access their facilities before the start of spring training:

  • Players who have a permanent residence proximate to their facilities.
  • Players who require entry to the facility to receive medical care.
  • Players who have been approved to attend a club-organized mini-camp under the terms of the Basic Agreement.

The only players who will be provided transportation and housing are those who require medical care and have been approved to attend a mini-camp. No other program or camp may be conducted prior to spring training, including programs for minor league players. Clubs are strictly prohibited from inviting players to participate in workouts, arranging transportation and housing for players, organizing player workouts except with permission, or conducting large group workouts.

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Those in violation, the memo says, “will be subject to significant discipline by the Commissioner.’’

“While we recognize that clubs desire to get their players ready for the season,’’ the memo reads, “we need to balance that objective with the very real health and safety risks that gathering players presents when the risk of COVID-19 transmission is high. Outbreaks of COVID-19 at club facilities in January or February prior to the time that spring training commences and without protocols agreed to by the Players Association in place may make it more difficult in certain jurisdictions to obtain approval for our protocols.’’

Arizona, which hosts 15 major-league teams during spring training, has the highest rate of COVID-19 cases in the United States, according to date from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Arizona’s rate of new cases the past week was 121.8 per 100,000 people, nearly twice the national average of 64.7. There were 62,047 over the last seven days in Arizona, including more than 17,000 on Sunday, the state's new single-day record.

MLB will also require that each club provides a list of players who request access to their facilities before the start of spring training. Teams must also maintain daily records of all players and staff members who enter the facility, including arrival and departure times, and temperature readings.

There are mandatory temperature checks and COVID-19 symptom screenings for anyone entering the facility, with no one permitted with a temperature above 100.4 degrees or exhibits any COVID-19 symptoms. The clubs are responsible for arranging for COVID-19 PCR testing at its own cost. Face coverings must be worn at all times indoors with only one staff member permitted to supervise any individual workout. And all meals will be prohibited in the facility until further notice.

There will be a limit of 10 players and 10 staff members permitted into the facility at the same time with only five people permitted in the clubhouse at any one time. Until the 2021 health and safety protocols are completed, minor-league players will be limited to using facilities that are not occupied by players on the 40-man roster, including clubhouses, batting cages, weight rooms, and cafeterias.

MLB is also asking that players and staff members continue to stay home as much as possible, avoid public or crowded areas, including restaurants and bars.

“We intend to have specific protocols for 2021 addressing the conduct of players and staff when away from the stadium, according to the memo. “Until those protocols are agreed-upon with the Players Association, the off-the-field conduct of players and staff is the most significant risk that clubs must manage to maintain a COVID-free environment in their facilities.’’

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