As each day passes with no change in the status of several prominent Nationals players who have not yet been cleared to participate in summer training, the club moves a step closer to confronting a dilemma that may pale in comparison to matters of greater significance in the world right now but does matter to the defending World Series champs.
It's a delicate subject, because the health of those three players and the others on the Nationals roster who are in quarantine until officials say it's safe to report to camp takes precedence over all else. But even if they are cleared to participate in the coming days, they may not have enough time to get themselves into the kind of baseball shape necessary to open the season on the active roster.
"We're in a difficult situation with these guys," manager Davey Martinez said. "We've done everything we can. Our strength guys have Zoomed with them and actually have put them on some kind of workout program and watching what they can do in their apartment. ...
"We don't want to get them hurt. We've got to be smart. But we're also talking about a shorter season where we need to win games right away."
Under normal circumstances, a player returning from an injury with fewer than two weeks remaining in spring training would almost certainly be held back and given more time to prepare before joining the active roster after the season began. These, of course, aren't normal circumstances.
The missing players - Soto, Robles, Kendrick, Luis GarcÃa, Wander Suero, Roenis ElÃas, Fernando Abad and Joan Adon - are not injured. Two of them tested positive for COVID-19 during intake screening before camp opened, while the others are in mandatory quarantine because they came in contact with someone who tested positive. All are asymptomatic, according to club officials.
Everyone had been working out on his own during baseball's long hiatus, and the Nationals had every reason to expect they could jump right into camp and accomplish what they needed to in three weeks before the season opens.
But now they're severely limited in what they can do while waiting for the OK to report to camp.
The coaching and training staffs are in regular contact with the players while they isolate and believe all are in good physical shape. But the longer they're stuck in their apartments and hotel rooms, the more they risk falling behind others already in camp.
The biggest thing is, they could be in a great shape, but how much baseball (activities) have they done?" Martinez said.
"If something happens where anybody strains an oblique or something, you're looking at a significant amount of time. You're probably looking at almost the whole season, with only 60 games. We've got to be careful. We've got to see where they're at. And once they get here, we'll determine whether they're going to be ready or not."
It leaves Martinez in a precarious position. He wants to prepare as though everyone will be ready to face the Yankees in 12 days, but he can't just assume that will be the case. So he has to start preparing contingency plans now to account for their possible absences.
In summer workouts so far, that's meant an outfield of Andrew Stevenson, Michael A. Taylor and Adam Eaton. It's meant a whole lot of Eric Thames at first base (though third-string catcher Raudy Read has been taking grounders there just in case he's needed).
"I'm definitely looking at guys to fill their void if they can't get off the ground running the first week," Martinez said. "We're definitely looking at some different options. And that's another reason why we're putting some guys in some different positions, to see what we have."
It also leads to increased pressure on those already in camp to not only do everything in their power to avoid getting sick but also to avoid suffering any kind of baseball injury that would prevent them from taking the field.
"Definitely staying healthy, whether it's an actual injury or getting sick, that's my No. 1 priority," Thames said. "I've been doing everything I can, staying away from people, staying inside as much as I can. But then again, we are touching door handles. There's certain things out of our control. It's definitely different right now at first base. But ... we still have 12 days 'til opening day."
They do have 12 days. And as we've seen throughout the last four months, a lot can change in 12 days, in both positive and negative ways.
The Nationals can only hope they experience positive developments between now and that moment when they take the field to face the Yankees. But as with so much else in the world right now, they can't have complete control of the situation.
"I'll let our training staff, MLB and the city determine what's going on," Martinez said. "I've got to worry about the guys that are here right now and get these guys ready. Hopefully, these guys will be here soon. But only time will tell. For right now, I'm going to focus on the guys we've got, try to get them as ready as possible for July 23."