What should MLB do with the Cardinals amid COVID-19 outbreak? Here are some options.

The perfect answer for what to do with the St. Louis Cardinals does not exist. 

Major League Baseball has options, but every potential solution comes with a wince, a grimace, a caveat or a condition. The missteps and poor decisions that have brought the Cardinals — often by following flawed, naively optimistic MLB protocols — to this point have assured there are no perfect answers. While the NHL, NBA and WNBA have managed to stay almost completely virus-free in their bubbles, the Cardinals have now had 10 players and seven staff members test positive for COVID-19. This coronavirus debacle makes the Marlins’ early outbreak look like a hiccup. 

The Cardinals have missed 13 consecutive scheduled games — including the three-game series in Pittsburgh that was scheduled to end Wednesday — and have no real idea when they’ll return to the ballpark for anything other than daily COVID-19 tests. At the moment, they’re supposed to play a doubleheader in Detroit on Thursday — no, wait, that was postponed, too — and start a three-game series against the White Sox in Chicago on Friday, but there’s little confidence that will happen. 

“In terms of when are we going to get back on the field and get back to baseball, I just don’t know,” John Mozeliak, the Cardinals’ president of baseball operations, told reporters Sunday night, per MLB.com’s Anne Rogers. “We’ll allow a few days to come and go and then we’ll reassess. … It’s a bummer. But not having experience on how to truly isolate it and prevent it from spreading, we’re learning as we go. So I wish I had better answers. I wish I had something firm. But I don’t at this time.”

So what, exactly, are the options? We’ll take a look at several, from the extreme to the reasonable. And while we’re doing that, I thought we’d sprinkle in thoughts from some Cardinals fans. I asked folks on Twitter for one word to describe the Cardinals’ 2020 season, and an explanation for why they chose that word. 

One word, and why: Surreal. Normally I’d be texting or calling family and friends a few times a week about how the Cards are doing, but now that the Cards are smack dab at the nexus of this global story, I find myself avoiding bringing them up because it’s just such a downer to think about. It’s the inverse of what baseball usually is for us; instead of a salve, it’s a reminder of all that is so scary and unknown. — @rockyraul4

One word, and why: Frustrating. I went into this season knowing it was going to be an anomaly anyway, but it was going to offer a chance to see both exciting young players like Jack Flaherty and Ryan Helsley and the twilight games of Adam Wainwright and Yadier Molina. It’s frustrating that fans can’t see that. The way baseball set it up, an outbreak was going to happen to some team, if not more than one, and the priority was on return ASAP because the clock is ticking rather than return when it’s appropriate. — @TravisStern 

1. Cancel the Cardinals’ season

I’m not sure anyone who mattered really considered this a possibility, but with the team already missing more than two full weeks of a nine-week schedule, it’s not a completely crazy thought. It’s also not happening, which is why we’re starting with this one, just to eliminate it from the conversation. MLB commissioner Rob Manfred spoke with Derrick Goold, the team beat writer from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, on Monday. He spoke in clear terms. 

“I absolutely see a path back for the Cardinals,” Manfred told Goold. “That is dependent on getting enough days with no positives that we’re comfortable with, that we don’t have a contagion risk. But, yes, 100 percent I see a path back.”

OK, so that’s that. 

One word, and why: Cruel. I might have chosen pitiless. This season, once Rob Manfred mandated it, was destined to be a game of coronavirus roulette. First the wheel stopped on the Marlins; then the Cardinals turn came. Because MLB constructed a plan with its (currently typical) 50-50 mix of assuredness and incompetence, there were bound to be problems. There are likely more to come, and it’s unfair to place blame anywhere but on MLB. — @t_fin 

One word, and why: Delusional. What happened with the Cardinals could have (and may still) happen to any team, but this notion that the season could be played, in a pandemic, without the luxury of a bubble was just flat-out stupid. I understand the psychological need for normalcy but the reality is that these are not normal times. I also don’t understand why waiting just a few days between positive tests was enough time? Is it a superman complex? Pushback from MLB? The psychological justification we have all made during COVID that we are being safe when in actuality, we weren’t? — @kuchemJ

2. Accept fewer than 60 games 

This is almost certainly going to happen, if for no other reason than, mathematically, trying to play 55 games in 47 days is damn near impossible, even with seven-inning doubleheaders. So the question is this: What’s the minimum number of acceptable games? Manfred, in the Post-Dispatch article, talked about playing enough games to be a “credible competitor” this year. A bit of honest speculation: That number is almost certainly smaller than you might imagine. If 55 games are enough, why not 50? Why not 45? Why not 40? 

