It’s also unfortunate that five other nats are in quarantine because they were in close contact with the infected four.
However, it is important to be aware of the limitations of the problem the Nats are facing. It is true that this virus outbreak could mark the start of a disastrous season, especially against a tough April schedule. But it doesn’t have to be – at least when there are no more cases, which is not guaranteed.
The Nats had a tough hiatus that maybe nobody’s to blame. But now you need to avoid another potential problem: feeling sorry for yourself.
“We’ll see if we start quick or not,” said Rizzo, dismissing the premise that they wouldn’t. Last season, the Nats Star Juan Soto lost their first eight games to a positive virus test. They went 4-4 without him. But this is an outbreak, not a one-off.
“That’s why you build depth,” said Rizzo.
Then Rizzo mentioned all the fights from the first 50 games of 2019 and said when a squad gets hits, “Your stars must be stars – and our depths must shine.”
If this were the NFL, I would dismiss this as “happy talk”. But baseball is fundamentally different. In small samples of data, the difference between players isn’t huge, and for a week or two no one knows who’s going to be hot or not.
Still, the word “crisis” Rizzo used is appropriate for a team that will play 17 out of 22 games against predicted winners for the remainder of April.
Her first three-game series of the season has been postponed. Those games against the Mets marked the first time since winning the 2019 World Series that the Nats could play at home in front of their own fans – albeit only 5,000. That’s another psychological downer for this bunch who never seem to be celebrating Washington’s best baseball moment since 1924.
Even more breathtaking for the Nats, you may need to raise nine minor leaguers, some of whom will likely play key roles in the first week or so.
We already know that a catcher (Tres Barrera), an infielder (Luis García), a left-handed outfielder (Yadiel Hernandez) and a left pitcher (Sam Clay) were called. There will be more – maybe the pitchers Kyle McGowin and Ryne Harper who had good springs and the prospect of Carter Kieboom.
It is bad to play with nine men who have been sent to be minors. But it’s not as bad as it seems. And it’s not that bad when it comes to losing games and burying a season before the start, like it would in other sports.
This is not intuitive. But the difference between one major league player and another isn’t as big as many fans believe. This has been proven to me twice, both times by the Nats in their year of construction, when they had teams designed to lose a lot in 2007 and 2010 – and get high draft picks.
In 2010, Liván Hernández, John Lannan, Craig Stammen, Luis Atilano, Scott Olsen and Jason Marquis started. Her only all-star, closer to Matt Capps, was trading on the cut-off date. Still, they went 69-93.
But that spunky bunch couldn’t touch the 2007 team, whose top starters were Matt Chico, Jason Bergmann, Mike Bacsik, Shawn Hill, Tim Redding, Jason Simontacchi, Joel Hanrahan, and Micah Bowie. Do you remember Levale Speigner? The only nat with 75 RBI or 20 homers was Ryan Zimmerman.
Essentially, it was a team of at least 20 “substitutes” – guys that you can get almost free with a phone call, probably from your minor league rosters. Both teams prided themselves on not being respected – and the 2007 club went 73-89. If they could maximize their minimum talent for six months, why wouldn’t these nats go for a week or two?
Even the sacred status of the moment, Wins Above Replacement, shows how little short-term there is a difference between a star and that “call-up” player.
If the value of the nine players the Nats now have to pull is huge – say a combined 20 WAR over 162 games – that’s still a difference of just two wins over 16.2 games.
While nothing is certain, the Nats are unlikely to lose their affected players for nearly 16 days. A quarantined player could get out after just seven days, according to MLB’s protocols. And a player with a positive test can be eligible again after 10 days. Yes, there are tires that you can jump through with local regulations and consecutive negative tests and the like. But that gives baseball reach.
The first Nats player to come up positive was tested on Monday. The Nats found that they had a problem Tuesday night after flying to DC on Monday night and have had no team activity since then.
By the time the Nats start their season – Monday at the earliest – they will not have been in quarantine with many on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. If they manage to play their three-game series with Atlanta, they’ll have another day of travel on Thursday. By the time they meet the Dodgers in Los Angeles, the players affected will be in isolation for at least nine days – and have only missed three games in the process.
Coincidentally, the Nats broke camp on Monday in near perfect health as they did in their DC incarnation, with only reliever Will Harris recovering from an injury. And he should start throwing again soon.
The Nats will be tempted to believe they were hit by an avalanche. But they have depth as long as too many of the missing nine aren’t all in the same position. Zimmerman can’t even get into the line-up after being the hottest hitter in Florida. García and Kieboom are real prospects. As sixth and seventh starters, Erick Fedde and Austin Voth are reassuring. The catchers Yan Gomes and Alex Avila are interchangeable. Outfielder Andrew Stevenson has hit .366 in limited views for the past two seasons. He dies after a chance.
Baseball never seems to stop giving us things we never saw and solutions we never imagined. What would happen to an NFL team that had to replace 40 percent of its squad at the beginning of the season?
Perhaps the coronavirus will blow a hole in the nats’ hull that will result in a rapidly sinking ship. But in baseball, this story doesn’t have to end like this.