Miami Marlins Coronavirus Outbreak 'Not a Nightmare,' Says MLB Commissioner

MLB commissioner Rob Manfred believes the fresh outbreak of coronavirus cases in baseball is not a nightmare scenario and insisted the health protocols put in place in the league were working effectively.

Baseball made its long-awaited return on Thursday after a four-month hiatus enforced by the novel coronavirus pandemic, but the MLB season already looks to be in jeopardy after the league was forced to call off the Miami Marlins' home games against the Baltimore Orioles on Monday and Tuesday, with the Philadelphia Phillies home game against the New York Yankees on Monday suffering the same fate.

The decision came after the Marlins reported eight more players and two coaches had tested positive to COVID-19, bringing the total cases in the team to at least 11 players and two coaches. The Marlins used the visitors' clubhouse when they played in Philadelphia last week, prompting the MLB to call off the Phillies' home game against the Yankees on Monday, to prevent the outbreak from spreading to another team.

An outbreak of coronavirus in a clubhouse is arguably among the worst-case scenarios for the MLB, but Manfred insisted the protocols the league put in place were designed to cope with such situations.

"I don't put this in the nightmare category," the commissioner said on Monday night during an interview on MLB Network. "It's not a positive thing, but I don't see it as a nightmare. [...] That's why we have the expanded rosters. That's why we have the pool of additional players."

Due to the unprecedented circumstances this season, the MLB has agreed to allow each of the 30 teams to have a three-player Taxi Squad for every road trip, giving them immediate options to replace players, should they be injured or test positive for COVID-19.

Manfred, however, conceded the contingency plan may not stretch far enough in cases like the Marlins', where a handful of players test positive for coronavirus and admitted the league could consider shutting down again.

"A team losing a number of players, making it completely noncompetitive, would be something we would have to address and have to think about making a change," he explained.

"Our first concern is the health of the players and their families. And making sure we do everything possible to minimize the spread of the virus to our employees."

Manfred went on to explain the league expected players would test positive at some stage during the season, but insisted the protocols in place were designed to ensure the campaign can continue without any major disruptions.

"We built protocols anticipating that we would have positive tests at some point during the season. The protocols were built to allow us to play through those positives. We believe the protocols are adequate to keep our players safe. [...] I remain optimistic the protocols are strong enough that it will allow us to continue to play even through an outbreak like this and complete our season."

The MLB is yet to make an official decision over whether the Yankees' game in Philadelphia on Tuesday night will go ahead. A decision will be made once the results of the latest round of tests that Phillies players and staff underwent on Monday are available.

Similarly, the league is still to decide whether the games that have been called off will be played at a later date.

The MLB's travails will be closely watched by other major U.S. leagues. The NBA is scheduled to resume its season on Thursday, while the NFL plans to kick off its season on September 10.

While the 22 teams that will take part in the resumption have been isolating in a bubble-like environment in Orlando, Florida, since the beginning of the month, the NFL will follow the MLB's approach. Teams will train in their own facilities and travel to games as usual, with strict measures put in place to ensure their safety.

The COVID-19 outbreak has ravaged the U.S. over the last four months and cases continue to rise across most of the country.

As of Tuesday morning over 4.29 million cases of coronavirus had been reported in the U.S.

Of the over 654,000 deaths recorded worldwide so far, more than 148,000 have been in the U.S., according to Johns Hopkins University, which has been tracking the outbreak using combined data sources.

There have been over 16.4 million confirmed cases globally since the outbreak of coronavirus was first identified in Wuhan, a city located in China's central Hubei province, late last year.

MLB, Rob Manfred
Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred speaks during the 2019 Major League Baseball Winter Meetings on December 10, 2019 in San Diego, California. Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty