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MLB faces first test of season as multiple Marlins test positive for COVID-19

It was never a question of if an outbreak would happen, but when. Now, MLB has to figure out how to move forward.

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MLB: Seattle Mariners-Workouts Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

UPDATE 7/28: The Marlins season is officially “paused” now as MLB figures out how to proceed. Phillies are as well, though they are confirmed to be starting back up on Friday against the Blue Jays.

We’re not even a week into the regular season for MLB, and the league has hit its first significant bump in the road. Today, it was announced that several players from the Miami Marlins tested positive for COVID-19. Soon after this announcement, MLB postponed the Marlins’ home opener against the Orioles, as well as the Yankees-Phillies game that was scheduled for today (the Phillies are Marlins played over the weekend). No other games have been postponed yet, while the Marlins and Phillies undergo additional testing to find out how many other players and personnel were also infected.

Here is the official statement on the situation from MLB:

This is the first major test of the season for MLB. Protocols are in place to handle a situation like this, and the teams are doing as much as they can to isolate players until further notice. However, the infection within the Marlins had already spread significantly. Ken Rosenthal reports that seven new players had tested positive in the Marlins team, in addition to four cases reported in the three days before that. It’s unknown if the Phillies have had any cases as well, though the team is undergoing testing today that is being immediately taken to a nearby lab at Rutgers. Even if the tests come back all negative, there’s still concern that the virus could be incubating and show up in the next few days.

As of now, no other games have been postponed. The Brewers-Pirates game tonight is still on schedule to happen, and other games are being played now. However, everyone is watching what happens with the Marlins, Phillies, and other related teams now. There’s also been concern about the Braves, who the Marlins played before the season began in an exhibition. It is possible that Braves players could also be infected but not know it yet.

The best case scenario is that it’s isolated to the Marlins and they’ve caught all the cases. The Marlins will have to fill those spots for now with players from their 60-man player pool to keep playing this season. The worst case scenario could mean the season is done. If this outbreak extends beyond the Marlins, it could take a while to catch the full scope of it. That would put many more players and personnel in danger. It would be incredibly difficult to recover from that.

There’s also criticism that the Marlins even played Sunday’s game after the first tests came back positive. Matt Gelb of The Athletic discussed this, asking how the game could go on knowing a significant number of tests (four at that time) had been positive. It’s a fair question in hindsight, when so many tests came back positive at the same time. It shows how quick a situation can change, where one day only a few positive tests have been found, and the next day, several more have been added.

It’s also worth asking how seriously some players are taking the risks to play this season. MLB has a 113-page document listing all the protocols that need to be in place for this season to happen. However, if you look at games, look at the dugouts so far this season, look at the teammates and their celebrations, not all of these protocols are being followed. Players are sitting in the dugouts without masks. Close quarter meetings are still happening. Celebrations with contact are still happening. It’s unreasonable to expect that all of that would just stop in the name of protecting everyone. Some of that is to be expected, as maintaining absolute 100% compliance with so many rules would be exhausting, and even the most dedicated people would slip up. However, are the teams doing enough right now?

For now, it’s all a fluid situation. Games will continue for now. The cases will be isolated and potentially affected players will be tested to get the full scope. It’s not time for full panic yet, but concern is absolutely elevated. The season is on the line over the next few days, and even if MLB manages to contain this outbreak, it’s a reminder of how quickly this season could unravel.