MIAMI—The Marlins scrambled for roster replacements as they coped with a coronavirus outbreak. The New York Yankees had an unscheduled day off in Philadelphia while the home team underwent COVID-19 tests. The Baltimore Orioles were flying home from Miami without playing a game.
And Washington Nationals manager Dave Martinez summed up the situation in a season barely underway.
“I’m going to be honest with you: I’m scared,” Martinez said.
More than a dozen Marlins players and staff members tested positive for COVID-19 in an outbreak that stranded the team in Philadelphia, disrupting Major League Baseball’s schedule on the fifth day of the pandemic-delayed season.
Miami’s home opener against Baltimore was postponed as was Tuesday’s finale of the two-game series at Marlins Park. Also postponed was the Yankees’ series opener Monday at Philadelphia, where New York would have been in the same clubhouse the Marlins used last weekend.
“Obviously, we don’t want any player to get exposed. It’s not a positive thing,” baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred said on the MLB Network. “But I don’t see it as a nightmare. We built the protocols to allow us to continue to play. That’s why we have the expanded rosters, that’s why we have the pool of additional players. And we think we can keep people safe and continue to play.”
The Orioles planned to fly to Baltimore from Miami on Monday night. They are scheduled to host the Marlins in a two-game series starting Wednesday.
“If the testing results are acceptable, the Marlins will resume play in Baltimore on Wednesday against the Orioles,” Manfred said.
Meanwhile, Chicago White Sox manager Rick Renteria will be kept away from his team after experiencing a “slight cough and nasal congestion,” general manager Rick Hahn said. Tests were planned.
The Marlins’ outbreak was the talk of baseball, and Martinez choked on his words as he discussed the situation. Martinez missed time last season because of a heart condition, and the Nationals are scheduled to play in Miami this weekend.
“My level of concern went from about an eight to a 12. I mean this thing really hits home now,” Martinez said. “I got guys in our clubhouse that are really concerned, as well.”
MLB announced the postponement of the two Monday games about eight hours before the scheduled first pitch and said additional COVID-19 testing was being conducted. That included Phillies players being tested Monday.
“The members of the Marlins’ traveling party are self-quarantining in place while awaiting the outcome of those results,” MLB said in a statement.
Coming just days into the 60-game season, the Marlins’ outbreak raised anew questions about Manfred’s plan for navigating the pandemic.
“Now we REALLY get to see if MLB is going to put players health first,” tweeted Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher David Price, who opted out of playing this season. “Remember when Manfred said players health was PARAMOUNT?! Part of the reason I’m at home right now is because players health wasn’t being put first. I can see that hasn’t changed.”
Manfred said test results should be available late Monday and there likely will be a public update Tuesday. He said there are factors that would force MLB to alter plans.
“A team losing a number of players that rendered it completely non-competitive would be an issue that we would have to address and have to think about making a change,” he said. “Whether that was shutting down a part of the season, the whole season, that depends on the circumstances. Same thing with respect to league-wide. You get to a certain point league wide where it does become a health threat, and we certainly would shut down at that point.”
Dr. Andrew Morris, a professor of infectious diseases at the University of Toronto, said the Marlins’ outbreak isn’t a surprise because MLB’s plan was seriously flawed.
“Baseball is in huge trouble,” Morris said. “It makes me wonder if they are listening to the advice of experts or whether their experts are giving them good advice. This was not a plan anyone who knows what they are talking about would have conceived. It’s playing out like it was supposed to play out.”
The Marlins placed infielder Garrett Cooper, outfielder Harold Ramírez, and right-hander José Ureña on the injured list. They claimed right-hander Justin Shafer and left-hander Josh Smith off waivers from Cincinnati, and will likely rely heavily on reinforcements from their training camp in Jupiter, Florida.
Because there are no minor league games this season, teams are allowed to retain 60 players each. They have 30-man rosters during the first two weeks of the season plus a taxi squad of up to three players for every road trip, giving them immediate options to replace ailing players.
The Marlins could bus from Philadelphia to Baltimore. Marlins CEO Derek Jeter released a statement saying the health of players and staff was his organization’s primary focus.
“Postponing tonight’s home opener was the correct decision to ensure we take a collective pause and try to properly grasp the totality of this situation,” Jeter said.
Ureña was scratched from his scheduled start in Sunday’s game, and catcher Jorge Alfaro went on the injured list Friday. No reasons were given for the moves, and it was unclear when the Marlins received the latest positive test results.
Atlanta might have been the source of the Marlins’ outbreak. They played exhibition games there Tuesday and Wednesday against the Braves, who have since been without their top two catchers, Tyler Flowers and Travis d’Arnaud, after both showed symptoms of COVID-19.
MLB and the union held talks Monday after aspects of the protocols were widely ignored during the season’s first four days, such as the prohibitions on high-fives and other physical celebrations.
Milwaukee Brewers manager Craig Counsell said that in the wake of Marlins’ outbreak, his team will double down on efforts to be safe.
“This was a huge punch to the face, a realization that we have to be perfect,” Counsell said. “It feels like a tough task, but we’re going to try and get it right.”
The NBA and NHL plan to resume their seasons in bubble environments, with basketball at Lake Buena Vista, Florida, and hockey at Edmonton, Alberta, and Toronto.
“The NBA and the NHL have an advantage: smaller numbers of players, shorter period of time,” Manfred said. “I understand why they did what they did. I’m just not sure it was workable for us.”
By Steven Wine