Less than a week in, the 2020 Major League Baseball season has already reached its first crisis point, with the Miami Marlins reportedly stuck in Philadelphia and forced to cancel their home opener in Miami on Monday night after as many as a dozen players and coaches tested positive for the coronavirus.
The outbreak potentially has far-reaching consequences beyond the Marlins - who would have hosted the Baltimore Orioles at Marlins Park on Monday night - as MLB also postponed Monday night's scheduled game between the Philadelphia Phillies and New York Yankees in Philadelphia, according to reports. The Phillies hosted the Marlins for three games this weekend, and the Yankees would be occupying the same visitors' clubhouse the Marlins just departed.
Major League Baseball has made no formal indication of what it would take to halt the 2020 season, with the ultimate decision resting with Commissioner Rob Manfred. An MLB spokesperson did not immediately return a message seeking comment Monday.
On Sunday, following their game against the Phillies, the Marlins decided to remain overnight at their Philadelphia hotel rather than travel home as scheduled, after three players tested positive. A fourth had tested positive on Friday. The plan, at that point, was to fly home Monday in time for their 7:10 p.m. game at Marlins Park against the Orioles.
In the meantime, the rest of the team's traveling party was awaiting test results, which according to ESPN, resulted in an additional eight players and two coaches testing positive. Under MLB's 2020 operations manual, players or coaches who test positive on the road are required to remain in that city and quarantine for 14 days, and must test negative twice at least 24 hours apart to return to the roster.
"This is off-the-charts bad," said Zachary Binney, an epidemiologist and assistant professor at Oxford College of Emory University. "MLB should probably shut the Marlins down for two weeks, shut the Phillies down for five days and . . . hope there isn't a broader problem."
Although Marlins players and officials said there was no discussion of canceling Sunday's game in Philadelphia, despite a total of four Marlins players testing positive between Friday and Sunday, Binney said: "I can't believe they played that game yesterday. Four cases should have been enough to cancel it."
Unlike most other major sports leagues, MLB decided against the "bubble" model of bringing teams together, under strict quarantine rules, to one or two hub cities to stage its season - an option the players' union rejected this spring. Instead, the 30 MLB teams are playing in 30 different stadiums and traveling between cities, a step that experts believe increases the degree of difficulty for pulling off a season.
Teams have been granted expanded, 30-man rosters at the start of the season, plus up to an additional 30 reserves who train at an alternative site - which means the Marlins, theoretically, could field a team for its upcoming games, made up of a combination of unaffected players from their big league roster and reserves from their alternative site in nearby Jupiter, Fla.
However, the larger questions are how the Marlins' outbreak occurred and whether such a crisis, coming within days of teams beginning to travel for games, is cause enough for MLB to take stronger action. Although Florida has among the highest caseload of coronavirus of any state in the United States, the Marlins have been out of the state for nearly a week, having played exhibition games in Atlanta last week before opening their season in Philadelphia.
"This was always my concern," Binney said. "I anticipated an outbreak on a team, especially on a team from a city with a high incidence of the virus. Unfortunately, I'm not surprised to see it happened to a team from Miami."