Vaccination rules not tipping the scales in Blue Jays’ favour against U.S. teams

Toronto Blue Jays' Cavan Biggio, right, is caught stealing second by Kansas City Royals second baseman Whit Merrifield during the sixth inning of the second baseball game of a doubleheader. (Charlie Riedel/AP)

 

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TORONTO – Ever since the baseball world began to grasp the impact Canadian border-entry requirements would have on unvaccinated players and their teams, a dumb and lazy narrative has endured about the rules providing the Toronto Blue Jays with an unfair advantage.

Nevermind that COVID-19 vaccination is required for foreign nationals entering the United States – click here to find it on an official government website – or that the Blue Jays spent a season and a half playing their home games in Buffalo, N.Y., and Dunedin, Fla., or that they must draw from a smaller player pool than the other 29 clubs.

No one cares, and all that was irrelevant until unvaccinated Americans were forced onto MLB’s restricted list for a series by those annoying hosers audaciously enforcing the same border entry requirements for foreign nationals as the United States does.

Hence, interest was renewed in the issue this week when the Philadelphia Phillies arrived in Toronto down four players, including the not-letting-Canada-tell-him-what-to-do J.T. Realmuto, before the Kansas City Royals followed them here Thursday minus 10 players and three coaches.

Replacing nearly 40 per cent of a roster might have provided the Royals with some empathy into the COVID-19 chaos the Blue Jays have faced since the pandemic began.

Instead, indifference.

“It’s a tough scenario, it’s a tough situation. It has been from the very beginning,” Royals manager Mike Matheny replied when asked if his experience navigating the rules gave him some new insights into what the Blue Jays have been through. “There are some very capable people who have made decisions and continue to make decisions for states and countries. We just abide by the rules that are given to us and the rules that we have now have left some of our players back and we’ve got new players with opportunities. That’s the way we look at it without diving any deeper into it, but understanding that it’s different and not how we would design it. But it is where we are and now we move forward and we go do what we’re paid to do, which is play the game of baseball.”

Now, to be fair, the Royals are mired in their own mess between the personnel shuffling and dealing with the fallout from comments like those of Whit Merrifield.

Still, Matheny’s comments – he could have made a token nod at the toll of their displacement – are emblematic of how the Blue Jays’ plight has largely been secondary in the baseball world to the impact it has on other clubs. Like the New York Yankees and others whining about playing at Buffalo’s Sahlen Field or TD Ballpark in Dunedin.

You can’t blame the Blue Jays for being sick of the complaints of others.

“Everyone kind of says the same thing where it’s like, yup, we’ve got the same rules and we had them last year and the year before,” said interim Blue Jays manager John Schneider. “And if you want to go play in Dunedin, go ahead.”

The Royals are the 13th visiting club to arrive in Toronto this season and the 10 players they were down, including Merrifield and coveted trade chip Andrew Benintendi, pushed the total number of players put on the restricted list before a series in Toronto to 35.

Texas: None

Oakland (3): Kirby Snead, AJ Puk and C Austin Allen

Boston (3): Tanner Houck, Kutter Crawford, Jarren Duran

Houston: None

Yankees: None

Seattle (1): Drew Steckenrider

Cincinnati (4): Tyler Mahle, Brandon Drury, Albert Almora and Joel Kuhnel

White Sox (2): Kendall Graveman and Dylan Cease

Twins (4): Max Kepler, Emilio Pagan, Caleb Thielbar and Trevor Megill

Orioles (2): Anthony Santander and Keegan Akin

Rays (2): Brooks Raley and Ryan Thompson

Phillies (4): J.T. Realmuto, Alec Bohm, Aaron Nola, Kyle Gibson and Bailey Falter

Royals (10): Whit Merrifield, Andrew Benintendi, Hunter Dozier, Kyle Isbel, Michael A. Taylor, Cam Gallagher, M.J. Melendez, Brad Keller, Dylan Coleman and Brady Singer

Included in that list is Snead, the lefty reliever whom the Blue Jays traded to Oakland as part of the Matt Chapman deal back in spring training. Barring a change of heart, he would only have been eligible to pitch in road games, an obviously untenable situation.

That’s certainly a disadvantage in roster construction not faced by any of the other clubs and will factor significantly for the Blue Jays ahead of the trade deadline. Even if a potential unvaccinated target is willing to get his COVID-19 shots, arriving travellers must be 14 days clear of their second dose before being granted entry.

There’s still runway for an unvaccinated player to change his mind and help other clubs during their series in Toronto. But with the Aug. 2 deadline and the Blue Jays on the road until Aug. 12, they’d need a player to take his second dose by July 29 to not miss any games.

Those same challenges exist during the off-season, making trades and free-agent signings all the more complicated, and the Blue Jays have an advantage takes all the more asinine.

“We’ve had a disproportionate challenge for two years,” Blue Jays president and CEO Mark Shapiro said in an interview during the spring. “There’s no question we’ve considered that in how we ran our team and how we acquired players and talked to our players and emphasized how important it is, that it could be an advantage for us in some circumstances this year. But net-net, if you were to weigh out who’s had the advantage and disadvantage, I’d still say we’ve had the hardest path over the past couple of years. So I’m not that sympathetic to complaints.”

Nor should he be. Not only are the Canadian border entry requirements not giving the Blue Jays an unfair advantage, but they’re also not even helping to balance the scales.

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