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La Velle E. Neal III and Phil Miller report on the Twins from wherever they make news

Twins mailbag: 'Everybody spits.' Can baseball really enforce these rules?

This week's Twins mailbag dives, once again, into the future of Major League Baseball in 2020. And also the future of minor league baseball.

 

 

Q: If the Twins start play with no fans, will you reporters attend the games in person or watch on TV with the rest of us? Thanks. @terryjt1

A: Major League Baseball currently is re-writing media access rules that will allow us to cover baseball during the Coronavirus pandemic. I happen to be on the Board of Directors for the Baseball Writers Association of America this year, and we will get to look at what MLB has in mind once their draft of the plans is ready. Yes, we expect to be in the ballpark during games. But the days of being able to go into the clubhouse and see who Willians Astudillo is losing to in dominoes or to get pearls of wisdom from the starting pitcher won't happen anytime soon. We will likely remain in the press box and wait for a postgame conference call with the key figures from that day's game. I've been in contact with Dustin Morse, the Twins' baseball communications maven, to get a feel for how a day at the ballpark might look like. We will be spread out to comply with social distancing guidelines and have to do our best given the circumstances.

Q: Is the trade deadline still in effect this year, and if so are the Twins looking at additional pitching in relation to it? @thesweatytuna

So much is going on at the league office right now. There are the negotiations with the union about starting the season. And the league calendar is will have to conform to whatever schedule is laid out. Having a July 31 deadline for a season that starts on July 4 isn't practical. It will likely be pushed back a month or two so teams can figure out what they need.

As for adding pitching, even in a shortened season, there is a period where teams see what's working and what's not. Keep in mind that Rich Hill could be ready to enter the rotation in mid-July and has a chance to pitch in more games than expected. That's a boost for the rotation.

Q: How exactly will the "no spitting" rule be enforced?? That is such an ingrained instinctual habit, I can’t see players NOT spitting occasionally. @docmunson

I can't see how an MLB dugout can go from being a trough for the amalgamation of fluids and sunflower seed shells to suddenly being dry. First of all, everybody spits. Secondly, a player can be mindful of the rule, have an energy drink go down the wrong windpipe and have to eject. I'm guessing there will be a lot of behind-the-dugout action as far as spitting is concerned. And, how is that going to be policed?

Q: Will the Minor Leagues start up when baseball returns? @TJMattf

That's the great unknown. It seems there needs to be some sort of minor league for players to stay sharp for when they are needed in the majors. The Twins used 55 players last season. If 2020 rosters are expanded to 30, they still need another 20-something players to get through a season. Players get promoted and demoted. Players get injured or traded, There has to be plan for the "taxi squads" to get games in. But I've spoken to employees of minor league teams, and there is a fear that there won't be a minor league season.

Q: Not really a Twins related question but in your opinion what is tougher to do, pitch a no-hitter or hit for the cycle in a game? e-mail from John Culhane.

There have been 330 no-hitters thrown, the most recent by Justin Verlander. A player has hit for the cycle 303 times, the most recent by Cavan Biggio. That would suggest that it's harder to hit for the cycle. I think it's getting harder to throw a no-hitter in this era because so many pitchers are being pulled earlier from games. There were four no-hitters thrown last season, you can certainly argue. But two of them were combined no-nos, and one of them was four-pitcher feat pulled off by the Astros. How often will that happen?

Q: If there’s a 2020 shortened season, there’s absolutely an asterisk next to the winner's name, even if it’s the Twins, right? @campx22

Not necessarily. There were shortened seasons in 1981 and 1995 that were labor-related and not many treat those with an asterisk. I grant you that an 82- season, which is being proposed, will be shorter than those two seasons and will stand out. But, honestly, everything about this year is going to stand out because of this darn virus. This year will be talked about for generations to come, so much that no asterisk will be needed to designate the 2020 season.

Twins mailbag: Is the best-case scenario just a fantasy for baseball?

This week was supposed to include the San Francisco Giants — the only MLB team never to play a game at Target Field — making their first visit to Minneapolis since 2005, and Michael Pineda returning from his PED suspension. Instead, we’re left watching Korean baseball on TV and answering baseball questions on the latest mailbag.

 

 

Might as well start with the question on everyone’s mind.

