The Washington Nationals will try to defend their World Series title without at least two holdovers from last year’s team, including one of the faces of the franchise.
Longtime infielder Ryan Zimmerman, a former Virginia star, and pitcher Joe Ross elected not to play this season, the team said Monday. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Major League Baseball is attempting to start a 60-game season in late July.
General manager Mike Rizzo said Zimmerman and Ross are opting out for the safety of themselves and their families.
“We are 100 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.”
Zimmerman, who said last week he was undecided, ultimately said his family situation factored into not playing. His mother is at high risk for complications from the coronavirus. He also has three young children, including a newborn.
“Everyone knows how much it means to me to be part of a team and I will miss that camaraderie dearly this year,” Zimmerman said in a statement. “Of course, I would love to pursue back-to-back titles. I cannot speak for anyone else, but given the unusual nature of the season, this is the best decision for me and my family.”
Zimmerman has been writing a diary for The Associated Press since the coronavirus shut down sports this spring. In the 10th installment last week, he expressed concerns about playing in 2020.
“I have a 3-week-old baby,” Zimmerman said. “My mother has multiple sclerosis and is super high-risk; if I end up playing, I can pretty much throw out the idea of seeing her until weeks after the season is over. There’s a lot of factors that I and others have to consider. I don’t think there’s a right or wrong answer; it’s everybody’s individual choice.”
The 35-year-old who has been a fixture for the Nationals since 2005 said this does not mean he’s retiring. He’s still deciding on his future beyond this season.
“This time has made me realize how lucky I am to play the game,” Zimmerman said in April. “It’s kind of shown me that I’ll be OK, either way: Whether I continue past 2020 or not, I’ll be great whenever I retire.”
Zimmerman is a two-time All-Star infielder who has played 15 years in the majors, all with the Nationals. He holds most of the team’s career hitting records, and his two homers and seven RBIs last postseason helped Washington win its first World Series title.
Ross, 27, has five seasons of major league experience and underwent Tommy John surgery on his right elbow in 2017. He appeared in 27 games last season and was in line to compete to be the Nationals’ fifth starter.
Zimmerman was due $740,741 and Ross $555,556 as prorated portions of their salaries, originally $2 million for the first baseman and $1.5 million for the pitcher. If they are deemed high risk by team physicians, they would still get paid and receive service time.
Meanwhile, Arizona Diamondbacks right-hander Mike Leake also opted out of the 2020 season because of concerns about the coronavirus.
Diamondbacks general manager Mike Hazen did not elaborate on Leake’s decision during a Zoom call Monday, but the pitcher’s agent issued a statement saying he made a personal decision not to play during the pandemic.
Hazen also said two players on Arizona’s 60-man roster tested positive for COVID-19, as did another player not in Arizona.
Leake, 32, started 10 games for Arizona after being traded from Seattle for outfielder Jose Caballero and cash in 2019. Leake went 3-3 with a 4.35 ERA and was expected to be in the Diamondbacks’ starting rotation during the 60-game 2020 season.
The Minnesota Twins shuffled their on-field staff to protect the health of some of their older coaches.
The Twins confirmed Monday that bullpen coach Bob McClure and major league coach Bill Evers won’t be in the clubhouse at the start of this season because of health concerns. Both coaches are in their 60s and 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’s known both coaches for a long time and that the decisions were difficult. He added that both coaches were disappointed.
“I think 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.”
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.