Twins put 4 on restricted list for Toronto trip
Before the Twins' series opener against the Blue Jays on Friday, the club placed four players on the restricted list: outfielder Max Kepler and relievers Emilio Pagán, Caleb Thielbar and Trevor Megill.
The Twins did not officially specify a reason for the moves, but Kepler, Pagán and Thielbar all confirmed to media that they were unable to join the club in Toronto because they were not vaccinated against COVID-19, as is required by Canadian federal law to enter the country, while sources indicated that was also the reason for Megill's absence.
"I mean, I think everyone in the clubhouse kind of respects where we’re at," Thielbar said. "It’s a good group of guys. No one’s getting defensive about it. We’ve had conversations about it and everything. It’s been OK. I’ll just say that. I don’t think it’s going to put a rift in the clubhouse or anything."
In corresponding moves, the Twins selected the contracts of right-handers Chi Chi González, Ian Hamilton and Jharel Cotton from Triple-A St. Paul and recalled outfielder Mark Contreras from St. Paul. González was inserted into the rotation to start Friday's series opener against the Blue Jays.
“As a whole, we were prepared for this," said manager Rocco Baldelli. "All the players knew to one extent or another what was going on. You can’t tell 26, 30 guys what to think and that works in a lot of different directions. So, we’re not going to try to do that. But what we wanted was for everyone to understand what was going on and to be aware of that well beforehand. That way, you can process what’s happening and how it affects you, personally. These are very complicated things and not everyone apparently agrees on the right way to handle these situations.”
A source indicated that the trio of players who hadn't been on the 40-man roster can be freely moved back to the Minor Leagues and removed from the roster at a later date without being exposed to outright waivers.
The moves come at the time of already severe roster attrition and performance struggles for the Twins, who dropped four of five games in Detroit to begin their road trip. Opening Day starter Joe Ryan and superstar shortstop Carlos Correa remain sidelined on the COVID IL, while Sonny Gray, Josh Winder, Danny Coulombe, Cody Stashak, Jorge Alcala, Miguel Sanó and others are sidelined by injuries.
“There’s been a lot of education [on the vaccine]. I think you do get to a point where it goes beyond educating and people start to feel like you’re just telling them what to do," Baldelli said. "… At this point, we have games to play. We don’t have time, to be honest, to continue to have the same discussion over and over again. If something changes, then we’ll talk about it. But, right now, we have to worry about playing the Blue Jays. And the guys that aren’t here will use these three days to get as prepared as they can for when we get back and have the Yankees series.”
The players who spoke to media indicated that there had been open conversations in the clubhouse leading into the trip regarding the situation. Pagán and Kepler did not go into detail about why they did not choose to be vaccinated, while Thielbar indicated that a previous adverse reaction to a vaccine played into his decision.
Pagán said that he approached every player in the clubhouse to apologize for his absence and explain his decision.
"I feel like I'm letting the team down by not being able to go," Pagán said. "But ultimately, I made a decision that I felt was the best for my health and for my family. I know there's going to be people who are very angry at me for having this opinion and this stance. That's fine, too.
"I feel like I had a choice to make, and they also have a choice if they're going to be mad at me or not. So that's fine. I understand that. I know it's part of the territory. I've explained myself to anyone that asked and I'm not afraid to answer questions."
"At this point, there’s nothing we can do about it so we’re going to deal with it," Thielbar said. "It’s not fun. I don’t want to be away from the guys, but it’s a decision that I’ve made and we’re going to have to live with it for now."
The impacted players' absence will leave the bullpen particularly shorthanded, as Pagán and Thielbar were two of the club's higher-leverage arms, while Megill has also been effective in a shorter stint with the big league club.
Jhoan Duran, Tyler Duffey and Joe Smith will likely be leaned on more heavily in leverage situations, while Griffin Jax could be asked to step into more significant situations late in games as well.
"In my opinion, it's sad that I can't join the team, especially now where we've lost a couple of games," Kepler said. "Everyone needs to be together. It's sad."
The restricted players will work out at Target Field until their teammates return following the three games in Toronto. Kepler will have the chance to treat and rest his sore quad ahead of the upcoming homestand against the Yankees and Rays.
"The COVID vaccination situation, we've known," said right-hander Chris Archer, who is part of the group continuing on to Toronto. "The guys who aren't going, we've known the whole time. So we're just going to adjust and plan accordingly. Good teams can overcome a little bit of adversity, and I think we will."