The inevitable snowball has initiated its descent.
On June 29, Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher Mike Leake made waves when he announced his intention to opt out of the abbreviated 2020 Major League Baseball season. Leake did not ultimately provide any specific rationale for his decision, instead noting that he and his family had many discussions about playing and citing “countless” factors that were taken into consideration.
Mere hours later, the waves became larger; the defending World Series champion Washington Nationals had two players join the Leake brigade of opting out of the 2020 season. Per the team’s announcement, first baseman Ryan Zimmerman and pitcher Joe Ross chose to withdraw from the season “for personal health and safety of themselves and their loved ones.”
Zimmerman expanded in great length, pointing to his three young children — including a three-week old baby — as well as a mother at high-risk as the catalyst for his decision. He further clarified that this announcement in no way coincides with his retirement; while he left the door open by saying his future beyond 2020 remains undecided, he reiterated his desire to simply stay safe for the time being.
Each player had one year remaining on their salary heading into 2020; Leake was scheduled to make $16 million for a full season, Zimmerman was set to earn $2 million for the full year, and Ross was looking at a $1.5 million full-year salary.
Notably, per MLB’s COVID-19 operations manual, players who fall within the “high-risk” camp by a team doctor are permitted to opt of the season, receiving service time and salary accordingly. Should there be any dispute about what falls within “high-risk,” a four-person committee has been formed to settle the issue, and an independent expert has been designated should the committee reach a deadlock.
The wrinkle, then, is what happens in a situation like this; that is, a situation where players choose not to play for other reasons, such as their exposure to high-risk family members. While the final version of the manual includes a section regarding families and other household members, it merely promises to provide them with personal protective equipment, education, and access to regular testing, stopping short of providing a compensated opt-out route.
Given the tumultuous — to say the least — path to get this far, it will bear monitoring how the individual teams will handle this nuanced issue. According to The Athletic, MLB teams can still choose to be accommodating by giving full service and pay to players in such situations. The question is exacerbated by the fact that many of the game’s young stars will soon be facing similar decisions as Leake, Zimmerman, and Ross. For example, Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, Gerrit Cole, and Zack Wheeler are all expecting children in the coming months.
We can only hope, after all the financial hurdles that were leapt over to at least get to the precipice of a potential season, that the forthcoming (hopeful…) resolution will be expeditious and satisfactory for all.