How COVID-19 shutdown of baseball impacts Cubs players, staff, injuries, season timeline

The chances of playing a 162-game schedule are slim to none, and the national state of emergency could impact major-league player contracts.

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Cubs GM Jed Hoyer (L), team president Theo Epstein (C) and chairman Tom Ricketts (R) during spring training last month.

John Antonoff photo

Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant already spent some of his down time this spring scanning the off days on the early season schedule and trying to figure out where to squeeze extra time with his wife and baby son due a week or so into the season.

“It’s kind of hard to plan it all out because you never know,” he said barely a week ago. “But Theo did tell me to take as much time as I need.”

If there’s an upside for any of the Cubs in baseball’s shutdown of spring training and delayed start of the season over coronavirus precautions, it might be the timing for Bryant – who suddenly is afforded rare extended in-season family time with his first child on the way.

Upside, downside or simply upside-down, finding sense or clarity for anyone in baseball beyond that looks difficult to impossible at this early stage of the nationwide shutdown of major sports.

The best answers we have at this point to questions related to the Cubs:

Will there be a game at Wrigley Field before May?

No. At least not with crowds – and almost certainly not regardless. Officially, MLB has postponed the start of the season tentatively to April 9. But team president Theo Epstein suggested players might need three to four weeks to prepare for regular-season games once spring camps are reopened, and Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced Thursday that Chicago team owners had agreed to postpone games until at least May because of the large crowds. Multiple reports since then indicate MLB is conceding April to the crisis. The Cubs have 32 games scheduled before May.

Will there be time to play the full schedule if they start that late?

Not likely. Some baseball executives have asserted a strong desire by baseball to make up lost games on the back end of the schedule. But MLB says it’s too early to know whether that will be possible, how it would work, or even if a shorter schedule could be redrawn to restore home-road and competitive integrity. While owners might plan to bank on recouping those lost gates, you can bank on this: Nobody’s going to schedule Game 7 of the World Series for Thanksgiving.

Does the delayed start to the season create any advantages for the Cubs?

Probably not. The Cubs have enjoyed an especially healthy spring. On the other hand, the Cardinals weren’t expected to have left-handers Andrew Miller (arm) or Brett Cecil (hamstring) ready to open the season on March 26 but now have plenty of time to get them healthy for a rescheduled opener. The Yankees might have as many as three key players able to open on time because of extra rehab time: Aaron Judge (rib), James Paxton (back) and Giancarlo Stanton (calf).

Will Cubs players still get paid their full salaries despite losing the first month of the season?

They certainly will if lost games get rescheduled and played. So far no league or team officials have suggested publicly that they won’t if the schedule is ultimately reduced. But if the shutdown persists, references to paragraph 11 of the Uniform Player’s Contract are likely to become common. That’s the paragraph that covers national emergencies, “which may directly or indirectly affect the Player, Club or the League and subject also to the right of the Commissioner to suspend the operation of this contract during any national emergency during which Major League Baseball is not played.” President Trump’s declaration of a national state of emergency on Friday puts the clause in play.

Will teams be allowed to add roster spots when the rescheduled season begins to help cover potential hardships created by, say, a shorter-than-ideal training period?

Maybe. “That’s an issue closely tied to what the schedule would look like,” Epstein said, “and that’s purely a subject appropriate for Major League Baseball and the Players’ Association and the talks that they’re having. So I’ll defer to them.”

Does the shutdown include a freeze on player transactions?

Not officially, as of Saturday, although that could change quickly. White Sox GM Rick Hahn said in recent days the Sox would be making no immediate transactions. By contrast, the Nationals released, optioned and reassigned 12 players from big-league camp Saturday. “There’s been some talk about freezing transactions,” Epstein said. “That’ll be a directive from the league, but we haven’t gotten official word on that. I don’t think anyone’s rushing to make transactions at this point in time. The Cubs have 39 players still in big-league camp.

Will minor-league players still get paid during the shutdown?

By rule, no. But the Texas Rangers have talked about paying their minor leaguers through the shutdown. And Epstein said decisions in general are being made “with as much empathy and thought as possible for everyone’s standing.” Long before this crisis, the Cubs were one of the teams working to increase minor-league pay, before MLB instituted increases last month.

Will hourly and part-time workers for the Cubs/Wrigley Field be paid or otherwise offered relief during the shutdown?

The Cubs said Saturday they are continuing to discuss support for idled stadium workers in the wake of commitments by the Bulls and Blackhawks to pay their game-day employees through what was left of those seasons – as they anticipate more details from MLB this week and possibly a firmer plan on its upcoming season. “I don’t think we’re at a point where there are any answers,” Epstein said Thursday. “But it’s been a big part of the conversation, and the goal would be to make sure that as few people, if any, are impacted by this financially. But I’m not sure how realistic that is, the longer this goes on.”

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