CLEVELAND — If you were ranking the most valuable players of this Red Sox season, Kiké Hernández would have to be in the top three or four.
He has started games at three positions, hit leadoff 96 times and has an .811 OPS.
Hernández’s defense in center field has been so outstanding the Sox haven’t missed Jackie Bradley Jr.’s golden glove as much as was feared.
Cut it up any way you want. Hernández has been everything the Sox hoped for since he was signed to a two-year, $14 million deal.
But he hasn’t played since Thursday and won’t be playing again any time soon through no fault of his own.
Hernández, who was vaccinated in early April, contracted a breakthrough case of COVID-19. That typically means he will be out at least 10 days, although there is hope it could be a few days less.
Alex Cora said Friday that Hernández has been particularly careful about wearing a mask and socially distancing because he wants to keep his wife, baby daughter, and other family members safe.
Good for him. If only everybody felt that way.
If the Red Sox know how Hernández caught the virus, they aren’t saying. But teammate Christian Arroyo was deemed a close contact and has since tested positive. Strength and conditioning coach Kiyoshi Momose, one of the best in his business, also tested positive.
Hernández, Arroyo and Momose remained behind in Cleveland when the Red Sox left for Florida after Sunday’s 7-5 loss to the Indians.
The Sox will open a crucial four-game series against the Tampa Bay Rays on Monday night with Jonathan Araúz likely starting at second base instead of Hernández or Arroyo.
Araúz won Friday’s game with a surprise three-run homer in the eighth inning, but he’s still a Triple A player at this stage of his development after being a Rule 5 selection in 2019.
So the Sox will face the Rays without one of their best players in Hernández and a key backup in Arroyo.
This is going to be a concern over the remaining 30 games with COVID-19 cases again on the rise across the country. The Sox remain one of six teams in baseball not to have 85 percent of the players, coaches and staffers vaccinated.
That’s the level that Major League Baseball considers a team to be fully vaccinated for the purposes of relaxing certain protocols.
Cora, who has been a staunch advocate for vaccination, was once optimistic the Sox would clear that mark. But in recent weeks he seems resigned to the idea they won’t.
That has been an embarrassment for the organization all season but now it’s something that could contribute to keeping them out of the playoffs.
The Sox have won their last three series and are again positioned to claim at least a wild-card berth. But they can’t afford too many steps back. Not having Hernández available for the Rays series is a loss that perhaps could have been avoided.
It’s impossible to predict to what degree the pandemic will still be impacting the country in the days leading up to next season. But clearly more needs to be done to avoid these issues.
ESPN reported the Astros and Nationals now mandate vaccines for non-playing employees. More teams should follow their example.
Teams also should consider making admission to the ballpark contingent on proof of vaccination or a recent negative test.
That’s something the Las Vegas Raiders are doing this season along with an increasing number of Division 1 football teams, including Boston College. So are big music acts such as Foo Fighters.
And while it would surely be a non-starter for the Players Association to agree to mandating vaccines for players, MLB can follow the NFL’s example and institute protocols that compel players to be vaccinated or face strict restrictions otherwise.
Not much was expected of the Sox this season and they’re on pace to win 93 games. A spot in the playoffs would be a good step for this team. With a healthy Chris Sale, maybe they make it interesting.
Perhaps Araúz or another replacement player will embrace the opportunity and help push the Sox into the playoffs. But Hernández deserves better than watching from a hotel.