Over the past couple of seasons, every team across the MLB has had to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent measures to keep players and fans safe during these trying times. This included an abbreviated season in 2020, that included no fans at any games, and having to deal with limited crowd sizes once fans were allowed back in the stadium. Arguably, the Blue Jays have been impacted the most by the pandemic, as they spent the entire 2020 campaign and over half of the 2021 season playing south of the border in either Dunedin or Buffalo, returning to the Rogers Centre in late July last year.
On top of that, both Canada and the United States started the year with border entry requirements for those unvaccinated against COVID-19, with both countries outlining different quarantine periods for any individual who did not meet this requirement yet crosses into the other country.
Because of these entry limitations, players coming to the Rogers Centre had to be vaccinated otherwise they were placed on the restricted list, losing both pay and service time for their choice to be unvaccinated. This meant many teams coming to play the Blue Jays had to leave a player or two behind, with the Kansas City Royals leading the way with ten just before the All-Star break.
This had impacts on the Blue Jays as well, as the club was limited in free agency and at the trade deadline, having to navigate another hurdle in regards to a player’s vaccination status and whether they would be either eligible to play in Canada or consider changing their mind regarding their vaccination status. As I mentioned earlier, they also played all of the 2020 campaign and a majority of their 2021 season away from the Rogers Centre, with some players never setting foot in Toronto during their time with the team (Joe Panik being one).
We knew a few players that potentially fit the Blue Jays’ needs at the deadline like Tyler Mahle and Andrew Benintendi, both of whom were unvaccinated, and were dealt to other playoff-contending teams at the deadline. The Jays made a risky move in acquiring Whit Merrifield at the deadline, one of the ten members of the Royals left behind earlier in the year, but he received the vaccine and was able to cross without undergoing quarantine procedures when coming to Canada.
This is all set to change, however, as the federal government announced its plans to start rolling back some of the parameters set in place regarding border entry, starting with making the ArriveCAN app optional and then leading to dropping the vaccine requirement by the end of the month.
How does this impact the Blue Jays?
Well for starters, any opposing team with players who were on the restricted list will be able to cross now without limitation, meaning after the entry requirements are dropped and if the Jays make the playoffs, they will be facing a complete opposing squad compared to some players having been left behind in previous contests.
Benintendi on the Yankees (when he was with the Royals), Robbie Ray and Drew Steckenrider on the Seattle Mariners, and Brooks Raley on the Tampa Bay Rays were players that had to stay behind during previous stints to Toronto, and will now be able to cross the border and play at the Rogers Centre should any of these teams meet the Jays in the postseason. This would also mean the Jays would have to secure the AL East title, the first AL Wild Card spot or advance out of the AL Wild Card, as a second or third place finish does not guarantee any playoff action at the Rogers Centre this year.
Ray is the biggest threat of the bunch, as he has been having a great resurgence as of late for the Mariners, to the tune of a 3.00 ERA through his last seven starts. There was always a chance that this group could be vaccinated before the postseason began but with these changes to the Canadian entry requirements, they don’t necessarily need to anymore.
While this could have some impacts on the playoff outlook for the Jays, there is one positive to take away from the dropping mandates, and that is with regard to the upcoming offseason.
The Blue Jays front office no longer has to contend with vaccination questions or quarantine impacts when persuing or trading players this winter, which helps this squad who has at least a few more years of playoff contention in their viewpoint with the current core.
I would imagine Ross Atkins can now explore some potentially bigger deals or players (maybe moving a catcher), given the upcoming free agent class does have some strong names like Carlos Rodon (opt-out), Justin Verlander (opt-out), Aaron Judge (one can dream), and a handful of other talented players and the trade market could become lively as well.
Overall, the relaxing of the border entry requirements is a move that people across Canada likely saw coming, maybe not as soon as the end of September however.
While the initial reaction may be one that showcases a negative impact on the Jays and their postseason aspirations (especially if they face Ray and the Mariners in the AL Wild Card at the Rogers Centre), there is a positive when you look further ahead to the offseason and a few hurdles being dropped for the Blue Jays front office.