Tough Times in Braves Summer Camp

Well…we were all excited. Baseball was in the air. What was thought to be a shockingly low 35 COVID positives in nearly 1200 players, coaches, and team personnel, has turned out to be many more as the numbers keep rolling in and some testing has been delayed. There have been tough times in Braves summer camp. The initial group of testing did not go well as 4 players tested positive.

The King has Left the Building

A day after the above breaking news, and several tweets showing excitement and eagerness to get back on the field in his first year outside the Mariners organization, Felix Hernandez opted out of the 2020 season with the Atlanta Braves. The news came after his first bullpen which had some people speculating that he could have had poor results and/or had been told that he wasn’t going to break camp with the team. I have no opinion on the matter other than I wish Felix the best and hope he considers a 2021 rebound with the Braves.

No Nicky Kakes in 2020

In a surprising turn of events, not 24 hours after Felix’s opt-out, folowing a phone conversation with Freddie Freeman, Braves outfielder Nick Markakis opted out of the 2020 season.

“I was excited to get back to playing just as much as everybody else,” Braves player Nick Markakis, a former All-Star, said per Braves reporter Grant McAuley on Twitter. “I think the biggest thing is I talked to Freddie Freeman and just hearing the way he sounded on the phone just opened my eye.

Nick Markakis

The Impact of Freddie Freeman and COVID on the MLB

A buddy of mine from my New Orleans days, Benjamin Hochman, who is now a Sports Columnist for the St. Louis Dispatch, wrote a piece on the spin-off impact that “tough guy” Freddie Freeman’s battle with COVID will have on the rest of the league. Here’s an excerpt:

“If Freddie Freeman, an MVP-caliber player in his prime, can feel this way from COVID-19, then, yeah, so can other seemingly “tough” athletes. And that’s the thing. For many people, the aura of invincibility plays into the pandemic. There’s the feeling that they won’t get the coronavirus, or if they do, they’ll beat it quickly, because they’re young or in-shape or strong or something. And that mindset was perpetuated this spring and summer in sports.”

Benjamin Hochman

Immediate Impact on the 2020 Braves Team

LH Bats

Our last piece discussed the need for a LH bat for the 2020 season and that was before Freddie Freeman tested positive AND Nick Markakis opted out. Now, there’s only 1 LH bat on the entire 40-man roster and 2 switch hitters:

This is a real problem, especially considering the murderer’s row of RHP the Braves will be facing in 2020. I expect this to be addressed via a MILB deal sooner rather than later, and maybe an additional trade before the season starts.

Starting Pitching

While the story was a good one and I was personally excited to see King Felix try to revamp his career in a Braves uniform , the truth is the Braves will be fine in starting pitching, and could continue the idea of piggybacking starters without any additions. For now, Touki gets removed from this discussion, but he’s asymptomatic and could be back at camp within a week or 2.

A Shrinking Player Pool

Since COVID Positives do not count against the player pool, what was 56 players has now shrunk down to 50. While I don’t expect the Braves to add any players to replace the COVID victims, replacing Markakis and Felix on the player pool should be a no-brainer considering neither are under contract for 2021.

Let’s hope today and the rest of the days that lie ahead of us bring better news for baseball and our world.

Author: Ryan Cothran

Ryan is the site editor and manager of Braves Journal. Follow him on Twitter.

46 thoughts on “Tough Times in Braves Summer Camp”

  1. According to DOB (via Chelsea Freeman’s Instagram account), Freddie is starting to feel better.

  2. Good for Freddie. Nick had a great career if it is now history.

    Be safe, y’all, but do not surrender to fear. (Is that pompous enough?)

  3. By the way, according to MLBTR (which linked to The Washington Post), Rob Manfred got angry and went after Nats GM Mike Rizzo, after Rizzo made public the issues the team has been facing — delayed test results, delayed access to PPE, and ultimately suspending their Summer Camp as a result. Quite frankly, I’m with Rizzo. He should be sticking up for his players’ health and making a nuisance of himself. The commissioner may want to avoid any more public relations debacles, but silence is not an appropriate course of action during a pandemic.

  4. Yeah, I’m with Rizzo. If Manfred would like to avoid public relations issues, then avoid mistakes that create public relations issues.

    With that said, if Manfred feels like player safety is not affected, then maybe he has a gripe. But I continue to believe that testing is the linchpin. If you know you have it, that’s really important for everyone.

    I’m so incredibly frustrated that we’re in July and we still can’t get testing figured out. How the bloody hell are we not at a point where someone can get tested, get an email the next day that they’re positive, and they shut ‘er down for a couple weeks? Load up on multiple vitamins, D3, C, Pedialite, Gatorade Zero, and Oreos. Instead, millionaires, who are valuable assets under the care of billionaires can’t even get a test back.

