TORONTO – The struggling Minnesota Twins arrived in Toronto without regular right fielder Max Kepler and relief pitchers Emilio Pagán, Caleb Thielbar and Trevor Megill; all are on the shortlist to comply with the Canadian government’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate.
All four players will miss the three-game series against the Blue Jays. The Twins were waiting to announce the substitutions until game time on Friday night. Canada requires anyone traveling to the country to have received two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine, the second at least 14 days before entry.
Pagán discussed his decision not to get shot with reporters before the Twins left for Toronto.
“I know there will be people who will be very angry with this opinion and this position, but it’s okay,” Pagán said. “I feel like I have a choice to make, and they also have a choice whether they’re going to be mad at me or not.”
Pagán was the losing pitcher Thursday afternoon in Detroit after allowing a two-run homer to Daz Cameron in the eighth inning of a 3-2 loss. He’s a late-inning reliever for the AL Central-leading Twins, who have lost seven of their last 10 games, all to bottom-division dwellers Detroit and Kansas City.
“I went to all the guys in that locker room and explained where I was and how I made my decision, and apologized because I know it hurts the team,” said Pagan, 31 years old. “I don’t believe it’s a baseball decision. It’s the Canadian government. It’s not even an MLB rule.”
Kepler, who was born in Germany and is 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 in the team with six home runs.
Thielbar, the most-used southpaw in the bullpen, has a 5.59 ERA with 23 strikeouts in 19 1/3 innings. Megill, a right-hander 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 short roster, with a lengthy injured list that includes starting pitcher Sonny Gray and rookie shortstop Royce Lewis. A handful of players have been out with COVID-19, including shortstop Carlos Correa and starting pitcher Joe Ryan.
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 as part of the deal, finished the year recovering from elbow surgery for Tommy John.
Players who are not allowed to travel to Canada to face the Blue Jays in Toronto due to their vaccination status will not be paid for those missed games. The agreement with the MLB Players Association covering unvaccinated players and travel to Canada expires at the end of the 2022 season.
For any teams that face this problem for road games in Toronto, a bigger problem awaits in October if the Blue Jays make the playoffs. If their opponent were to be the Twins, Pagán said he wouldn’t rule out getting a shot then.
“Yes, sure, I thought about it. I considered doing something so I could go this time around,” he said. “It’s not like I was anti-medicine. I just felt like I made a decision that was best for me at the time. Things can change. Studies change. I don’t want to get into science. 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’m thinking about it, I become anxious.