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MLB’s Canadian conundrum

Here’s an interesting wrinkle to the recently-resolved MLB lockout.

With the Major League Baseball season set to start, unvaccinated players will once again need to sit out series against the Toronto Blue Jays at Rogers Centre.

Players who haven’t been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 will not be able to play in Toronto.

In addition, unvaccinated players won’t be paid for games or service time for the entirety of a series played north of the border. Each day spent on a baseball club’s active roster or injured list represents one day of service time.

Current vaccination guidelines still doesn’t allow foreign unvaccinated travellers to cross the Canadian border. Athletes no longer have special status in order to travel without having taken the vaccine after the federal government revoked the exemption on Jan. 15.

Sportsnet’s Shi Davidi reports the subject was “a significant point” in players’ CBA discussions with “a few teams” taking issue before ultimately relenting.

According to the story, about 88% of “tier one individuals” are fully vaccinated, which includes players, coaches, and other staff that travel with the teams, so the extent of the problem should be relatively limited. Still, if we assume that is the value for active players as well, on a 26-man roster, that’s three players per team, and as anyone familiar with the Kyrie Irving situation knows, who the unvaxxed players are matters. It’s one thing to miss a reliever at the back of the bullpen or a starting pitcher whose turn in the rotation wouldn’t have happened anyway. It’s another thing to miss your starting catcher or an All Star outfielder. Some teams will be much more affected than others, and if a team in the same AL East division as the Jays has its own Kyrie on it, that could affect the playoff races.

The collective bargaining agreement that has settled the lockout is still preliminary and subject to some details being worked out, including those relating to this situation. It may be that Canada eventually relaxes this rule, and it may be that some holdout players give in so as not to be the reason why their teams are disadvantaged. Most likely, this will be an ongoing story and another reminder that however done we may be with COVID, COVID is not done with us.

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