Coronavirus outbreak takes out 12 Marlins, now what the hell does MLB do?

And here we go:

The Miami Marlins‘ home opener against the Baltimore Orioles on Monday night has been canceled, sources told ESPN’s Jeff Passan, as coronavirus cases continue to pop up among the team.

Eight more players and two coaches with the Marlins have tested positive for coronavirus, as an outbreak has spread throughout their clubhouse and brought the total cases in recent days to at least 14, sources familiar with the situation told ESPN.

For those who haven’t been giving their rapt attention to the Miami Marlins season so far, on Sunday four players (including that day’s scheduled starting pitcher, Jose Urena) tested positive for the coronavirus that causes Covid, and were quarantined in their Philadelphia hotel. This morning, another eight players tested positive — no names as yet — and the Marlins responded by postponing their home opener that was slated to be played tonight.

Where the outbreak began is still unknown, and possibly unknowable: The Marlins played a road exhibition game in Atlanta last Wednesday, and both of the Braves‘ main catchers subsequently tested positive developed Covid symptoms, but that’s no proof that Marlins players caught it at home plate, or passed it to the Braves catchers at home plate, for that matter. And, of course, Florida itself is teeming with virus; Marlins manager Don Mattingly told the New York Times yesterday that he was looking forward to getting back home because “it feels safer in Miami than anywhere,” which just goes to show how people’s perceptions do not necessarily match reality.

Anyway, this is the existential crisis that MLB, and U.S. sports overall, was hoping to avoid: What happens when an entire team, or at least a large chunk of one, has to be quarantined at once? The Marlins could play by calling up minor leaguers (sorry, players from their “alternate training site”) to fill out their roster, but would they then mingle with players who were exposed to the positive-testing players in recent games? What about the Philadelphia Phillies, who just spent the last three days playing against the Marlins? When a similar situation cropped up in German soccer, the entire team was quarantined for two weeks, but rescheduling two weeks of soccer games is manageable; rescheduling a dozen baseball games would be much, much harder.

This, really, is the problem with all restart plans, whether for sports, schools, or whatever: What do you do when the inevitable positive tests start coming in? Test-and-trace is a broad principle that gives you a bunch of options — you can just keep quarantining individuals as they test positive and never mind those who’ve only been in contact with those who’ve tested positive, you can quarantine everyone with any contacts and accept that that may require shutting down for a while, or you can pick an arbitrary number where you freak out and shut everything down but up until then pretend that everything is fine. (This last one is what MLB appears to be going for.) The next 24 hours is likely to tell us a lot about how not just the baseball season, but reopenings of all kinds are likely to go as the virus continues to rage across the U.S., so watch this space for further developments.

UPDATE: This just in (h/t to Jim Naureckas):

If you get the nasal/throat swab or saliva test, you will get a false negative test result:

  • 100% of the time on the day you are exposed to the virus. (There are so few viral particles in your nose or saliva so soon after infection that the test cannot detect them.)
  • About 40% of the time if you are tested four days after exposure to the virus.
  • About 20% of the time if you develop symptoms and are tested three days after those symptoms started.

So if the Marlins want to ensure that anyone who was exposed to their spate of positive-testing players is safe to go back in the clubhouse, they really should not play any games for another week or two — or at least, only allow players from their taxi squad to play in those. Otherwise they risk having infected but non-positive-testing players infect the rest of the team, including the newly recalled substitutes. This is definitely shaping up to be a thing.

UPDATE #2: It’s now only eleven Marlins players who’ve tested positive, plus two coaches. A miracle!

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24 comments on “Coronavirus outbreak takes out 12 Marlins, now what the hell does MLB do?

  1. Americans have been grossly underestimating the dangers COVID presents from the outset. And unbelievably, we still haven’t learned the lessons we need to learn. We have to keep being stupid, and we have to keep paying for that stupidity.

    Anyone still think we’re going to have a 2020 NFL season? Because I’d bet everything I have and all I could beg, borrow or steal that they’ll never finish one if they start it.

    1. Underestimating the danger? What exactly is the danger from an otherwise healthy young athlete having it?

      1. Them getting a 104-degree fever and thinking they’re going to die?

        Or developing lingering symptoms that could affect them for we don’t know how long?

        Or spreading it to other people, of course, like family members, hotel workers, etc.

        1. So since one player got a 104 degree fever (which passed quickly and he’s playing now) we need to shut down the whole season? And those dangers that you mention in the last sentence already exist – are you claiming that if the season is cancelled that all baseball players are just going to stay in their houses and not interact with anyone else?

          1. I didn’t say we need to shut down the whole season. But it’s going to be hard to let the Marlins play any games the next week or two without the likelihood of many more players and staff and people they come into contact with getting sick. And the more people get sick, the greater the odds of some of them getting even sicker than “just” having a high fever and considering going to the hospital.

            I suppose one could make a cost-benefit analysis where the value of an uninterrupted baseball season outweighs the likelihood of some additional people dying, but as big of a baseball fan as I am and as much as I want Brandon Lowe’s hot start to count for my fantasy team, I’m pretty sure that’s a calculus I don’t want to live in.

          2. But that’s already happened. I guarantee that a few people every year die from something spread at a baseball game. We already accept those risks – so why is this any different?