    Lame.

  5. If the vast majority of teams that make the playoffs are teams predicted to be contenders at the beginning of the season, meaning there aren’t a lot of fluke teams, will you take the World Series winner seriously?

    I think I’ll throw out outlier individual stuff like a .400 performance or a 1.00 ERA, but if we end up with the Dodgers and Astros in the World Series, or something like that, I’ll take the winner seriously. But if we end up in a situation where, by some random fluke, the Royals are pitching in the World Series with some non-prospect pitching game 6, I don’t know if that’s credible. I’ll enjoy it for its goofiness, though.

    Like, do I like Never Say Never Again? Sure, it’s Bond, it’s Connery, it’s fun. But it’s not canon.

  6. Yeah, I don’t often find myself taking Mike Rizzo’s side on much, but he’s clearly in the right here IMO. If Manfred is pissed at him, he should be more pissed at the testing situation.

    If it really was just a holiday-weekend delay, fine. It’ll likely not happen again and we’ll move on. But if not, getting the issue out their in the public was probably the best way to ensure that MLB looks at it, especially since I’m guessing that the Nats had been complaining to the league office for several days about it and didn’t go straight to the press with no warning whatsoever.

  7. Shut it down? We shouldn’t even try to have a baseball season? No diversions from coronavirus and politics allowed?

  8. It’s a fluid situation. Unfortunately, right now it’s fluid and going in the wrong direction. I would love for baseball to get this right. But like Doolittle says, we absolutely cannot and should not have baseball unless appropriate precautions are taken, and it’s hard to feel a high level of confidence right now.

    Personally, I feel we should try and they are trying. But the fact that teams shut down their training camps just a few days after opening them, and the commissioner’s first reaction was annoyance rather than concern — it’s just a bad sign.

  9. Baseball will not be the first sport into the breach on this, even among team sports in America. Major League Soccer is getting set to start their MLS is Back Tournament (yes, that’s really what they’re officially calling it) tomorrow.

    It’s not the same setup as MLB, really. The MLS tournament will be played inside of a bubble at the Walt Disney World Resort (games are to all take place at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex, where the Braves used to conduct spring training), but it will provide a look at what it looks like from a variety of angles to conduct a sports schedule during the pandemic.

    There have been several COVID-19 issues in the lead-up to this tournament. In addition to most (if not all, not sure) teams having at least a couple cases, one team (Dallas) had to withdraw from the tournament after so many of their players tested positive that remaining in the tournament was untenable and another (Nashville) has postponed their opening game for similar reasons and seems to be hanging by a thread as far as staying in the tournament.

    Barring a major shift in thinking in the next 30 hours or so, though, they’re gonna go ahead and start the tournament. It’ll be interesting to see how that develops, and will give MLB and (especially, since they’re about to operate in much the same fashion) the NBA an advance look at what they might be dealing with.

    If it turns into an absolute disaster, that obviously doesn’t bode particularly well for baseball.

  10. @11 The way you ask that question reveals that you don’t seem to grasp this. We are in a PANDEMIC of epic proportions. PLAYERS by the bushel are coming down with this. Simple math says some may (possibly will) die.

    And you want something for your AMUSEMENT?

  11. @chief
    That’s enough. Questioning character is where we draw the line on a sports blog.

  12. @14

    Well, no, actually. Simple math based on the mortality rate of those 35 and under says that it’s very, very likely not a single baseball player ever dies from this.

    Remember, it’s news when a player (Freddie) actually has symptoms. That’s where we are. A lot of guys have likely had coronavirus since it reached our shores months ago. Simple math says that if someone was going to die, they probably already would have. These athletes went home for months and hung out with all sorts of people, some of them even of the sundry persuasion. They kissed girls, they worked out at gyms, they went to the grocery stores, etc. Not. One. Died.

    The shock of the Nick Markakis’ and the Joltin’ Joe Ross’ opting out is going to dissipate, and we’re going to see that the players that opted out had more than just simple self-preservation as their guiding factor.

  13. In defense of Chief, he often just says the quiet part out loud. There are LOTS of people who think you’re a super duper bad meaniehead because you want there to be some sense of normalcy, which includes the world’s best athletes, most of which with the world’s best immune systems, playing some good ole fashioned ball.

  14. Ryan I wasn’t remotely questioning his character. At all.

    In fact, what kind of sports bar would it be if literally everyone had the same opinion?

    @17 The players in none of these sports really want to play. Overall. Very few of them.

