ST. LOUIS -- After a week of quarantining and daily testing, the Cardinals have a return-to-play plan, despite finding out that an 18th member of the organization tested positive for COVID-19 on Thursday.
President of baseball operations John Mozeliak told reporters on a Zoom call Thursday that the individual who tested positive is a staff member, and the positive result comes after several days of inconclusive results. He is asymptomatic and has been in isolation for the past week.
Because the individual isolated and didn’t have contact with players or anyone else for a week, the Cardinals received clearance to resume their schedule with a doubleheader Saturday against the White Sox in Chicago, Mozeliak said. After playing the series finale Sunday against the White Sox, the Cardinals will move to the North Side to play five games against the Cubs in three days -- a doubleheader Monday, one game Tuesday and a doubleheader Wednesday, according to Mozeliak. That stretch will make up for last weekend’s postponed Cubs series, originally scheduled to be played at Busch Stadium.
“Confidence of getting back to play is very real, and we’re excited about that,” Mozeliak said Thursday.
To get to Chicago, the Cardinals rented 41 cars. Everyone who has quarantined over the past week will drive separately to avoid gathering. Those who have had no contact with the virus -- mostly the players from the team’s alternate training site in Springfield, Mo. -- will take a bus.
The next time the Cardinals will be together as a team will be when they get to Guaranteed Rate Field to play two seven-inning games on Saturday -- 17 days since their last game, a 3-0 loss to the Twins on July 29.
“You put a lot of trust and faith in what players have been trying to do when they’ve been at home,” Mozeliak said. “Overall, I feel like the vibe of the group has been very good. Candidly, I suspect that we might look a bit rusty, but we’re happy to be back playing baseball.”
Thursday’s news came at the one-week mark since the Cardinals last gathered for a workout at Busch Stadium. St. Louis (2-3) has played five games, while other teams have played as many as 20. The coronavirus outbreak that began spreading through the Cardinals’ traveling party at the end of July has affected 18 individuals -- 10 players and eight staff members -- and two weeks of the Cardinals’ schedule, most recently postponing this week’s Pirates series and Thursday’s scheduled doubleheader against the Tigers.
With the recent staff member’s positive test tracing back to this weekend -- and his exposure traced back to when the team returned to St. Louis on Aug. 5 -- the Cardinals have gone four days without a positive test. That’s twice the number of days from the last time they got back on the field, when they had two rounds of negative tests to return to St. Louis. Two days later, they learned of new positive tests and went back into quarantine.
This time, the team prioritized. It’s part of why Friday’s game was pushed to Saturday, to give the Cardinals one more round of testing, and why they will re-emphasize health and safety protocols again once the team does regather.
“Everybody’s aware that we are getting this second opportunity, and we need to make the most of it,” Mozeliak said. “And everybody needs to be accountable for themselves, and expectations of what that looks like are going to be very high. We will not tolerate mistakes.
“I don’t want to make it seem like we are upset with where we have come from, because again, anybody could get this. … But there still has to be a level of responsibility. For us, our season now has been shrunk in the number of days, and therefore the commitment has to be that much more demanding and higher than where we were three weeks ago.”
The focus this week has been putting distance between the outbreak and the Cardinals’ return. Daily testing at a drive-through setup at Busch Stadium has mostly been the only approved outing for players and staff, but Mozeliak confirmed that some players were allowed access to Busch Stadium for individualized and staggered workouts the past few days. There was never more than one player on the field at one time with a coach and a trainer. Those workouts have been key in the return-to-play plan -- without them, the Cardinals wouldn’t have wanted to go straight from quarantining to competition.
“You couldn’t just not do anything and go play, then you risk possible baseball injuries, which, given where we are right now, we just can’t afford,” Mozeliak said.
With 10 players out after testing positive, the Cardinals will play with a significantly different roster on Saturday, and Mozeliak outlined the roster moves that the team will make -- headlined by the promotion of top prospect Dylan Carlson. Additionally, the players who tested positive 11 days ago in Milwaukee will be unlikely to join the team while in Chicago, despite some of them having begun the protocols required to return.
Yadier Molina and Paul DeJong are two of those players, and they had to wait a minimum of seven days from their last positive test and be asymptomatic before starting the return process. They began testing again Sunday. Each player needs two confirmed negative tests at least 24 hours apart, as well as to pass a few other exams, before rejoining the team.
The Cardinals can add players to their 40-man roster to replace any who have tested positive for COVID-19, but such moves would require subsequent transactions to clear spots for those players to return.
With 44 days left in the season -- and with as many as 55 games to play in order to complete a 60-game season -- the Cardinals don’t have much room for schedule flexibility. Major League Baseball is expected to announce the Cardinals’ remaining schedule in the coming days.
Despite the monumental task ahead of them, the Cardinals still have their eyes on finishing the season. They hope that the pause in the schedule and the quarantine over the last week have eliminated their outbreak. Daily testing results will determine that, but the team is encouraged by the trend over the past few days.
“We’re 2-3,” Mozeliak said. “When you look at our schedule and potentially what it looks like, it’s daunting. Everybody would agree it’s not going be easy, but if this team clicks, it’s going to be very good. That’s what we believe. We’re going to approach this as if, candidly, we’re getting a second chance. And now that we have a second chance at this season, we should make the most of it.”