          3. This argument seems a little like “Sure, cigarettes cause lung cancer, but if I smoke cigarettes I can only kill myself plus a couple of other people maybe with second-hand smoke, and 3,000 people a year die of food poisoning and we don’t outlaw food, so guess I may as well keep smoking!”

            I’m not sure which cognitive bias covers confusing small sample size with small impacts, but if anyone wants to have a go at searching, it’s probably in here somewhere:


          4. No, that’s your argument – that Covid is going to kill some players if they don’t immediately stop the season. You brought up Freddie Freeman who claimed that he thought he was going to die yet didn’t even go to the hospital.

            Maybe if we had any idea about total deaths from Covid (not with it, an entirely different thing) – or basically any information at all about it we could be making informed decisions. But we don’t.

        2. This would be easily solved if they just brought the expos back as a stand in team

  2. Who the hell wants to indulge any pro sports owner? Find something else to do and return to sports once this virus is tamed. Every pro sports team should have a large G on their jersies standing for Greed.

    1. Hard to disagree. With big TV contracts that ultimately are both richly rewarding and potentially devastating should a season not be played, this is a money play.

      Players contracts don’t pay them if they don’t play, so their interests lie in playing for that reason (their playing window is only so long, and losing a season of pay is tough to swallow) … and of course their player unions are looking beyond this year, because if the money shrinks, the salary shrinks leading to new problems.

      It’s gonna get interesting.

    1. Intriguing. This goes along with the generalized “problems with Covid testing”

      On the one hand, sports puts this under a microscope and perhaps we learn from it in a broader sense, and maybe testing improves in some way.

      And on the other hand, this makes all of this more difficult throughout society. And maybe sports should try and play on as much as possible.

      (I do not know the answer, either, I just find the learning opportunities to be tremendous)

  3. The Marlins played the Braves in an exhibition game. The Braves played the Mets. The Marlins went to Philadelphia for three games. The Mets are now going up to Boston. Braves are now playing the Rays in the nations hot spot for the virus. The Marlins may play the Orioles in Baltimore.

    I love baseball, but until all of these teams are checked out and cleared, is it wise to have them keep playing? What happens if a Mets player is found to test positive? Another team in the league, Red Sox, has now been exposed. How about the Rays? It pains me to say this, but baseball needs to shut down and just cancel the season. The players are traveling in planes and buses so how many more people involved with hotels, airlines, and transportation companies need to have an unnecessary increased risk of exposure?

    I don’t like the new extra inning rule or the new playoff format put in place due to the virus. I believe the league should try and start fresh in 2021. If the virus is still not under control, (heaven forbid), You can maybe start a 120-140 game season with more off days if you start and end the season as usual. MLB will have a few months to work out a detailed plan instead of the one that now appears to be rushed through.

    I love baseball, but the season seems to be tainted anyway with players choosing not to play or losing time for testing positive as well as the rule changes which I fee are hurting the game. Why not get a clean start in 2021 and have everything well planned out on how to continue and what to do if there is an issue? There could be a side benefit with possible labor issues at the end of 2021, I cannot image the players and owners wanting to have a stoppage especially losing the 2020 season and a possible modified 2021 season.

    1. You don’t have to quarantine everyone who’s tested positive and everyone who’s been in contact with them and everyone who’s been in contact with THEM and so on in an unending chain. But you do want to have a plan that will prevent runaway outbreaks, and MLB’s seems to have been “hope that doesn’t happen.”

      Right now the Marlins-Orioles games aren’t happening in Miami, but they may play Wednesday in Baltimore if the remaining Marlins test negative … today? Tomorrow? So much of this feels like quarantine theater, drawing arbitrary lines and deciding that this is safety, based less on what the virus is likely to do and more on what’s easy to accomplish. That could end okay — it did in European soccer — but that would probably require a community spread rate that is an order of magnitude less than what we have in most of the U.S. right now.

      1. I agree you don’t have to quarantine everyone in “the chain”. However, there is mounting evidence that people can actually be infected and possibly transmit the infection before they would even test positive given the testing methods we have at present.

        So, it might be prudent for all the Marlins and Braves (and arguably Phillies and Mets) to isolate for a few days until the infection would actually show up on our present tests.

        Manfred was on TV today saying effectively “we anticipated this and planned for it”. Well, good to know. But I don’t see how even a bastardized short season will be finished in anything like reasonable time, and with anything like representative play if several teams either have to skip games or play them with triple A players.

        I know there’s tons of money at stake (for all parties), but this season looks like it will carry the granddaddy of all asterisks even if it produces a “result”.

        1. Yep. One epidemiologist has suggested a two-week quarantine for the Marlins, and five days for the Phillies. That seems about right as a public health measure, but I bet MLB will rule it out as too impractical because the games gotta go on:

          1. There is the option of calling up the entire “travel” squad for the Marlins and Phillies and quarantining the current squad. The games will go on, but with basically the AAA/AA squad playing the games until there is an all clear

          2. Definitely. And with 15 Marlins now testing positive, playing with the entire taxi squad might not actually make that much of a difference.

            (Cue jokes about how you can’t tell the Marlins major leaguers from minor leaguers anyway.)

          3. Chortle. I watched a game of the KBO at one point. Boog Schambi was calling the game from his house and during an idle chatter moment said “I got used to seeing no fans in the stand when I called marlins games…”

            So yeah likely no one would notice.

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