White Sox players free to go home after MLB suspends spring-training operations

‘‘This step is in the best interests of players, employees and the communities who host spring training,’’ a statement from MLB said.

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Teammates watch Michael Kopech warm up during spring training at Camelback Ranch this week. (John Antonoff/For Sun-Times)

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Major League Baseball said Friday that spring-training operations will be suspended effective immediately, allowing players to return home from team sites.

Players also may return to their team’s home city or stay at camp.

‘‘This step is in the best interests of players, employees and the communities who host spring training,’’ a statement from MLB said.

The announcement came a day after MLB suspended spring-training games and said the regular season would begin at least two weeks late because of coronavirus concerns.

With players given the freedom to go home and some camps breaking up, the workouts will become informal and the likelihood of the season starting only two weeks late becomes small.

It wasn’t immediately known how many White Sox players would be leaving camp, but it is thought a lot of them will, especially those who have favorable facilities to work out in where they live. A good number have homes in the Phoenix area. For those who live out of the country, staying in Arizona is probably the preferred option.

‘‘We had a very good conversation about where we sit right now and how to make the best of the situation,” Sox general manager Rick Hahn said, referring to a morning meeting with players, coaches and staff.

Work was optional for players, but Hahn said he thought there was full participation.

‘‘If, for whatever reason, that changes over the course of [Saturday] or Sunday, we certainly understand,’’ Hahn said. ‘‘This is one of the rare occurrences where it’s larger than baseball, the issues we’re dealing with. Therefore, we’re going to continue to be flexible.

‘‘We’re all human beings who have families and understandable discomfort living in an uncertain world right now. We’re open to anyone expressing whatever needs they might have from a family standpoint or psychological standpoint or whatever.’’

The latest development makes planning for the regular season even more difficult. The Sox were expecting to have players hit, take infield practice and use workout facilities in the coming days. Pitchers need to throw, but therein lies ‘‘the trickiest’’ element of all this, Hahn said.

‘‘Spring training is a building process, particularly for starters,’’ Hahn said. ‘‘It might not be quite as imperative that a starter throws every fifth day right now.’’

While pitchers such as Lucas Giolito, Gio Gonzalez and Jace Fry were behind because of slow starts stemming from injuries, those who are on track would find it hard to leave camp and lose where they’re at.

‘‘The goal for the short term is to do everything we can to maintain where they’re at,’’ Hahn said. ‘‘And once we have a target in mind, come up with a plan to build them from there.’’

Sox vice president for communications Scott Reifert said the hope is still to play the full schedule.

‘‘Right now, the long-range plan is that we will play 162 games,’’ Reifert said. ‘‘So that’s the hope. Whether that ends up being the reality, we’ll see down the road.’’

The missed games would be plugged in at end of the season, stretching the playoffs into November. But before the season starts, teams will return to spring-training sites and play a modified schedule of Cactus League games. The Sox (10-7-2) got 19 Cactus League games in before the suspension.

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