Making sense of MLB’s intricate pandemic transactions

Jamie Campbell, Dan Shulman and Joe Siddall discuss the Blue Jays decision to move Vladimir Guerrero Jr. away from third. And with a pair of intrasquad games set to air on Sportsnet, the broadcast team explain what fans can expect to see.

TORONTO – Very quietly, without explanation or announcement, reliever Wilmer Font became the latest Toronto Blue Jays player to hit the injured list, while outfielder Jonathan Davis and right-hander Hector Perez rejoined the club without being activated from the IL.

And, if you’re keeping tabs on the 40-man roster, the July 1 waiver claim of infielder Breyvic Valera back from the San Diego Padres pushed their count to 41, not including Yennsy Diaz, who is currently on the 60-day IL.

So, what gives?

For transactions watchers, countless moves in the upcoming season will be shrouded in secrecy because of the novel coronavirus, covered by an opaque veil that’s part privacy laws, part club and league regulations.

The handling of Font’s placement on the IL suggests that he’s on the specially created COVID-19-Related Injured List, designed so teams can cover off absences caused by infections and contact tracing.

There is no minimum or maximum amount of time for a placement, and anyone put on the list does not count against a team’s 60-man player pool or 40-man roster, according to MLB’s 2020 operations manual. Additionally, barring an infection, the only ways for a team to remove a player from the 60-man player pool is via trade, waiver claim, release, outright assignment, placement on the 60-day injured list, or placement on the suspended list.

Hence, in the absence of an explanation or player permission for the release of information, such trips to the IL are likely tied to COVID-19, be it due to an infection or containment efforts.

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That’s how on July 1, when the Blue Jays placed Davis, Perez, Brandon Drury and Elvis Luciano on the injured list, they were able to add Josh Palacios, Bryan Baker, Patrick Kivlehan and Valera to their player pool, which at that point was already at 58.

That’s also how the Blue Jays had room on their 40-man roster for Valera, even though it was full at the time.

In adding No. 5 pick Austin Martin this week, the Blue Jays pushed their player pool total up to 59. If Font was indeed added to the COVID-19 IL, they’re back down to 58, which creates the space needed for Davis and Perez to be activated, although that doesn’t have to be done immediately.

Players returning from COVID-related absences can train with a team without counting against a roster the way someone coming back from an elbow or knee injury can go out on a rehab assignment.

While murky, the transactional processes make sense as a way to ensure teams that suffer outbreaks during the season aren’t forced to outright players simply to get replacements on the roster and field a competitive club.

There are protections for an alternative training site, as well. If three or more players there are infected at one time, Major League Baseball “reserves the right to allow” the affected team to substitute those players “without requiring a release,” according to the operations manual.

All in all, making sense of the intricate world of baseball transactions will be all the more complicated this season.

CODE OF CONDUCT: As the Blue Jays continue seeking Canadian government approval for hosting regular-season games at Rogers Centre, an interesting element of the operations manual pops to mind.

Under Section 2.6, entitled Conduct Outside of Club Facilities, players are told that they “must exercise care” when away from meticulously maintained team settings and “avoid situations in which the risk of contracting the virus is elevated, such as participating in activities involving large groups or indoor activities in which people are in close proximity to one another (e.g., crowded restaurants, bars, clubs).”

Major League Baseball, the manual continues, “will not formally restrict the activities of covered individuals when they are away from club facilities, but will expect the covered individuals on each club to ensure that they all act responsibly.”

To that end, each team is responsible for establishing its own written code of conduct, which must be submitted to the joint committee overseeing the program, and “should include specific rules regarding what conduct is and is not allowed while the club is on the road.”

Ben Nicholson-Smith is Sportsnet’s baseball editor. Arden Zwelling is a senior writer. Together, they bring you the most in-depth Blue Jays podcast in the league, covering off all the latest news with opinion and analysis, as well as interviews with other insiders and team members.

Given that the Blue Jays are seeking permission to go back and forth across the border and to bring visiting clubs to Toronto, the various codes of conducts may be of interest to the government. On Sunday, Travis Shaw said Blue Jays players had yet to discuss their rules for the season, but added, “everybody has to be smart.”

“I can’t sit here and say 100 per cent that everybody is going to sit in their hotel room on the road, either,” Shaw continued. “People just have to be smart about it. I don’t think people will go out and be selfish about it and jeopardize our team health and public health. I don’t think that’s going to be an issue at all.”

JONES FROM JAPAN: Longtime Baltimore Orioles star Adam Jones is one of baseball’s most thoughtful players and it was great fun catching up with him, among others, during Monday night’s 2016 AL Wild-Card Game Watch Party.

