Marlins COVID-19 tests: the viability of the season hangs in the balance

Marlins COVID-19 tests
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As we wrote yesterday, positive Miami Marlins COVID-19 tests have sidelined four players in the past three days. The tests caused the Marlins to delay their flight home for today’s home game against the Orioles as they await the results of more COVID tests to see if more than just the four current positives exist. They won’t make the trip until some time later today.

Despite those players being sidelined and despite the team not knowing how many, if any, of the rest of the team was positive, they nonetheless played yesterday. Over at The Athletic this morning Ken Rosenthal and Jayson Stark quote epidemiologists who characterized the decision to allow the Marlins to play yesterday as irresponsible. One said, “I think that by any definition, this is an outbreak on their team. And an outbreak on a team means that the team needs to close down.”

Closing down, however, does not seem like something Major League Baseball is considering. And to be clear, despite quotes from Don Mattingly and various Marlins players yesterday about how they “decided” to play and did not “consider” not playing, it is Major League Baseball’s call. Rob Manfred’s specifically, with the MLB-MLBPA agreement stating that he and he alone makes the final call on any suspension of play due to COVID-19 concerns in consultation with the experts and the players.

Part of me, however, is skeptical that any set of circumstances would cause Manfred to pull the plug on games, be it for the league or even a single team.

There has been no suggestion from the league that there is anything amiss. Indeed, based on how erratic testing turnaround has been and how unevenly players, coaches and umpires have been adhering to the rules about distancing in the early going — there have been a lot of high fives and a lot of spitting — Major League Baseball seems to be treating its own COVID-19 rules as broad suggestions rather than anything approaching hard and fast guidelines. As Rosenthal put it over the weekend, the league seems to view those rules as a “living document” which can adapt and change as the league sees fit.

One interpretation of that is that his is a reasonable response to a constantly-altering landscape. That the league realizes and accepts that there are as many if not more unknowns as knowns when it comes to pandemic baseball and that it only makes sense to remain flexible. A more cynical interpretation is that Major League Baseball is intent on playing this season come Hell or high water and it’ll do whatever it can in order to make that happen, even if that means looking the other way as best practices for health and safety are not vigilantly enforced.

Today, though, that approach — to the extent that is MLB’s approach — could be seriously tested.

The Marlins COVID-19 tests are going to come back within the next few hours. If more players than the >10% of the active roster that is already out due to positive tests are added to the positive list, the league will have to do more than just silently allow what’s left of the team to suit up against the Orioles. It should have to explain why allowing such a thing makes any kind of sense. It should have to explain why it allowed the Marlins to play the Phillies yesterday despite the reasonable belief that more than just the four players could be positive (it should have done that already, actually). It should have to justify that which is worse than what multiple epidemiologists are already saying is irresponsible.

Alternatively, if more Marlins COVID-19 tests are positive, the league could — and, if that number is sufficiently high must — shut them down. At which point it would be more than fair to ask Major League Baseball how this can be a legitimate or a responsible season at all.