TORONTO — The Twins started a weekend series Friday against the Blue Jays without four players who were unable to travel to Canada due to their vaccination status.
Right fielder Max Kepler and relievers Emilio Pagan, Caleb Thielbar and Trevor Megill are all on the suspended list and returned to Minnesota after Thursday’s game. Canadian law requires all travelers to be vaccinated against COVID-19 before entering the country.
“I’ve been very open with everyone in the organization since the day they traded for me,” Pagan said. “I told them that if anyone wanted to ask me questions, I wouldn’t hide. I felt like I had that responsibility after making the decision not to get vaccinated, that no one else should be answering questions for me.”
Pagan said he went to each of his teammates to explain his absence and how he made his decision. Pagan, Kepler and Thielbar all mentioned that the situation wasn’t an MLB rule but a law from another country.
Thielbar traveled to Canada for the Blue Jays series last season before the current law came into force.
“It’s not fun. It’s frustrating,” said Thielbar. “…All were tested last year regardless of vaccination status and it was fine. The unvaccinated boys had to stay in our room the whole time we were up there. It was basically 100 percent certain that we would not be bringing COVID into Canada.
“There’s no testing this year and I think everyone is quite aware that we’ve had COVID in our clubhouse for the past month and it’s almost certain we’ll bring it to Canada this year.”
Shortstop Carlos Correa, starter Joe Ryan and outfielder Gilberto Celestino all recently tested positive for COVID-19, as did several people in the team’s travel group.
Kepler declined to specifically state the reason for his non-vaccination. Thielbar said he’s had an adverse reaction to the flu shot in the past, which made him suspicious. Thielbar had COVID early in the pandemic, as did Kepler at the start of the 2021 season.
To replace the four, the twins called up outfielder Mark Contreras, Friday starter Chi Chi Gonzalez and substitutes Ian Hamilton and Jharel Cotton.
Players on the restricted list are not paid, so they lose three days’ wages or 1.6% of their season’s earnings. Kepler loses $108,289 of his $6.7 million salary, Pagan loses $36,898 of his $2.3 million, Thielbar is docked $20,856 of his $1.3 million and Megill, who makes at least $700,000, would lose $11,230.
“I think it’s sad that I can’t join the team, especially now that we’ve lost a few games,” said Kepler. “Everyone has to be together. It is sad.”
Starter Chris Archer said everyone in the clubhouse respects the personal choice of the unvaccinated players and will do their best without them. Both teams are in playoff talks and the tenor could change should they meet in the postseason.
“Any team that’s lucky enough and good enough to be in the playoff discussion when you get into August and September needs to address that issue and probably revisit some conversations,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said, “because believing that every team will come and beat the Blue Jays up here in a streak with half a dozen guys unavailable to them, the odds aren’t on your side if you think you will.
Pagan said he’s already considered that scenario and even considered “doing something to get through this time.”
“Things can change. Studies change,” Pagan said. “… Thinking about it makes me anxious and uncomfortable with the decision at the moment. I know people will be upset about this, but that’s exactly what I’m aiming for.”
The CDC has determined that vaccines are effective in protecting against COVID-19 and side effects of vaccination are rare. They are FDA approved and recommended for everyone ages 5 and up.
“There was a lot of education. I think you get to a point where it goes beyond education and people start to feel like you’re just telling them what to do,” Baldelli said, speaking broadly of those who don’t want vaccination. “And I think that’s also a group that doesn’t want to be told what to do.”
All beliefs notwithstanding, the twins will not be at full strength this weekend.
“I feel like I’m letting the team down,” Pagan said, “by not being able to go.”