Jones is batting .250/.294/.400 in 21 games with the Orix Buffaloes so far after signing an $8-million, two-year deal with the Japanese club this winter, and the 34-year-old had some interesting thoughts on the fate of the veteran player in baseball on this side of the Pacific.

“You see with the analytical side, they don’t favour players as they get older,” said Jones. “But at the same time, you have those older veteran guys to teach the young guys how to play the game properly at this level, how to be responsible at this level, how to be a true professional, how to handle adversity, how to handle life, you’ve got family, you’ve got friends all coming into your world now that might not have been there in previous years. Just the big brother situation, and they don’t have that any more in the game. In my opinion, they feel that’s not needed any more.

“There’s immense value, but only certain players are able to garner that status. Unfortunately, I thought I’d be one of those, but I wasn’t,” he continued. “I played the game hard. I was a leader on the field. Off the field, I made sure players were responsible, made sure our team never got in trouble off the field. I tried to teach these young guys about financial literacy – this is the time to get yourself something nice, or you don’t have the money to do this right now – I just tried to be that big brother. When I was coming up with the (Seattle) Mariners, I had that. Even though I was in the minors, it was very, very brotherly like. That is leaving the game a little bit.”

The rest of his comments, including some important thoughts about the current push for social justice in the United States and MLB’s potential role, can be found here.

RYU OPTING IN: With a newborn that arrived during the shutdown, Hyun-Jin Ryu had good reason to consider opting out of the 2020 season. And while the Blue Jays ace concedes that it’s something he did “ponder at one point,” his deliberations “didn’t get to the point where I actually wanted to opt out.”

“Honestly, just like any other player, the safety of my family was the priority,” he said through interpreter Bryan Lee. “We’ve been doing a great job of being cautious as a team. I think if we maintain this, not just myself but all the teammates and entire staff that’s part of this organization, I feel like we can get through it. So that’s the reason I didn’t opt out.”

Richard Deitsch and Donnovan Bennett host a podcast about how COVID-19 is impacting sports around the world. They talk to experts, athletes and personalities, offering a window into the lives of people we normally root for in entirely different ways.

The possibility of being separated from his family for the duration of the season if the Blue Jays host games at Rogers Centre would be “extremely tough,” he said, “but my understanding is that it’s still up in the air.”

“I believe the organization and the Canadian government are having that discussion at this moment and depending on how it goes, things will definitely affect me,” Ryu added. “But as a player, my job is to go out there and perform and be ready for opening day. So I’m hopeful but at the same time, I do realize it’s a possibility and I’m going to try to be ready and help this team win.”

SHORT HOPS: Monday’s Watch Party also included former Blue Jays reliever Jason Grilli and former Orioles, Expos and Red Sox general manager Dan Duquette, along with Ernie Johnson, who called the game the wild-card game. … Known for pitching with emotion, Grilli had this to say about players having to perform at empty stadiums this season: “All I can say is that I’m glad I retired when I did. Timing is everything. It’s horrible to play (without fans). I know that feeling because if you’ve played in the Arizona Fall League with about 40 fans and you can hear the buzzing of lights louder than the fans clapping, it’s no fun. This game is no fun to play without a crowd. It really isn’t (the same). There’s emotion in it. I had a teammate, (Mark) Melancon, he goes, ‘Do you really get that amped up to play?’ I said, ‘It’s not an act. I feel that, man.’ I get excited when I get to my locker every day, put on my uniform and pants. (Troy) Tulowitzki always used to tease me. He’d go, ‘What the hell bro, why don’t you put on shorts?’ I go, ‘I got four pairs of pants in here. And the day I don’t get to put these on, I’m going to miss it.’ And I do. I have a couple of pairs in my closet, some days I still see if they fit now, if I put on some bad weight. I like to see if I’m still that same guy. Got to measure like, hey man, get off the couch, stop eating the Doritos. Those are the check-in pants, see where you’re at after you retire.” … Duquette, who wasn’t renewed by the Orioles at the end of the 20018 season, is currently doing some management consulting with clients in and around baseball, but is looking to break back into the majors. “I’ve had a 40-year career, I have some goals that I’d like to accomplish and I’d like to get back with a major-league team,” he said. “I hope to do that soon. Last time I was out, I was out for 10 years. I’m not going to be out 10 years this time, I can tell you that. I’m looking forward to getting back. I have so many relationships with people, I’m looking forward to getting another opportunity with a club some time.”

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