When can Red Sox infected players return? What we know about team's COVID timeline

AP PhotoXander Bogaerts, shown here diving back to second base, will likely miss at least 10 days after testing positive for COVID-19 on Tuesday. If all goes well, he could return in time for the start of Boston's upcoming road trip to the AL Central leading Chicago White Sox.

The Boston Red Sox are experiencing one of the worst COVID-19 outbreaks in baseball this year, and it’s happening at the worst possible time. There is only about a month left in the regular season and over the past week the team has lost eight players to either positive tests or close contacts.

With the club locked in a heated playoff race, Boston needs all the help it can get down the stretch, so when can we realistically expect the affected players to return?

The simple answer, we don’t know, but we can refer to the league’s COVID-19 protocols and the experiences of other clubs to get a rough idea of who might be eligible to return and when.

Assessing the Red Sox outbreak

According to the MLB health and safety protocols for 2021, individuals who test positive are required to isolate for a minimum of 10 days, receive appropriate care and monitoring from the club medical staff and be cleared by the league’s Joint COVID-19 Health and Safety Committee, as well as the team doctor, following a mandatory cardiac evaluation and a determination the individual no longer presents a risk of infection to others.

In addition, unvaccinated players who have been identified as close contacts will be required to quarantine for seven days and must test negative on day five or later, among other requirements, to rejoin the club.

In some cases there can be some flexibility. According to a league spokesperson, a few vaccinated players have been cleared to return sooner than 10 days if they aren’t deemed to be infectious. Vaccinated players who are close contacts also don’t have to quarantine.

The first Red Sox player to go down during the current outbreak was second baseman Kiké Hernández, who tested positive last Friday and has been quarantining in Cleveland ever since. Hernández was experiencing symptoms but is reportedly feeling better, and while the 10-day timeframe would have him eligible to return on Monday for the start of Boston’s upcoming home series against Tampa Bay, manager Alex Cora suggested he could be back by Saturday or Sunday for this week’s Cleveland Indians series.

Relief pitcher Josh Taylor, who was identified as a close contact on Monday during the fifth inning of the Red Sox 6-1 loss to the Rays, could potentially return for this coming Monday’s game as well.

Infielder Christian Arroyo would be the next player eligible to return. He was initially placed on the COVID-19 injury list last Friday as a close contact exposed to Hernández but later tested positive on Sunday. If all goes well, he could potentially return for the last game against the Rays next Wednesday.

Relief pitchers Martin Perez and Matt Barnes, who tested positive on Monday, and relief pitcher Hirokazu Sawamura and shortstop Xander Bogaerts, who both tested positive on Tuesday, could theoretically return in time for the next road trip. The Red Sox open a three-game series against the AL Central leading Chicago White Sox next Friday, by which point all four players will be 10 days removed from their positive tests.

Yairo Munoz, who became the most recent player to test positive on Wednesday, would be eligible to return for the second game of the Chicago series next Saturday but might not be needed in the big leagues if Hernández, Bogaerts and Arroyo have all returned.

How did Yankees fare with their outbreaks?

While no two COVID situations are alike, Red Sox fans can probably glean a lot from the rival New York Yankees’ own COVID struggles since the All-Star break. The Yankees had two separate outbreaks in mid-July and early August, placing a combined 10 players on the COVID-19 injured list during those stretches.

In the first instance, New York lost outfielder Aaron Judge, infielder Gio Urshela, backup catcher Kyle Higashioka, and pitchers Jonathan Loaisiga, Nestor Cortes Jr. and Wandy Peralta. A couple of weeks later, New York also lost starting pitchers Gerrit Cole and Jordan Montgomery, catcher Gary Sanchez and newly acquired first baseman Anthony Rizzo.

Of those 10 players Cortes Jr. was the only one who missed fewer than 10 days, spending eight days on the COVID-19 injured list between July 15-23. Two others, Urshela and Rizzo, only missed 10 days, and the rest were all out longer.

Judge and Higashioka were both out 11 days between July 16-27, and Sanchez missed 12 days from Aug. 5-17. Loaisiga was out 13 days between July 10-23, and Cole and Montgomery both missed 14 days and two starts each in early August. On the long end of the spectrum was Peralta, who missed a full 21 days between July 15 through Aug. 5.

The difference between 10 and 13 or so days might not seem like much, but for the Red Sox that could mean the difference between having Bogaerts for the big White Sox series or not. 

With the team fighting for its playoff life, the Red Sox have to hope their luck finally turns around and everyone is able to return as soon as possible.

Email: mcerullo@northofboston.com. Twitter: @MacCerullo.

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