MLB faces new coronavirus crisis early on in abbreviated schedule

Less than a week into the season, baseball is dealing with a coronavirus outbreak, leaving the most important question unanswered: What is the line of demarcation for calling off the 2020 season?

That decision is a subjective one.

The agreement between owners and players to start this season amid a pandemic gives that decision to Commissioner Rob Manfred. If at any time he thinks travel is too dangerous and the schedule takes an integrity hit, then Manfred can end the season.

And after at least a dozen Miami Marlins players, coaches and staff tested positive over the weekend in Philadelphia, causing games to be postponed, Manfred isn’t ready to do that.

He had a conference call Monday with 30 team owners, and reports say that he didn’t discuss the possibility of canceling the season.

“We talked about the situation,’’ Manfred said in an interview on MLB Network Monday. “Most of the owners realize that we built protocols anticipating that we have positive tests at some point during the season, that the protocols were built in order to allow us to continue to play through these positives.

“There was support for the notion that we believe that the protocols are adequate in keeping our players safe.’‘

So what would it take to close down the season?

“I think that a team losing a number of players that rendered it completely non-competitive would be an issue that we would have to address,’’ Manfred said. “Whether that was shutting down a part of the season, the whole season, depends on the circumstances. You get to a certain point league-wide where it does become a health threat, and we certainly would shut down at that point.’‘

The Orioles’ game in Miami Monday night was postponed as the Marlins stayed in Philadelphia.

Also, the Yankees-Phillies game Monday night in Philadelphia wasn’t played. The Yankees, who won their season-opening series in Washington, would have had to use the same visitors clubhouse that the Marlins used at Citizens Bank Park.

Manfred said he’s optimistic that the protocols are protective enough to continue to play. He said Major League Baseball can always make adjustments to the protocols.

While other pro leagues - the National Hockey League, National Basketball Association, Women’s National Basketball Association - are re-opening their seasons in a bubble, playing their games in one or two cities, Manfred said that a bubble wasn’t a practical idea for baseball. MLB reduced the schedule to 60 games and cut back on travel by revising the schedule so that East teams in both leagues would play only East teams, Central only Central and West only West.

There are pages of protocol protections that call for 60-man rosters, taxi squads and players working out at alternate sites. For the Marlins, their extra players are working out in Jupiter, Fla., the Orioles in Bowie.

This is the second problem of the season.

At the start of training camps during the first week in July, test results were delayed, causing teams to cancel workouts. The Athletics started training three days late because of delayed test results.

Baseball’s first weekend was filled with excitement, burying the fear that comes with a coronavirus threat that has caused more than 4 million cases across the country. Players and fans were eager for a two-month race.

TV ratings were up. Fans wanted to see live competition and the intrigue of watching a meaningful game played in an empty ballpark with piped-in crowd noise.

Nationals pitcher Max Scherzer said the team is adjusting to a new normal because everyone in the clubhouse knows that one guy not following the rules could mess up the season for everyone.

The Marlins, the fifth-best team in the five-team National League East, are off to a good start, winning their season-opening series against the powerful Phillies in Philadelphia.

The Orioles, another rebuilding team, won two of three against the Red Sox in Fenway Park.

Now, we will see if those stories are drowned out by a new level of coronavirus worry.