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 and pitcher Joe Ross elected not to play this season, the team announced 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 per cent 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.”
Also Monday, Arizona Diamondbacks right-hander Mike Leake opted out of the 2020 season due to concerns about the coronavirus.
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.”
‘It’s everybody’s individual choice’
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.
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 runs batted in last post-season helped Washington win its first World Series title.
The 27-year-old Ross 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.
‘Countless factors’ considered
Meanwhile, the 32-year-old Leake started 10 games for Arizona after being traded from Seattle for outfielder Jose Caballero and cash in a 2019 deadline deal. He went 3-3 with a 4.35 earned-run average with Arizona and earned his first American League Gold Glove Award for his time with the Mariners.
“During this global pandemic, Mike and his family had many discussions about playing this season,” Leake’s agent, Danny Horwits, said in a statement Monday. “They took countless factors into consideration, many of which are personal to him and his family. After thorough consideration, he has chosen to opt out of playing in 2020. This was not an easy decision for Mike.”
Diamondbacks general manager Mike Hazen also said two players on Arizona’s 60-man roster tested positive for COVID-19, as did another player not in Arizona.
Leake was listed on the Diamondbacks’ 60-player pool released earlier Monday, but will be moved in a later transaction. He was expected to compete for a spot in the Diamondbacks’ starting rotation during the 60-game season.
Major League Baseball is allowing players with pre-existing medical conditions or compromised immune systems to opt out of the 2020 season, but Hazen would not elaborate whether Leake falls under that category. Leake was due $5,555,556 US as the prorated share of his $15 million salary.