TORONTO, ONT – The struggling Minnesota Twins have arrived in Toronto with regular right fielder Max Kepler and relief pitchers Emilio Pagán, Caleb Thielbar and Trevor Megill on the restricted list to comply with the Canadian government’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate.
The four players will miss the three-game series against the Blue Jays. Canada requires anyone traveling to the country to have received two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine, the second one at least 14 days before entry.
Kepler will lose $111,264 of his $6.75 million salary, while Pagán loses $37,912, Thielbar $21,429 and Megill $11, 662.
Outfielder Mark Contreras and right-handed pitchers Jharel Cotton, Chi Chi González and Ian Hamilton were promoted from Triple-A St. Paul as weekend replacements for the Twins.
Manager Rocco Baldelli said the Twins were “prepared” for the roster shuffle required before their lone regular season visit to Canada.
“All the players knew, to one extent or another, what was going on,” Baldelli said. “You can’t tell 26, 30 guys what to think. That works in a lot of different directions, so we’re not going to do that."
“Our guys have responded to it, the guys that are here have responded to it well and just are looking forward as far as what we have to do this series and what we have to do going forward to win," he said.
Pagán discussed his decision not to get a shot with reporters Thursday before the Twins departed for Toronto.
“I know that there are going to be people that are very angry for this opinion and the stance, but that’s fine,” Pagán said. “I feel like I had a choice to make, and they have also a choice if they’re going to be mad at me or not."
Pagán was the losing pitcher on Thursday afternoon in Detroit after allowing a two-run homer to Daz Cameron in the eighth inning of a 3-2 defeat. He's one of the late-inning relievers for the AL Central-leading Twins, who have lost seven of their last 10 games, all to division bottom-dwellers Detroit and Kansas City.
“I’ve gone to every guy in this locker room and explained where I was, and how I came up with my decision, and apologized because I do know it’s hurting the team,” the 31-year-old Pagán said. “I do not believe this is a baseball decision. This is the Canadian government. It’s not even an MLB rule.”
Despite being in Detroit, the Twins took a flight across the border, rather than avoiding testing for COVID by driving into Canada. When they leave Canada and return home to host the Yankees, the Twins will drive two hours to Buffalo, New York, and fly to Minneapolis from there to avoid having to test when flying into the United States.
Kepler, a native of Germany in his seventh full season in the majors, currently has career bests in batting average (.253) and on-base percentage (.357) and is tied for second on the team with six homers.
Thielbar, the most-used left-hander in the bullpen, has a 5.59 ERA with 23 strikeouts in 19 1/3 innings. Megill, a righty in his first season with the Twins, has a 1.04 ERA with 12 strikeouts in 8 2/3 innings.
The Twins entered June with a particularly depleted roster, with a long injured list that includes starting pitcher Sonny Gray and rookie shortstop Royce Lewis. A handful of players are out with COVID-19, including shortstop Carlos Correa and starting pitcher Joe Ryan.
Outfielder Gilberto Celestino is also on the COVID IL, but traveled to Toronto with the team and is close to returning, Baldelli said.
“I think we could see him back in the next couple of days, back and active,” Baldelli said.
Pagán is 1-2 with seven saves and a 3.00 ERA in 18 games this season. He arrived in a trade with San Diego that sent relief pitcher Taylor Rogers to the Padres. Starting pitcher Chris Paddack, who also came to Minnesota in the deal, is done for the year to recover from Tommy John elbow surgery.
Players not allowed to travel into Canada to face the Blue Jays in Toronto because of their vaccination status will not be paid for those games missed, and do not accrue major league service time. The agreement with the MLB Players Association covering unvaccinated players and travel to Canada expires at the end of the 2022 season.
While the Twins were willing to let Pagán and others miss this trip, Baldelli said the situation would likely be different for any AL team making a postseason trip to Toronto.
“Any team that’s fortunate enough and good enough to be in the playoff discussion come August and September is going to have to broach this topic and probably revisit some conversations,” Baldelli said. “To think that any team is going to come up and beat the Blue Jays up here in a series with half a dozen guys not available to them, the odds are not with you if you think you’re going to do that.”
The Yankees, Astros and Rangers have all brought their full roster to Toronto this season. With four players missing, the Twins matched Cincinnati for the most unvaccinated absences.
Pagán said he wouldn't rule out getting vaccinated if it meant crossing the border for a playoff series.
“Yeah, of course, I've thought about it. I considered doing something to be able to go this time around," he said. "It's not like I'm anti-medicine. I just felt like I made a decision that was best for me at this time. Things can change. Studies change. I don't want to get into the science of it. I'm not a scientist. I'm not 100% against it, but I'm going to make a decision that I'm comfortable with, and right now when I consider it, I get anxious.”
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