    How many puff pieces have you seen from a single player pining to play and talking about how they just CANNOT wait to get back out there in the midst of this? I haven’t seen one.

    Instead there are wave after wave of stories about which players either have COVID or are sitting out whatever semblance/charade of a season that these leagues are trying to do.

    ALL of this is about money and greed by the owners. The players do not want to play under these conditions and I don’t blame them a bit.

    And about the normalcy. There is NO normalcy right now. That’s the point. We’re in a GLOBAL pandemic. 500K people will die from this before this is over. This dwarfs the seasonal flu.

    I’m going to say that what people like me really resent is that because I think this entire process and charade is a farce that I don’t love baseball. I literally made homemade broadcasting tapes using a boom box as a kid with the TV muted. I’ve played it my entire formulative years.

    Now is NOT the time to be playing sports. Period. In my opinion.

  15. I’ve disagreed with Chief a lot on this blog, obviously, but I appreciate where he’s coming from on this. We are all asking these players to incur a certain amount of risk to play a game and give us entertainment during a time when literally all of us are living in a world that’s more joyless than usual.

    We’re asking a lot of them, and it’s fair to ask whether it’s a fair request. (I don’t think it’s fair to call character into question, but just speaking for myself, I don’t think Chief’s comment crossed the line.)

    Chief, the one piece I really disagree with you is this — I do think a lot of the players want to play. Sean Doolittle’s a guy who has come out and says he wants to play, and I believe him. I think the players are justifiably scared of this pandemic, and I get it because so am I, but these guys have devoted their lives to this game. I think they want to play if there’s any safe way to do so. That’s quite a caveat, though, obviously.

    Obviously I hope Rob’s right @16, and I think the next week will be critical. Will baseball get its act together regarding testing? If so, then fewer players are likely to opt out.

    I wrote a piece eight years ago about Valley Fever, a fungus that’s endemic to Arizona that has infected a tiny number of ballplayers. At the time I wrote about it, there were only 100,000 cases a year, only one-third of which were serious enough to require medical attention. It kills about 100 people a year. Occasionally, it affects people associated with baseball — Ike Davis and Johnny Bench both got Valley Fever, it ended Conor Jackson’s career, and it killed Bob Uecker’s son — but in general, the risk is basically too low to be worth doing anything about it. MLB is aware of it, and it’s worth providing education to players about it, but it’s not a big deal.

    This is a big deal. Young athletes have a lot less inherent risk than elderly people with congenital lung problems, but twenty-year old jocks could also more likely to engage in riskier behavior, like going out to a bar without a mask on, which could increase their risk. Effective risk mitigation will require the league to get its act together, and it will also require all the players to get their act together, and even if all of that goes right, it will still require threading a needle.

    I’m not as optimistic as Rob, but I’d love the season to come off without a hitch. We’ve got to be realistic, though — it could happen, but it could also all go to hell.

  16. I don’t think the season is going to come off without a hitch. Not at all. I’m sure something else bad will happen. It’s possible a player even more famous than Freddie Freeman gets COVID. He may even have symptoms. He may even be in a situation like Rudy Gobert where he continues to have lung issues. I’m just saying that the season will happen, and nothing yet has made me feel like that’s going to change. I’ve been wrong on the timeline, but the season is still alive and kicking on July 7th, and that says a lot.

    Why should I not go to a bar right now but I can’t expect the same for an athlete making big money? These bleeding hearts out there for athletes and their safety are lost on me. Get yourself a nice little bubble for a few months, play your season, make your money, and then you can go out and hang out at any bar or carnival or movie theater or strip club or circus or whatever you want. But if a team can’t control their players to the point where they go out to bars, get COVID, and bring it back to the clubhouse, that’s on them. If it’s the Braves, that’s on them. But you don’t shut the dadgum sport down because some players are going to be idiots.

    That’s why I can’t even turn on ESPN right now. “These poor NBA players have to live in a bubble and have to get swabbed if they leave the bubble. The horror!” I’ve been swabbed 4 times in the last 7 weeks! It sucks! It hurts! It feels like water is going up your nose. But my wife is knee-deep in COVID right now, so I have to be a grownup. I can’t expect the same for NBA players with an average annual salary of $7.7M to take a weird Q-tip to the skull? Cry me a river.

  17. @22 Thanks for sharing. Even not really possible, it makes me appreciate this place even more when starting to read the comments under above story.
    Thanks again especially to Ryan but also the other writers and the frequent commenters.

  18. Bryce Ball got promoted to the player pool and turned 22 today. While I don’t think he’s an option out the gate, if he’s performing at Gwinnett and Braves need a LH bat, he could be the guy.

