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Two Cards Players Test Positive for COVID-19: Update on the Virus and MLB

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I was working on a fun article about former Cardinal players in the various major league camps when news started to come over the wire about confirmed positive COVID cases involving the Cardinal club.

Reports had come out as early as June 21st that between June 14th and June 21st that 40 people (either players or staff) has tested positive for COVID since the first spring training closed. There were ten teams that had been known to be affected. Yesterday, MLB and MLBPA issued a joint statement that 31 players and 7 staff members had tested positive and that 19 clubs were affected.

Today, Anne Rogers of MLB.com reported that both Ricardo Sanchez and Genesis Cabrera have been confirmed to have tested positive for the virus, although both players are asymptomatic. They took an MLB-chartered plane from the Dominican Republic together on a flight that also contained Carlos Martinez, Elehuris Montero and Ivan Herrera. Tests for those players are pending. The Cardinal organization has one additional confirmed positive case, but it has not been disclosed whether that person is a player or staff member.

Rogers also reported that Giovanny Gallegos is stuck in Mexico because he has not been cleared to travel as of yet, and neither Alex Reyes nor Junior Fernandez have appeared in camp.

REPORTS FROM TEAMS

The following are the reports from teams that I have been able to gather from various media outlets, websites and Twitter pages.

Cardinals: Ricardo Sanchez, Genesis Cabrera plus one identified individual.

Braves: Freddie Freeman, Pete Kozma, Touki Toussaint, Will Smith.

Cubs: Two staff members. That total may or may not include Pitching Coach Tommy Hottovy, who disclosed his struggles with his diagnosis.

Reds: Two unnamed players.

Astros: When asked why Yordan Alvarez was not in Houston, manager Dusty Baker said he couldn’t answer because of “league mandates.”

Rockies: Charlie Blackmon, Phillip Diehl, Ryan Castellani

Royals: Salvador Perez. Manager Mike Matheny disclosed that he had the virus several weeks ago.

Angels: Two unnamed players.

Brewers: None at intake, but positive cases from testing in previous weeks.

Twins: Willians Astudillo, Nick Gordon, Edwar Colina, Miguel Sano

Mets: One 40-man roster player.

Padres: Tommy Pham

Giants: 1st round draft choice Hunter Bishop.

Mariners: “More than one player.”

Phillies: 7 players and 5 staff members. 4 players were disclosed and have been placed on the COVID-19 Related Injury List—Scott Kingery, Hector Neris, Ranger Suarez, Tommy Hunter.

Blue Jays: Unconfirmed, but there were 4 phantom injury list placements with no injury disclosed—Jonathan Davis, Elvis Luciano, Brandon Drury, Hector Perez

Indians: Delino DeShields, Jr.

Rangers: Brett Martin

Dodgers: Club has seen positives, but won’t clarify whether they are active players

Keep in mind that an unknown number of these are in addition to the 31 positive tests that MLB and MLBPA disclosed the other day. By my count, there are potentially at least 4 other clubs that have cases that have not been disclosed, likely more.

OPT-OUTS

The following players have decided to opt out of the 2020 season:

RHP Mike Leake, Arizona Diamondbacks

RHP Joe Ross, Washington Nationals

3B Ryan Zimmerman, Washington Nationals

LHP David Price, Los Angeles Dodgers

CF Ian Desmond, Colorado Rockies

C Welington Castillo, Washington Nationals

RHP Tyson Ross, San Francisco Giants

Tyson Ross was on a minor league deal with the Giants’ AAA affiliate, made his announcement before the club’s CPP was announced, and was released. All that has been disclosed about his deal was that he could have made a $1.75 million salary if he made the majors, with an additional $1.75 million in performance bonuses. Castillo was on a minor league deal with the Washington Nationals’ AAA affiliate, and he was listed on the Club Player Pool as a non-roster invitee. Every other player listed above was on both of their respective clubs’ 40-man roster and named to the Club Player Pool. None of the players have been known or declared to be “high risk,” which means the players are forfeiting not only their pro-rated salary, but also whatever service time they otherwise could have earned. Each of the 40-man roster players either has been or will be put on the Restricted List, which means they will not count against their club’s 40-man rosters or CPP.

Of the opt-outs, only RHP Joe Ross does not have at least 6 years of MLB service time. Ross missed the second half of 2016, the second half of 2017, and almost all of the 2018 season with various arm injuries, including Tommy John surgery. He did get service time credit for all that injured list time, but at present only has 4 years and 18 days of service, meaning his free agency will be delayed by at least one year. He is out of minor league options, and assuming he would have received a full year of credit, he would have been scheduled for free agency after the 2021 season. Instead, he will have to wait until after the 2022 season. He signed a 1-year, $1.5 million deal to avoid arbitration, and will have another 2 years of arbitration, assuming he doesn’t get outrighted, non-tendered or released at some point. The forfeit will be $555,556.

*Zimmerman was only on a 1-year, $2 million deal, so he will be a free agent after the season. The forfeit will be $740,741.

*Price is on the 5th year of a 7-year, $217 million deal and will forfeit a pro-rated $31 million, which comes out to $11,481,481.

