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Elephant Rumblings: 4 MLB players opt out of 2020 season

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MLB: Washington Nationals at San Diego Padres
Ryan Zimmerman and Joe Ross
Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

Good morning, Athletics Nation!

One feature of the upcoming 2020 MLB season is that players have the right to opt out entirely, amid the coronavirus pandemic. Those who are deemed medically high-risk by team doctors will still receive their salaries and service time, but everyone else is also allowed to sit out with no questions asked — albeit also with no pay or service time.

Monday brought word of the first players to exercise that opt-out, including the following four names:

  • RHP Mike Leake, D’Backs
  • RHP Joe Ross, Nationals
  • 1B Ryan Zimmerman, Nationals
  • OF Ian Desmond, Rockies

Leake was the first whose intentions were made public, by insider Steve Gilbert. Zimmerman and Ross were reported later, by Mark Zuckerman of MASN and Britt Ghiroli of The Athletic. Desmond made his announcement himself, in a lengthy and deeply personal post on Instagram. He concluded by saying:

“The COVID-19 pandemic has made this baseball season one that is a risk that I am not comfortable taking ... 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. Home for my wife, Chelsey. Home to help. Home to guide. Home to answer my older three boys’ questions about Coronavirus, Civil Rights and life. Home to be their dad.”

Zimmerman also wrote publicly on the matter, in a diary entry at the Associated Press last week:

“If you’re going to participate, there are rules you have to follow. The ‘bubble’ is only as good as the people inside of the ‘bubble.’ It’s not like there’s going to be COVID police on our hotel floors. So it will come down to the players and everyone involved and what they do with each and every second of their day. When you start thinking about it like that, it starts becoming a little more complicated.”

The Nationals made it clear there are no hard feelings toward their two players: “We are one hundred percent supportive of [Zimmerman and Ross’] decision to not play this year,” the team said in a tweet.

Leake and Desmond were each set to earn $15 million this year, or a little over $5 million prorated for the shortened season, driving home how seriously they take the situation. Zimmerman was making much less in the final year of a team-friendly veteran hometown discount deal, but Ross is still in his arbitration years and will now have to wait longer to reach free agency.

In addition to this player news, the Twins are sidelining two of their coaches, reports La Velle E. Neal III of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. The team determined that it’s not safe for bullpen coach Bob McClure or major league coach* Bill Evers to participate due to their age and medical histories, so they will not allow the pair to work games.

* That’s his official title, “major league coach.”

There are still more than three weeks to go before Opening Day, which leaves plenty of time for more players and coaches to step aside or be ruled out. As fans, the important things for us to do are respect their decisions and accept that they don’t owe us any explanation if they don’t want. Stay safe and be well, AN community.

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