What do you see as the most likely scenario for the remainder of the 2020 season?
— Dan Chang, St. Paul

Phil Miller: Sigh. I hope I’m wrong, I really do. My Twins’ coverage partner, La Velle E. Neal III, insists that the season will be underway by July 4. But I’m a pessimist who remains unconvinced that Major League Baseball, as much as everyone wants it to return within 6-8 weeks, can clear all the obstacles in front of that plan in time.

Around the sport, the feeling is clearly growing that there is an opening ahead, that the majority of teams will soon be able to play in their home stadiums, albeit without fans, and that baseball will be able to cram in 80-100 games per team. I understand the motivation: Many players, particularly those who don’t have contracts guaranteeing them millions, want to play the season, receive their paychecks, and risk the contracting a disease that, I assume, they believe isn’t a life-threatening risk.

Owners, too, want to recoup some of their losses by restoring their cash flow from TV networks, and seize the attention of a sports world that clearly thirsts for actual games.

Maybe it will happen. Certainly there is a growing determination to lay out a definitive path toward Opening Day sometime in the next few weeks. But even the best intentions are subject to the realities of this pandemic, and there are so many things that can go wrong.

The spread of COVID-19 could accelerate — most public models predict this, actually — and it will be nearly impossible to guarantee players’ safety, not to mention that of the coaches, staff and TV crews. Some players, perhaps including a few of the game’s biggest stars, could object to the plan, or even boycott. And as I wrote last week, players and owners could have trouble coming to an agreement about how much of their salaries players will receive

If forced to make a prediction, I would say that baseball’s best-case scenario will take a couple of hits, and MLB will be forced to settle for a token season of fewer than 80 games per team, starting in August — or the season could be scrapped altogether.

Let’s hope I’m wrong. I certainly do.

Instead of starting the season in quarantine in Arizona, why not end the season in Arizona? They could keep playing there through the end of December. How about July, August and September in the teams’ own stadiums, and then October, November and December in Arizona?
— Roger Zahn, Park Rapids

Phil Miller: This is an interesting idea, since it could conceivably allow Opening Day to be pushed back to August or September if necessary. But there is one big hangup preventing baseball being played into the winter: Pitching.The value of good pitching has skyrocketed. Of the 20 MLB contracts worth more than $200, six belong to pitchers. Two of the four Twins who were supposed to earn more than $10 million this season (Jake Odorizzi and Michael Pineda) are pitchers. And because pitching is so expensive, teams are unwilling to risk those arms. Remember, Stephen Strasburg was held out of the playoffs (the PLAYOFFS!) in 2012.

Teams want their pitchers to rest their arms for several months over the winter, so while your creative calendar might allow more games to be played in 2020, there is no way that MLB teams would then convene spring training camps just six weeks later. After this unprecedented disruption to the game this summer, MLB will want more than anything to have a normal 2021.

I believe your idea could conceivably work in basketball or hockey, but pitchers are protected to such a degree now (even though they seem to get hurt just as often as ever), I can’t see any team ever agreeing to such a short offseason.

I am somewhat interested in baseball, but more interested in fairness. With all the fines for stealing signs and other infractions, isn’t it time to get Pete Rose into the Hall of Fame?
— Betty Wentworth, Minnetonka

Phil MIller: I agree with you, Betty, sort of. Well, I don’t agree that other people’s crimes should lessen a person’s punishment, so connecting Rose’s case to the Astros’ seems a bit of a stretch to me.
But I do agree from this angle: Rose has served his time.

Even when Rose agreed to a “lifetime” ban, it was with the understanding with then-commissioner Bart Giamatti that he could apply for reinstatement at a later date, something that he has done several times with Giamatti’s successors.

And even though Rose denied his crimes for several years, he eventually did admit in 2003 to gambling on baseball. The original suspension was imposed early 31 years ago, and his come-clean confession was 17 years ago. My belief is that his punishment has now fit his crime.

Even if Major League Baseball wants to keep the ban on Rose in place, that shouldn’t affect the Hall of Fame’s consideration, because baseball doesn’t own the HOF. Rose is 79 now, is unlikely ever to be hired for a baseball job, and remains the most prolific hitter in history. Mostly, my position is this: The Hall of Fame is a history museum. It should reflect the game’s history, however scruffy and no matter the miscreants, and Rose was a big part of it. Put it on his plaque, that he served a long suspension because he broke one of baseball’s most important rules. But the Hall of Fame should announce that Rose has finally been paroled.

Target Field photo by Jeff Wheeler

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