Players’ reluctance to go to Miami in wake of Marlins’ outbreak may be new vulnerability for MLB

Florida News

While one additional Marlins player tested positive, according to an official familiar with the results — bringing to 16 the number of confirmed positives on their roster since Friday — the other 29 teams collectively saw no new positives. That includes, notably, the Philadelphia Phillies, who hosted the Marlins for three games over the weekend and thus were thought most endangered by potential community spread. Outside the Marlins, in fact, there have been no new positives reported across baseball since July 23.

But even a one-team problem can quickly affect multiple teams as MLB’s awkward, on-the-fly schedule rewrite demonstrated, with the Marlins shut down through Sunday and the Phillies through Friday and the Baltimore Orioles, New York Yankees and Washington Nationals all seeing games postponed or matchups swapped.

And as MLB tries to ride out a chaotic opening week and regain its equilibrium for what it hopes will be a full, 60-game season and an expanded, 16-team postseason, the biggest issue going forward might best be defined not as a Marlins problem but a Miami one.

The Nationals’ team-wide, near-unanimous vote Monday against flying to Miami for a series against the Marlins this weekend revealed a new vulnerability for MLB. And while a confrontation was avoided when MLB postponed that series — with the Nationals instead getting the weekend off — it left open the question of what would happen if a team refused to fly into a coronavirus hotbed.

“We all decided that it was probably unsafe to go there,” Manager Dave Martinez said of the Nationals’ vote. “It had nothing to do with the Miami Marlins. It was all about Miami and the state of Florida. This pandemic. [Players] didn’t feel safe.”

The Orioles, who traveled to Miami on Sunday night for a series against the Marlins that was set to begin the next day — only to turn around and fly to Baltimore on Monday when that series was postponed — had similar discussions about the wisdom of playing in Miami over the course of those two days but never put it to a vote, according to veteran first baseman Chris Davis, who is also the Orioles’ player-representative to the union.

“We didn’t take an actual vote … but there were definitely discussions of everyone’s concerns with playing the Marlins,” Davis said Tuesday during a video interview with reporters. “Obviously being in Miami for a night, we were a little concerned about that. But if anything, it just reiterated how important it is to follow these safety protocols, these guidelines that have been laid out for us.”

According to a Washington Post analysis, Florida has seen the most coronavirus cases of any state in the United States in the past seven days, and Miami-Dade County has seen the most overall cases in Florida. The Tampa-St. Petersburg area, where the Tampa Bay Rays play, also has been among the biggest hotbeds in the state.

“We know New York is doing well right now with [coronavirus],” Boston Red Sox Manager Ron Roenicke said during a Zoom interview with reporters before his team embarked on a seven-game road trip to New York and Tampa, “[but] we know when we get to Florida, from there it’s a little different story. We’ll probably approach that a little bit differently and little more cautiously.”

The Marlins said they believe their outbreak originated not in Miami but on the road — either in Atlanta, where they played exhibition games July 21 and 22, or in Philadelphia, where they arrived July 23 and played three games, July 24-26. In a statement released Tuesday, Marlins chief operating officer Derek Jeter made a point to say the team had conducted a three-week training camp in Miami without incident and only began “experiencing challenges” after going on the road.

Neither the team nor MLB has explained how the Marlins’ outbreak began or how it spread so quickly among the team. In a statement, MLB implied there had been careless behavior, saying the Marlins’ situation reinforced “the vital need to be diligent … both on and off the field.”

The sport will know soon whether players from other teams have a problem with playing in Miami. The next series on the Marlins’ schedule at this point is Aug. 4-6 against the Phillies in Miami, although those games still could be postponed or moved. All told, the Marlins have 25 remaining home games.

MLB has remained in close contact with the union regarding the Marlins’ situation, according to an official familiar with those talks, and the sides have explored options for moving some upcoming Marlins games to alternate sites.

There are no immediate plans for the Marlins to find a new home for the rest of the season, the official said. There is also a slippery-slope argument against moving games because the Marlins and Rays are not the only teams residing in a hotbed state. Per capita incidence rates of the coronavirus are still high in states such as California (home to five MLB teams), Texas (two) and Arizona (one) and are rising in Georgia, Maryland and the District (one each).

The decision regarding the Marlins also could involve government authorities. Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Giménez said Tuesday the entire Marlins team, including those who have tested negative, should self-quarantine for 14 days, per state guidelines, upon returning to South Florida.

However, Giménez said Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) has final say on the matter, and DeSantis previously granted an exception to visiting sports teams coming into the state.

“We are confident that Major League Baseball and the Miami Marlins will be responsible commercial operators and take the necessary precautions to ensure they do not endanger their fans and neighbors,” a spokesman for DeSantis said. “The Florida Department of Health stands ready to assist the Miami Marlins if needed.”

For now, the Marlins’ entire traveling party remains in self-quarantine at its Philadelphia hotel, and the infected personnel are receiving treatment. With 16 players having tested positive, they will have to dip deep into their reserve pool of players to field a team whenever they play again, and the team has claimed at least three pitchers in waivers this week.

Wednesday night will be the Marlins’ seventh straight night at their hotel. Thursday will be their fourth straight day without a game, and they will be sidelined for at least three more days beyond that. They are essentially marooned in Philadelphia while MLB figures out what to do with them and where to send them.

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