Steele, Sampson banned from Toronto trip over vax status originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago
MILWAUKEE — One of last year’s least-vaccinated teams will have only two players miss the team’s trip to Toronto this week because of Canada’s ban on unvaccinated visitors, the team announced Sunday.
Pitchers Justin Steele and Adrian Sampson are expected to go on MLB’s restricted list, per rules hammered out between MLB and the union earlier this year, when the team travels to Toronto for a three-game series that starts Monday.
Canada only allows foreign visitors who can prove they’ve been fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
Players are not paid while on the restricted list.
“Time gives everybody a chance to form decisions,” manager David Ross said of the difference between the active roster’s vaccination status now compared to last year — when the Cubs were one of only six teams that did not reach the 85-percent vaccination threshold necessary for relaxing protocol restrictions.
“Information continues to come out about helping guys make the right decision,” he added. “Only two guys. You’d like it to be no one. But at the end of the day you trust everybody to make the best decision for them.”
Because the Cubs pulled Sampson from the game before he'd pitched four innings of Sunday's start against the Brewers, they will be allowed to replace him on the roster in Toronto; otherwise that spot would have remained vacant because of the assumption that a starting pitcher would not have been available for the series.
The Cubs haven’t announced who will replace the two pitchers, but Triple-A pitchers Jeremiah Estrada, a right-hander, and Brendon Little, a lefty, were in the postgame clubhouse in Milwaukee Sunday ahead of the charter to Toronto.
Neither is on the 40-man roster. Under the agreement teams have the freedom to replace the vax-sidelined players in Canada without consideration of whether a player is on the 40-man roster.
“It gives other guys an opportunity as well,” said Ross, who has rookie Javier Assad scheduled to start Monday's series opener and veteran Marcus Stroman — the former Blue Jay — scheduled Tuesday.
The Cubs have not announced a starter for Wednesday with recently promoted Luke Farrell a possibility depending on how much he might be needed out of the bullpen before then. Neither Little nor Estrada has made a start this season.
Even if the Cubs were relevant in the playoff race and wins/losses mattered, it’s close to a best-case roster scenario heading to Toronto. Sampson wasn’t going to pitch anyway, and Steele — who left his last start because of back soreness — gets at least a few extra days, whether he would have required that otherwise or not.
By contrast, the Kansas City Royals had 10 players miss their Toronto trip because of their vax status — by far the most in the majors this year.
And even the Cardinals, who had only three forced to skip the trip, lost their two best players — MVP candidates Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado — to the Canada ban.
“It is what it is,” Ross said. “Everybody has to deal with it around the league.”
Steele and Sampson are expected to throw bullpens in Chicago this week and rejoin the team for its weekend series in St. Louis.
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