By Rob Rains
The Cardinals will be without their two most prominent players, All-Stars and MVP candidates Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado, for their two-game series this week in Toronto because of Canada’s Covid vaccination requirements.
John Mozeliak, the Cardinals’ president of baseball operations, said in a media zoom call on Sunday that the decisions by Arenado and Goldschmidt, two of the team leaders, not to get vaccinated was a “personal” decision.
“Over the last couple of years we’ve all been dealing with the pandemic. Everybody’s had to make their own decisions on how they participate with some of the rules that were put in place, whether that was wearing masks to not wearing masks to getting the vaccination to not,” Mozeliak said.
“I guess the one sort of positive here is that it’s only two games. From that standpoint life will find a way of going on. I don’t think it’s in anybody’s best interest to try to pass judgement or try to make this more than what it is. They’re not available and we’re going to have to go play the games.”
A third player on the active roster, backup catcher Austin Romine, also is not vaccinated and will not be with the team in Toronto for the games on Tuesday and Wednesday. Neither will reliever Johan Oviedo, but for a different reason.
Mozeliak said Oviedo has a Cuban passport that has expired and the team was not able to get it renewed in time before they were to leave for Toronto following Sunday’s game in Cincinnati.
Replacing Goldschmidt, Arenado and Romine on the roster will be Ivan Herrera, Conner Capel and Cory Spangenberg, who has played all season at Memphis. The three missing players will be activated before the next series begins on Friday in Washington, D.C.
Mozeliak said that his biggest hope is that the decisions by Arenado and Goldschmidt will not become an issue inside the clubhouse.
“A lot of these issues can be quite polarizing,” Mozeliak said. “What I’m hoping to do is avoid that polarization with our club because look, we all have strong opinions on what we think the right answer should be but we also all understand that’s hard to convince people to do something that they are not comfortable doing.”
Both Arenado and Goldschmidt told reporters in Cincinnati that they made the decision not to get vaccinated based on what they believed was best for their health.
Goldschmidt said that in his opinion, “the potential risks outweigh the potential benefits of doing it. It stinks that I can’t play in Toronto. I hate that part of it but that’s unfortunately a consequence. It’s a very personal, private medical decision… I think you’ve got to put your health above everything and for me, this was the best decision for my health and I have to suffer the consequences.”
Said Arenado, ““I just feel healthy. I didn’t feel like I needed to get it… It’s just a personal choice. I’m not trying to do a political stand here like I’m a spokesperson for this stuff. I’m not. I’m just choosing to do what’s best for me and my family.”
Mozeliak said he had discussed the situation with both players but not with the intent of trying to get them to change their minds, saying it wasn’t something “we were pounding the table for.”
“We sort of talked about it, but it wasn’t something that I thought anyone was going to change their minds … Each person will have their own reason for it (not getting vaccinated) and the easiest way for us to handle this is we have to respect that and just know that we have to play two games in Toronto,” Mozeliak said. “It’s really difficult I think for someone like myself to condemn or be upset of how someone is thinking about something.
“I think most people respect what they do on the field and what they do in the clubhouse and my guess would be that even though to some people this may be disappointing I think they still have a lot of capital in the clubhouse and will still be respected.
“From our perspective we understand that these are tough decisions. What we don’t want to do is have this become some sort of first step in fracturing what a positive clubhouse we have. My hope is that we get through these two days and move on.”
Knowing that a division title or perhaps a wild-card berth could be decided by one or two games when the Cardinals were not able to have their two best players in the lineup is just a reality the team will have to try to overcome, Mozeliak said.
“Clearly in my seat you would like to run out your best club everyday but there’s days when we can’t for various reasons,” Mozeliak said. “This two-game set in Toronto becomes no different.
“I understand all games matter, I get that. For example, there was a night a couple of weeks ago where we didn’t have our closer available. It’s kind of similar. You like to be able to have your best available all the time but it just doesn’t happen … Will our lineup look a little different in Toronto? Yes.”
Since Arenado joined the Cardinals last season, they have not played a game that didn’t feature at least he or Goldschmidt in the starting lineup.
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Photo by AP courtesy of KSDK Sports