By Daniel Otis
TORONTO (CTV Network) — The end of Canadian COVID-19 border restrictions means it’s back to business as usual for Major League Baseball and the Toronto Blue Jays, just in time for the playoffs.
The pandemic rules, which expire on Oct. 1, kept unvaccinated players from facing Canada’s only MLB team at home.
“The previous vaccination laws did prevent numerous teams from bringing their entire rosters to Toronto, which did benefit the Blue Jays in that other teams had to either rely on inexperienced players in a full-time role or opposing teams had to restructure their rotations accordingly,” Tyson Shushkewich, co-editor of the Jays Journal fan site, told CTVNews.ca.
Affected players were put on the restricted list, essentially meaning they were excused from games but not paid. While this usually only impacted a few players for most teams during the 2022 season, the Jays’ advantage was clear in July when 10 members of the Kansas City Royals skipped a four-game series in Toronto, which the Jays won 3-1.
Unlike the Blue Jays, the Royals are not contenders in this year’s playoffs, which begin Oct. 7. The Jays, who currently lead the race for an American League wild-card spot, were MLB champions in 1992 and 1993. They last won a post-season game in 2016.
“There are a few unvaccinated players on playoff teams who wouldn’t have been able to come to Toronto under the previous rules,” Cameron Lewis, editor-in-chief of the Blue Jays Nation fan site, told CTVNews.ca. “The only one who’s really a stand-out player is Robbie Ray of the Seattle Mariners.”
The left-handed pitcher was with the Jays for part of 2020 and all of the 2021 season, when he won the Cy Young award as the American League’s top pitcher. In the subsequent offseason, Ray signed a five-year deal with the Mariners; Lewis believes his vaccination status may have played a role. As a Mariner, Ray skipped a three-game series in Toronto in May; the Jays won two games. When the teams met again in Seattle in July, the Mariners swept the Jays in four games.
“Having to face Ray would be challenging, as he has become one of the Mariners’ top arms amongst a very strong rotation,” Shushkewich explained. “Ray also spent the past 1.5 seasons with the Jays, which would be an excellent matchup to see but one that might be difficult for the Jays hitters given his familiarity with the Jays roster and having pitched very well at the Rogers Centre.”
Because of Canadian pandemic restrictions, the Blue Jays also spent 2020 and much of 2021 playing home games in Dunedin, Fla., and Buffalo, N.Y., before returning to their Rogers Centre roost on July 30, 2021 – 670 days after their last game in Toronto.
“This was a disadvantage in that the club could not play in front of a home crowd compared to their counterparts and oftentimes had a healthy amount of opposing fans at their dedicated home ball games,” Shushkewich added.
The lifting of restrictions also means the Jays could have more freedom to both sign and trade for players who aren’t vaccinated going forward.
“Many have said that the border rules have been an advantage for the Blue Jays all season because some teams have to leave some players behind, but it’s actually been somewhat of a disadvantage to them because it added another obstacle to who they can acquire,” Lewis explained. “With the rule gone, the Blue Jays will be able to go about signing free agents, trading for players, etc., normally without worrying about who can and can’t cross the border.”
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