xml:space="preserve">
xml:space="preserve">
Advertisement
Advertisement

Ian Desmond and Ryan Zimmerman the latest MLB players to opt out of the 2020 season over COVID-19 concerns

PHOENIX — A small group of players, including Washington Nationals slugger Ryan Zimmerman and Colorado Rockies outfielder Ian Desmond, have announced they won’t play during Major League Baseball’s 60-game season. The Minnesota Twins have shuffled their on-field staff to protect the health of some of their older coaches.

As the sport lurches toward a late July start during the coronavirus pandemic, roster flexibility and organizational depth will be key.

Advertisement

Zimmerman, who told The Associated Press last week he still was deciding whether to play this year, ultimately said having three young children, including a newborn, and a mother at higher risk because of multiple sclerosis factored into his decision.

“Given the unusual nature of the season, this is the best decision for me and my family,” Zimmerman said.

Advertisement

The 35-year-old, who has been with the Nationals since 2005, said he still is deciding on his future beyond this season. The two-time All-Star and 2009 Gold Glove winner has 270 career homers.

Desmond cited his family as one reason he decided to stay home for the upcoming season. But the biracial slugger also mentioned myriad issues within baseball, including racism, sexism, homophobia and socioeconomic concerns.

“With a pregnant wife and four young children who have lots of questions about what’s going on in the world, home is where I need to be right now,” the 34-year-old Desmond wrote in an Instagram post. “Home for my wife, Chelsey. Home to help. Home to guide. Home to answer my older three boys’ questions about Coronavirus and Civil Rights and life. Home to be their Dad.”

Desmond, who hit .255 with 20 homers in 140 games last season, had been due $5,555,556 for the prorated share of his $15 million salary, part of a five-year, $70 million contract. He is owed $8 million next year, and his deal includes a $15 million team option for 2022 with a $2 million buyout.

The Twins confirmed Monday that bullpen coach Bob McClure, 68, and major-league coach Bill Evers, 66, won’t be in the clubhouse at the start of the season because of health concerns. Both will stay with the organization to help in altered roles.

Twins manager Rocco Baldelli, who was sitting in a Target Field dugout during a Zoom call, said he has known both coaches for a long time and that the decisions were difficult. He added that both coaches were disappointed.

“We all know that we’re making the right decision, but that doesn’t mean it feels good,” Baldelli said. “It’s very, very challenging to even think about these sorts of things and have these conversations.”

But they’re exactly the conversations that are being had at both the organizational and personal level across the MLB landscape. The defending World Series champion Nationals will begin their title defense without Zimmerman and pitcher Joe Ross, who both declined to play because of health concerns.

“We are 100% supportive of their decision to not play this year,” Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo said in a statement. “We will miss their presence in the clubhouse and their contributions on the field.”

Ross, 27, has five seasons of MLB experience. He appeared in 27 games last season.

Zimmerman was due $740,741 and Ross $555,556 as prorated portions of their salaries, originally $2 million for Zimmerman and $1.5 million for Ross. If they are deemed high-risk by team physicians, they would still get paid and receive service time.

The Arizona Diamondbacks’ pitching depth took a hit when Mike Leake said he decided not to play this year. The 32-year-old Leake was expected to be a part of the rotation after starting 10 games last season and finishing with a 3-3 record and 4.35 ERA following a midseason trade with the Seattle Mariners.

Advertisement

Diamondbacks GM Mike Hazen didn’t elaborate on Leake’s decision, but the pitcher’s agent issued a statement saying he made a personal decision not to play during the pandemic. Hazen also didn’t say whether Leake falls under the high-risk category. If he does, he would be due $5,555,556 as the prorated share of his $15 million salary.

The fragility of baseball’s current health situation has been apparent for the past few weeks. The Philadelphia Phillies had a coronavirus outbreak at their spring training facility in Clearwater, Fla., earlier this month. Seven players and five staff members tested positive in the organization.

Phillies GM Matt Klentak said the team was “fortunate that none of the cases, player or staff, have been especially serious.” He said no one has been hospitalized.

But the outbreak is another example of how difficult it is to limit exposure.

“What is eye-opening to a lot of us is how quickly it spread even in an environment where we were on the extreme end of caution,” Klentak said. “The facility in Clearwater was pretty air-tight in terms of staggering times of players reporting to work out, cleaning the facilities in between. Truthfully, it was frustrating to some players how strict it was, and yet the outbreak still happened.”

San Francisco Giants minor-league center fielder Hunter Bishop has tested positive for the coronavirus and has mild symptoms, according to president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi. The 10th pick in last year’s draft would have been among 51 players reporting to training this week.

Boston Red Sox manager Ron Roenicke, 63, said his organization is doing as much as it can to keep everyone — especially older staff members — as safe as possible. Cleveland Indians manager Terry Francona, 61, said he’s not nervous, even though he has had previous health issues.

“I know I’m probably one of the higher-risk guys because of my age and some of the things that have gone on,” he said. “But the trainers and the doctors have been terrific. I would rather manage and be around the guys and be around the game than not. I’d be miserable if I didn’t do it.”

New York Mets GM Brodie Van Wagenen said some of his team’s coaching staff and player development staff fall into the high-risk category.

“We don’t have full clarity on if all of our coaches will be here, but we anticipate having that clarity here by the time we open up on Friday,” he said.

Van Wagenen said the club anticipates all of its players will report to training camp, which begins Friday at Citi Field. Long-absent slugger Yoenis Cespedes might finally be healthy enough to play on opening day, especially with the designated hitter now available in the National League.

There’s little doubt the upcoming season will be unlike any other — if it can be played. Los Angeles Angels manager Joe Maddon, 66, said it’s up to individual players and coaches to accept and embrace the safety protocols.

“If you want to come in expecting the norms that we’re normally accustomed to, then you’re going to be frustrated constantly, and you can’t permit that to happen,” Maddon said.

AP’s Greg Beacham, John Marshall, Rob Maaddi, Tom Withers and Stephen Whyno contributed.

Recommended on Baltimore Sun

Advertisement
Advertisement