Seven members of the Guardians coaching staff are in MLB Health and Safety Protocols following an apparent COVID outbreak. Pitching coach Carl Willis will serve as acting manager in this weekend’s series in Minnesota. Per Mandy Bell of MLB.com, those in the protocol include bench coach Demarlo Hale, hitting coach Chris Valaika, assistant pitching coach Joe Torres, first base coach Sandy Alomar Jr., third base coach Mike Sarbaugh, and hitting analyst Justin Toole, as well as manager Terry Francona. Only Francona and Hale are confirmed to have tested positive for the virus.
While the Guardians’ coaching situation does put the league into uncharted territory as it attempts to navigate the risk-reward of playing games in the midst of intra-team (or, in this case, intra-staff) outbreaks, it doesn’t come entirely as a surprise. MLB’s postponement of yesterday’s game against the White Sox due to COVID concerns — its first of the season — indicated a level of uncertainty regarding the scope of the outbreak sufficient for the commissioner’s office to step in. It remains unclear if any Guardians players were exposed to the virus, though Jesse Rogers of ESPN did report (via Twitter) that positive tests were “mostly” confined to coaches and traveling staff. The only Guardians player currently on the COVID IL is infielder Yu Chang, who went on the list in mid-April and has been on a rehab assignment with Triple-A Columbus since early last week.
A statement from Guardians president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti noted that “individuals throughout the organization” would support the team until coaches are able to return. Paul Hoynes of cleveland.com reports that these coaches will be drawn from the minor league ranks, though which coaches the team will call up, as well as how long they’ll stay, remains to be seen.
The Guardians may well have dodged a bullet if the outbreak leaves the roster unaffected, though the situation remains fluid. The official MLB-MLBPA health and safety protocols, which give the commissioner’s office final authority over cancellations, states that “MLB intends to postpone games only if necessary to protect the health and safety of Club personnel, players and umpires. Games will not be postponed for competitive reasons provided the Club has a sufficient number of players available to substitute those players on the Active Roster who are unavailable to play as a result of COVID-19.”