Because here’s the deal: We have to stop thinking of the 2020 baseball season in any sort of tied-to-history context. And, I get it, that’s really difficult for most baseball fans (this one included). More than any other sport, baseball has a deep connection with its history, warts and all. But this year is truly a one-off. If MLB can magically decide to place a runner on second base to start extra innings, nothing at all is sacred. If, in this season of widely expanded playoffs, a team makes the playoffs despite playing a dozen or more fewer games than a team that just misses the playoffs, that’s OK. 

Remember, 16 of the 30 teams will make the postseason. It’s very OK.

Also, there is historical precedence for teams playing different numbers of games, when the stakes were much higher. In the strike-split season of 1981, MLB decided to split the season into two halves — pre-strike and post-strike — and award playoff spots to teams with the best records in each half. But here’s the thing: The league didn’t alter the schedule from its original form, and that made a HUGE impact on which teams made the postseason. 

When the strike hit, the Dodgers had a 36-21 record. The Reds were a half-game back in the NL West, at 35-21. The Dodgers got the playoff spot, despite that — because of the way the schedule happened to fall — they had played (and won) one more game than the Reds. Same scenario played out in the second half, too, in the NL East.

The Expos had 53 games on their schedule after play resumed, and the Cardinals had 52. You can guess what happened: The Expos went 30-23 and the Cardinals went 29-23, and the Expos got spot. 

The Reds had the best winning percentage in the NL West for the overall season (.611) but finished second in both halves and missed the playoffs. The Cardinals had the best winning percentage in the NL East for the overall season (.578) but finished second in both halves and missed the playoffs. 

One word, and why: Unfortunate. With the futures of Yadier Molina and Adam Wainwright, the faces of the Cardinals since the departure of Albert Pujols, in doubt, it would be unfortunate if they are able to get the send off that Cards fans are known for. It’s also unfortunate that the three Top-60 prospects in the system are missing out on valuable time. Just unfortunate for the “best fans” in baseball all the way around. Guys like Molina and Wainwright deserve a proper send off. — @dallas_stapp

One word, and why: Disappointing. Was looking forward to the return of sports in general, but especially ready to see how my Cardinals would do this year. Now I just feel empty watching baseball without my favorite team because each new day is a new series postponement for them. — @dylan_corbet

3. Play the B squad

What if, instead of things getting better, they get worse for the Cardinals? What if, instead of multiple days of negative testing across the board, they have a couple of other players test positive? At this point, it’s pretty clear that MLB isn’t going to rush the club back, as it admittedly did after allowing the club to leave Milwaukee to come back to St. Louis. 

At that point, is sitting the team down for another week the right move? At some point, there’s a reason teams have alternate sites, with players staying prepared to join the big club should the need arise, right? I think that would qualify as a need arising. 

We’ve mentioned this before, but when the club was still quarantined in Milwaukee, Mozeliak was asked whether he thought his club’s season was on the brink of being canceled. 

“No, I never thought that,” Mozeliak said. “I don’t think Major League Baseball wanted that to happen, so I was never under that … I mean, obviously, we have that other camp going, so at some point we could have brought other people up to play.”

Yep. Even then, he was considering massive, wholesale changes. Maybe not complete changes, but why not? If the goal is to play baseball, then let’s play baseball. And if baseball is worried about cross-team contamination, then bring up a whole new team to step in for a couple of days. And, sure, that would seem to put the Cardinals at a competitive disadvantage, but actions do have consequences. Don’t want to field your B team? Don’t let COVID-19 into your inner sanctum. 

One word, and why: Disheartening. Opening Day came and went and I adapted to life without MLB. I had little hope of a season starting and then it did. Just as quickly, here we are and each day’s update is worse than the previous. I am not entirely sure what the hell happened but I really hate that the team I have loved all of my life is now the poster child for how not to handle this sorry fiasco. — @TroyinFlorissan

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