A small group of players, including Nationals slugger Ryan Zimmerman and Rockies outfielder Ian Desmond, have announced they plan to sit out this season. The Minnesota Twins have shuffled their on-field staff to protect the health of some of their older coaches.
As major league baseball lurches toward a start later this month during the COVID-19 pandemic, roster flexibility and organizational depth are key.
Zimmerman, who last week told The Associated Press that he was still deciding whether to play this year, ultimately said that having three young children, including a newborn, and a mother at higher risk because of multiple sclerosis, factored into his decision.
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“Given the unusual nature of the season, this is the best decision for me and my family,” Zimmerman said.
The 35-year-old, who has been with the Nationals since 2005, said that he still is deciding on his future beyond this season.
Desmond cited his family as one reason why he decided to stay home for the upcoming 60-game season, but the slugger also mentioned a myriad of issues within baseball, including racism, sexism and homophobia.
“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 wrote on Instagram. “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.”
The Twins on Monday confirmed that 68-year-old bullpen coach Bob McClure and 66-year-old major league coach Bill Evers would not be in the clubhouse at the start of this season because of health concerns. Both are to stay with the organization to help in altered roles.
“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.”
However, they are exactly the conversations that are being had across the MLB landscape.
Defending World Series champions the Nationals are to begin their title defense without Zimmerman and pitcher Joe Ross, who also declined to play because of health concerns.
“We are 100 percent supportive of their decision to not play this year,” Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo said. “We will miss their presence in the clubhouse and their contributions on the field.”
The fragility of baseball’s health situation has been apparent for the past few weeks.
The Philadelphia Phillies had a COVID-19 outbreak at their spring training facility in Clearwater, Florida, earlier this month. Seven players and five staff members tested positive.
Phillies general manager Matt Klentak said that the team was “fortunate that none of the cases, player or staff, have been especially serious.”
“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 airtight 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.”
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