*Leake is on the final year of a 5-year, $80 million deal that he originally signed with the Cardinals just before Christmas in 2015. When we traded him to the Mariners on August 30th of 2017, we agreed to pay $4 million towards his 2020 salary of $15 million. Then when the Mariners traded Leake to the Diamondbacks at the trade deadline last year, they agreed to pay the Diamondbacks $9 million in 2020. Leake has a 2021 mutual option for $18 million, with a $5 million buyout. The Mariners are responsible for paying the buyout under the terms of the trade. So by the transitive property of deductive reasoning, the Cardinals are off the hook for a pro-rated $4 million, the Mariners off the hook for a pro-rated $5 million, and the Diamondbacks off the hook for a pro-rated $6 million. Leake could choose to walk, but if he chooses to stay, then the Diamondbacks get to decide whether to pay Leake $18 million to pitch in 2021 or force the Mariners to pay Leake $5 million to let him go. Leake forfeits $5,555,556. The amount actually saved should work out to $1,481, 482 (4/15 of the forfeiture) for the Cardinals, $1,851,852 (5/15 or 1/3 of the forfeiture) for the Mariners and $2,222,222 (6/15 of the forfeiture) for the Diamondbacks.

*Desmond is on the 4th year of a 5-year, $70 million deal and he will forfeit a pro-rated $15 million like Leake or $5,555,556.

*Salaries are figured in terms of days, so the formula is (X/162) * Y, where X is the salary for the year and Y is the number of games to be actually played, which we assume is 60. Numbers are rounded to the nearest integer.

COVID-19 RELATED INJURY LIST

On July 1st, I noticed unusual transactions on the MLB.com transaction page. As I alluded to above, the Blue Jays and Phillies both placed 4 players on the 10-day Injured List without disclosing a reason. My radar perked up immediately, because the rules do not allow players to be placed an injured list until 3 days before opening day. Clubs either wait until 3 days before opening day, or make the placement on opening day and then make the placement retroactive for 3 days, which is the maximum period of IL retroactivity. With the understanding that clubs needed to set their CPP with a 60-player limit, and that 60-day (now 45-day) IL placements open up a slot on the CPP, clubs were placing players on the 45-day IL before their CPPs were even announced. The Cards did this with John Brebbia. Because the 2020 Operations Manual did not require clubs to invite all of their 40-man roster players to summer camp or put them on the CPP, perhaps these placements were unnecessary. But the clubs, with the acquiescence of everyone, appeared to treat the traditional rule as waived with respect to the 60-day IL. But it had not appeared to be treated as waived for the 10-day IL, because that IL cleared neither a 40-man roster spot nor a CPP spot.

Even if I misunderstand that issue, I have never seen IL placements name no injury. As it turned out, the Phillies released a statement that the people on the transactions page had been put on the COVID-19 Related IL. Still this was strange, because the Operations Manual states that there is no minimum or maximum length of time one must spend on the COVID-19 Related IL, and the transaction page said they were placed on the 10-day IL without mentioning the COVID-19 Related IL. Furthermore the placements were made retroactive by one day, which doesn’t make any sense. Not only was the right IL not named by either club, but both clubs made the placements retroactive for no apparent reason. I’m not sure if it’s a clerical error, a case of not knowing the rules, the transaction pages not being coded correctly (for years the transaction pages have listed Rule 5 draft picks as waiver claims, which is completely wrong), or something else. The Blue Jays have not discussed their phantom IL placements at all.

One important thing to understand going forward is that we will only know about COVID-related IL placements, isolations or diagnoses if the particular player wants us to know. Attachment 18 to the 2017-2021 Collective Bargaining Agreement contains an authorization and HIPAA waiver that players sign that applies only to consultations pertaining to their Uniform Player Contract, the Collective Bargaining Agreement or any “work-related disability, injury, illness or condition.” COVID-19 related illnesses or diagnoses are not considered work-related under this provision, and thus clubs will not publicly disclose a COVID-related issue about a player without first obtaining that player’s permission. It appears that most players have granted that permission, but some have not. Regular staffers should have no need to sign that authorization, and I’m not sure why a manager, coach or other front office person would either.

This means that the COVID-19 Related IL is not presumptively public, and we may not know when teams use this list. Sometimes we might have a clue. If we know a 60-man CPP is full and no releases, DFAs or 60-day IL placements are announced, but yet people are announced as being added to the CPP, it’s a pretty good bet that the COVID-19 Related IL is responsible for clearing the spot. If the CPP is not full, we may never know. Clubs may not even bother making a COVID-19 Related IL move or say anything. if they don’t need the extra space. One might, however, be able to read between the lines. If a manager is asked where a player is and responds that he can’t say, why would that be? Is there any other context where an answer like to such a question is refused? All I can tell you about the list for sure is that if it is used, it does not mean someone has tested positive for the COVID-19 virus, there is no minimum or maximum length of stay on the list, and a placement on the list clears both a 40-man roster spot and a CPP spot. I still don’t understand why, once the Phillies disclosed that those 4 players had a COVID issue, the transaction pages call it the 10-day IL instead of the COVID-19 Related IL.

CONCLUSION

While we are very thankful that Ricardo Sanchez and Genesis Cabrera are asymptomatic and do not appear to be currently in pain or physical distress, this must have caused quite a bit of a scare, considering they were on a plane with 3 other players. These recent disclosures likely do not begin to even scratch the surface to make us aware of what all club players, personnel and their families must be going through right now to try to put a baseball product on the field. These disclosures surely represent just the beginning.