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SportsColumnistsDavid Lennon

Marlins' outbreak already has put baseball season in jeopardy

A general view of Marlins Park during Miami

A general view of Marlins Park during Miami Marlins Summer Workouts at Marlins Park on July 03, 2020. Credit: Getty Images/Mark Brown

After a whirlwind Tuesday, when the Marlins’ coronavirus outbreak caused disruptions to five teams, and diverted the Yankees from Philadelphia to Baltimore, Yankees GM Brian Cashman spoke for all of us in summarizing the dizzying series of events.

“We’re drinking out of a firehose right now on all this stuff,” he said.

Same, Brian. Same.

The morning began with four more Marlins testing positive, bringing their total number to 17. And by late afternoon, Miami’s season had officially been put on pause, at least through Sunday. Just like that, we finally had our answer for what would take a team out of circulation. Now we’re left to wonder if MLB will ever let them back.  

“Given the current circumstances, MLB believes that is is most prudent to allow the Marlins time to focus on providing care for their players and planning their baseball operations for a resumption early next week,” the league said in a statement.

First, the Marlins had to get home from Philadelphia, and Miami wasn’t in any rush to have them back. Miami-Dade mayor Carlos A. Gimenez said Tuesday the team should follow the 14-day quarantine protocol upon its return, which would leave a gaping hole in the 60-game schedule for a number of clubs.

While I’m sure that will be resolved to a lesser sentence for the Marlins, considering that every local government outside of Canada has bent to MLB’s wishes, the other teams affected wound up scrambling. The Phillies, who reportedly passed their latest rounds of testing, still are on the shelf until Friday, at the earliest. The Nationals, after players voted not to travel to Miami this weekend, got what what they wanted anyway when the Marlins were exiled.

And the Yankees? They do get to play — but against the Orioles at Camden Yards for two games, with the Bronx opener now slated to be Friday’s visit by the Red Sox.

There are two ways to look at this. First off, the Marlins getting shut down due to an outbreak involving more than 30% of their traveling party is a serious health hazard of which we don’t know the full consequences yet. Odds are, most of the players should be OK, but some could get very sick. It’s also a red flag as to how quickly the coronavirus can spread through a roster, and even with contact tracing, the team’s Patient Zero can be difficult to determine. MLB can say this wasn’t unexpected, but now an outbreak has actually happened — just four days into the season.

“It’s disturbing, it’s upsetting,” the Brewers’ Ryan Braun said. “I think that it’s a reminder of just how precarious the situation is that we’re in. There’s real fear, there’s real anxiety for me, for all my teammates. I know for me personally, I don’t feel comfortable where we’re at.”

MLB wasn’t concerned enough to put a full-stop on the schedule, however, and there was never any discussion about cancelling the season. Replace the Marlins with the Yankees or Dodgers, and I feel like this conversation would be different. But here’s the the other way to view this: MLB was able to pivot rather quickly in shipping the Yankees to Baltimore while isolating the Marlins and Phillies.

It’s also worth noting that MLB took the opportunity Tuesday to mention that the other 29 teams not from Miami did not register a single positive since last Friday, out of 6,400 tests conducted. So does the league simply have a Marlins’ problem? Only time will tell. But Cashman described the Yankees as “all-in” as far as rolling with the Costanza-like travel itinerary and the Marlins’ outbreak didn’t tarnish his outlook on the season.

“It's all an unknown,” Cashman said. “I can't predict the future. I'm not saying we're day to day. But we are week to week in terms of what we are experiencing for the first time. I can tell you we're going to do everything in our power to do everything the right way and play baseball. As long as we can.”

This Marlins’ reshuffling can’t be a regular occurrence, however, or this season is kaput. MLB was flexible enough to do it this one time, presumably without doing irreparable damage to the schedule. And I’m not sweating the 60 games. Get in as much baseball as possible, and go by winning percentage for the playoff-seeding, if the teams are lucky enough to make it that far.

“I think this is going to be a very unique season,” Zack Britton said. “And I think for the players, we understand that it might not be perfect in the competitive balance of things this year. That's just the nature of the environment that we're in. The goal for us is obviously to stay healthy and play as many games as we can.”

The Marlins’ outbreak already has put both of those in serious jeopardy. And if the virus isn’t better contained going forward, Tuesday’s mayhem will look tame in retrospect.

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