3 MLB Players sit out 2020. More to follow?

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3 MLB Players sit out 2020. More to follow?

Postby T15D23 » Mon Jun 29, 2020 11:18 pm

Three MLB players have announced they will sit out 2020.
Zach Buchanan and Brittany Ghiroli


The first dominoes in an uncertain baseball landscape fell on Monday afternoon as three players, including two from the defending World Champion Washington Nationals, opted out of the 2020 season due to health and safety concerns about COVID-19. Arizona’s Mike Leake was the first to publicly announce his decision, with Washington’s Ryan Zimmerman and Joe Ross’ decisions first reported by The Athletic and made public by the team shortly after.

The opt-outs come after a long-awaited plan for a 60-game season was announced last week along with a corresponding 110-page health and safety document that includes plans for stringent testing and accommodations for high-risk players. Major League Baseball is allowing players with preexisting medical conditions or compromised immune systems — i.e., “high risk”— to opt out of the 2020 season and still be paid. Neither Zimmerman nor Ross is believed to be high-risk. It is unclear if Leake is considered high-risk.

As of now, players who are not high risk and opt out surrender their 2020 salaries and service time by sitting out. Under the March agreement between MLB and the players union, which pays players prorated salaries based on games played (roughly 37 percent for a 60-game season), a “high-risk” player who opts out can later change his mind if the team physician and an MLB joint committee approve. Any other player who opts out cannot return for any of the 2020 season or postseason, though the union is trying to get that changed. At least in the case of Leake, Diamondbacks general manager Mike Hazen said he did not expect Leake to be available to the team later in the season.

Zimmerman was the Nationals’ first-ever draft pick in 2005 and has played his entire career in D.C. The veteran welcomed a son with his wife, Heather, three weeks ago, and started the ZiMS Foundation in 2007 in honor of his mother, Cheryl, who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1995. In a diary for the Associated Press released Friday, Zimmerman detailed his reservations about playing, the potential of getting his family sick and the reality of not seeing his mother “until weeks after the season is over.” Zimmerman also aired his frustration with the owners, a sentiment that was expressed privately among players during negotiations.

“I’ll tell you this about baseball: The owners aren’t going to be traveling with us,” Zimmerman wrote. “I’m pretty sure they’re going to be hanging out at their houses, watching baseball on TV.”

Zimmerman had his $18 million option declined this past winter by Washington before the two sides agreed to a one-year, $2-million pact before it was prorated. A year-round Virginia resident, Zimmerman has made it clear previously that he’d either retire or return to the Nationals. Despite Monday’s decision, Zimmerman said his baseball career isn’t over yet.

Zimmerman has made more than $137 million over a 15-year career according to Spotrac. Ross is a much more interesting case. The right-handed pitcher, who was slated to be the Nats’ fifth starter, has made more than $5 million in his career, nearly half of which came as a signing bonus in 2011. He was slated to earn $1.5 million in 2020 and will likely forfeit that prorated salary as a result of Monday’s decision. Had he accumulated another season of service time, the 27-year-old would be a year closer to free agency. In his place, the Nationals could use Austin Voth or Erick Fedde to fill that fifth spot, though Ross — who got the nod to make a World Series spot start for Max Scherzer — had been having a terrific spring prior to the shutdown.

Ross has not issued a statement yet, but family also appears to have played a role. His father is a pediatrician and his mother is an emergency room nurse in Oakland. General manager Mike Rizzo said in a statement that both Ross and Zimmerman decided to opt out for “the personal health and safety of themselves and their loved ones.”

“We are one hundred percent supportive of their decision to not play this year,” Rizzo said. ” We will miss their presence in the clubhouse and their contributions on the field.”

Little is known about Leake’s decision to sit out the 2020 season. Hazen declined to go into specifics, saying that the conversation he had with the veteran right-hander is “personal in nature.” In a statement sent to The Athletic, Leake’s agent, Danny Horwits of Beverly Hills Sports Council, said Leake “took countless factors into consideration, many of which are personal to him and his family.” The statement went on to say Leake wished the best of luck to his Diamondbacks teammates and that he looks forward to the 2021 season.

Leake’s name was included on the 60-man player pool the Diamondbacks announced Monday morning, but Hazen said that was a transactional requirement before the 32-year-old is removed from that roster and replaced. Hazen wouldn’t say if Leake would be placed on the COVID-19-related injured list, and it’s also unclear if Leake will receive any salary for the 2020 season. If he were deemed a “high-risk” player, Leake would receive roughly $5.5 million of the $15 million he was scheduled to make in a non-pandemic-interrupted season. If Leake is not high-risk, he would make nothing.

It is possible that Leake is opting out less for concern about his own health than for that of his loved ones. It is notable that the only reason Leake approved a trade from the Mariners to the Diamondbacks at least year’s deadline was to be closer to his father. (Leake made his offseason home in the Phoenix area long before he became a Diamondback.) Leake’s father, Chris, was paralyzed from the waist down after an accident in 2013. It’s possible the injury, along with age, puts Leake’s father at greater risk for complications from COVID-19, or that Leake wanted to be available and help his father as much as possible during the pandemic.

The nearly $80 million Leake has made in his career surely makes it easier to sit out a season without pay (if Leake indeed will forgo a paycheck). But his departure also doesn’t leave the Diamondbacks in as tough a spot as it might other teams. Hazen said his team entered spring training in February with seven big-league caliber starters for five spots. The Diamondbacks now have six. The rotation will be fronted by Madison Bumgarner, Robbie Ray, Zac Gallen and Luke Weaver, leaving the final spot to either Merrill Kelly or Alex Young.

The looming question following the trio of opt-outs is: Will there be more? Hazen said he expects no further opt-outs from among his players, although he left open the question of other employees deciding not to participate in the 2020 season. Sources told The Athletic that at least two other Nationals remain on the fence and Monday’s news may have made it easier for players around the league to follow suit. One source estimated the number of players on the fence about participating was “easily in the double digits.”

Training camp begins later this week with MLB’s regular season set to kick off on July 23.
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