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Robinson Cano's mystery absence from Mets camp highlights uncertainty in COVID-19 era

Mets second baseman Robinson Cano looks on during

Mets second baseman Robinson Cano looks on during batting practice in an MLB summer training session at Citi Field on Saturday, July 4, 2020. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

There could be a hundred different reasons why Robinson Cano hasn’t shown up at Citi Field in four days. But in these corona- virus times, only one seems to be officially categorized as a closely guarded, tight-lipped secret by the Mets.

Major League Baseball’s policy — which the Mets are following to the letter — leaves people to draw their own conclusions, fair or not. And whatever unspecified issue Cano is dealing with, obviously the health and well-being of the second baseman and his family take precedence above all else.

“If a player does want to comment on the reasons for which he’s not at the ballpark, we support him in doing so on his own,” general manager Brodie Van Wagenen said Friday. “But from our standpoint, we’re going to continue to try to create some protection of individual rights and focus our attention on the people that are here at the ballpark.”

It’s not the particular reason for Cano’s absence, however, that makes me wonder about the viability of carrying out a baseball season, even for 60 games, under these volatile conditions. More concerning is the frequency with which players can simply disappear at a moment’s notice, indefinitely, either by testing positive for COVID-19, having contact with an infected person or opting out.

The Giants’ Buster Posey, a six-time All-Star, became the latest to decline participation Friday, citing the health of his newly adopted twins, who were born prematurely. Some may want to debate such decisions, but it’s not happening in this space, not for any of the 11 players (so far) who have chosen to skip this truncated season. I’m very surprised that number isn’t higher and fully expect it to climb before the July 23 Opening Day and beyond.

“After weighing it for a long time, talking to doctors, I just feel like . . . these babies being as fragile as they are for the next four months at minimum, this ultimately wasn’t that difficult a decision for me,” Posey told reporters Friday.

People forget sometimes that players have lives outside the ballpark, and it’s not just the players who can get sick. Even if you subscribe to the misguided belief that the pro athlete demographic will be perfectly fine — ask Freddie Freeman about that — the players easily can infect family members, infants to grandparents, and that means everyone is saddled with their risk.

Plenty of players already have spoken out about this summer camp being an audition for MLB’s pandemic operations manual, suggesting that the season is not a “slam dunk,” as the Cardinals’ Andrew Miller noted. And by no means has the sport passed inspection yet. Earlier this week, the Nationals, Giants, A’s, Cardinals and Astros temporarily shut down their workouts because of delays in receiving test results from the Utah facility.

Speaking of those results, MLB released its updated statistics Friday, for both the intake screening and the current monitoring session, which involves tests every two days. The final intake total was 66 positives (58 players) out of 3,748 samples for a rate of 1.8% amid the 27 teams that had at least one positive. As for the monitoring, there were 17 new positives (13 players) among the 7,401 samples (0.2%), with 10 clubs affected. Overall, those 83 positives were spread over 28 different teams.

Some positives, a few before the intake screening, have been identified, with Freeman, DJ LeMahieu, Salvador Perez and Charlie Blackmon among the notables. The assumption is that this group will recover and return, but it’s still too soon to know the longer-term impact of contracting COVID-19. And seeing teammates struggle with the virus can be scary enough to sway other players’ decisions. Nick Markakis cited an “eye-opening” phone conversation with Freeman as helping to convince him to opt out.

“I think you recognize the danger that we’re all in and how much unpredictability exists,” Van Wagenen said. “So we have to at least be aware of that. And when you combine the real world to what that means for baseball players, it’s a complicating factor.”

As Van Wagenen mentioned, this isn’t a ligament tear or broken bone. When someone hears of a positive test, the first thought is sympathy, not how long a player might be lost to the injured list. That’s why teams are so obligated to tread carefully with any virus-related matter, but in doing so, it makes everyone question anew the logic to baseball steering this ship toward a growing iceberg. Even so, Van Wagenen insists that the Mets remain on board.

“Every player has expressed a desire to play, and we haven’t had any players express the potential of opting out,” Van Wagenen said. “Obviously, things can change down the road. But at this point, all of our players have made it clear to us that they want to be here and want to play.”

We’ll assume that he is including Cano, his former client. But with two weeks to go before Opening Day, it feels impossible to be sure about anything, or anyone.

New York Sports