  19. I have strong feelings about this, but want credit from everyone that I’m not posting them.

  20. @22

    I was about to post a longer thing on this, but since nobody else is at this point, I’ll spare everyone the full thing…especially since I pretty much already said all of it back when the team decided not to play the crowd prompt and to pull the foam tomahawks for Game 5 of the Division Series.

    Long story short, the Chop should be retired.

  21. I don’t want to get into an argument, especially because of political ramifications, but I don’t see any reason to retire the chop. If the crowd gets into the game more and the team builds on the enthusiasm without being blatantly offensive (sorry I just don’t see it as making fun of anyone and I don’t see harmful intent), I’m for it. It will be retired eventually because something better comes along. I’m just thankful the wave is rarely done now!

    I know people disagree and that’s fine. I don’t think any less of them. I hope we can have the discussion and welcome disagreements.

  22. Right or wrong, it’s past time for intent to be a factor in anything considered to be offensive. I’m afraid that’s a losing battle. And regardless of intent, if enough people find something offensive, it’s gone. RIP Chop.

  23. I wonder…it’s something that can be done without props or encouragement from the team, and not everyone has to participate for it to register. If it starts, people will pick up on it for their own reasons — enthusiasm, social pressure, provocation, whatever. I think the team would have to try to replace the chop with some other participatory thing instead. Or even ban the foam tomahawks, which I don’t see happening.

  24. @32, It’ll be tough to enforce a full ban on the foam tomahawks, but not difficult at all to stop giving them out. And if you stop giving them out, not many people are gonna bring them to the game by themselves.

    On the subject of intent, I think Braves fans rather lost the plot on intent when a bunch of people were talking about loudly directing the Chop in the direction of Ryan Helsley [the Cardinals pitcher who expressed discomfort with it in an interview] if he came into Game 5. I for a long time thought that it was a harmless cheer, as well, but the backlash to that whole thing made me realize way more people were seeing it primarily as an anti-PC cudgel than I thought. And if you’re intentionally directing it at somebody with American Indian heritage, that’s even worse still.

    Given that public opinion has moved even farther in this direction than it was nine months ago, there’s just no reason to keep it around.

  25. A big part of the trouble I have with the Chop is that the Braves’ association with Native American imagery comes from Tammany Hall, not from any actual association with any Native Americans at any time. It’s like the equivalent of Uncle Ben or Aunt Jemima.

    Both the FSU Seminoles and the Chicago Blackhawks have a relationship with the community they’re named after. We just took a chant from a school in the SEC. So, I don’t think we lose anything by losing the Chop or even changing our name to something else — whether it’s back to the Bees, or Beaneaters, or Red Stockings, or whatever else.

  26. I think there are ways to keep the name Braves (or to do what Timo suggests @36, at most) while dropping every ounce of American Indian imagery. I’m guessing that’s what we’ll eventually do, but if I had to guess right now, we won’t actually change the name of the team.

    Possibly if the Kansas City Chiefs of the NFL change their name, we could wind up changing ours. They’re in a similar boat with a name that’s obviously an American Indian reference, and they use it as such, but it doesn’t necessarily have to refer to that if they decide to point in a different direction. (They might have to change the name of Arrowhead Stadium if they did pivot in this way, on a side note.)

  27. @36

    I like that, personally.

    I’ve said it before that I’m very conflicted. I love the Warchant and hate FSU. When I hear the Warchant, I think of something completely made up that maybe never even existed in Native American culture. To me, it’s just a cool song, just like any other cool song.

    If you were to tell me that the James Bond Theme was used by, I dunno, some oppressed group as their rally song a couple centuries ago, and Monty Norman just stole it back in 1962 and here we are, I’d fight pretty hard for the James Bond Theme to still be around. It’s just simply a cool song. These are just 2 examples of songs from pop culture that I love, regardless of what connotations someone attributes to it.

    The Chop, sure, drop it.

  28. Has anyone considered replacing Tony Clark with Sean Newcomb? Given Newk’s aversion to strikes, we could put all the fear of a work stoppage behind us.

  29. Seriously though, regarding Newcomb – has anybody heard whether he’s developed another pitch? I thought the main reason he flopped as a starter and made sense in the bullpen was that he’s basically got 1.5 pitches. Impossible to succeed as a SP without at least 3 serviceable ones. But even before the talk of an 8-man starting staff it was kinda assumed Newcomb would get a starting spot. Did I miss something?

  30. I don’t think Newcomb’s arsenal is a problem if his changeup is functional. But his history of walks is definitely an issue. It remains to be seen if his improvement in BB% after moving to the bullpen will be sustained.

  31. I’m starting to think Hamels isn’t going to pitch for the Braves. Maybe he’s done.

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