As Major League Baseball nears its return, several players have been forced to wrestle with a difficult decision: Is the risk of exposure to the coronavirus worth it?
On June 29, veteran Arizona Diamondbacks starting pitcher Mike Leake became the first player to definitively say no, it is not worth risking his health and the health of his loved ones to play baseball through a pandemic. Since then, several more players have decided to join Leake by opting out of the 2020 season. That group includes several former All-Stars, including Buster Posey of the San Francisco Giants, David Price of the Los Angeles Dodgers and Felix Hernández of the Atlanta Braves.
Joe Ross, Ryan Zimmerman and Welington Castillo, three members of the Washington Nationals, have also decided not to play in 2020. Last week, Zimmerman — whose mother has multiple sclerosis — explained deciding whether to play is a complex decision that will weigh heavily on several players.
On Monday, St. Louis Cardinals closer Jordan Hicks became the latest notable player to opt out of the 2020 season.
As MLB teams prepare to gather for training camp this week and finalize rosters this week, we will likely see more players deciding to skip the 2020 season. Players who are medically determined to be high-risk have the option to sit out the season and still receive salary and service time, per the league’s operations manual. However, the same leeway does not exist for players who have a high-risk family member. If a player with a high-risk family member sits out, he would not be guaranteed salary or service time — with teams handling those decisions, per The Athletic.
Cardinals closer Jordan Hicks opts out
Jordan Hicks, the flame-throwing closer for the St. Louis Cardinals, has opted out of the 2020 baseball season, the team announced Monday.
Hicks, 23, missed part of the 2019 season after Tommy John surgery. Recovery takes 12-18 months, so Hicks could have returned in 2020 but decided not to play, citing “pre-existing health concerns.” He also has Type 1 diabetes.
White Sox pitcher Michael Kopech opts out
Chicago White Sox pitcher Michael Kopech has informed the team he will not participate in 2020 season, general manager Rick Hahn revealed in a statement.
The 24-year-old right-hander appeared in four major league games in 2018, but missed the entire 2019 regular season after undergoing Tommy John surgery. The 2014 first round pick was acquired with Yoan Moncada in the 2016 trade that sent Chris Sale to the Boston Red Sox.
Chicago was hoping a healthy Kopech would become a key member of the rotation as soon as 2020. Though realistically, 2021 was always the better bet for his return to full strength.
Buster Posey opts out after adopting twin girls
Former National League MVP Buster Posey is among the biggest names to opt out of the 2020 season. It’s a family-motivated decision after Posey told reporters that he and his wife are adopting twin girls that were born prematurely and will need to be in the NICU.
Joey Bart, the Giants first round draft pick in 2018, could be in line to take over as the regular catcher. The Giants also have veteran Rob Brantly and Tyler Heineman in their 60-player pool.
Pirates pitcher opts out
Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Héctor Noesí has opted out of the 2020 season, manager Derek Shelton told reporters Thursday. The 33-year-old right-hander was signed to a minor-league deal.
Nick Markakis won’t play in 2020
Atlanta Braves veteran Nick Markakis became the latest player to opt out of the 2020 MLB season. Braves manager Brian Snitker announced Markakis’ decision Monday.
With the addition of the designated hitter in the National League, Markakis, 36, was expected to take on a bigger role for the Braves in 2020.
Markakis said the lack of fans influenced his decision to sit out. Markakis also spoke with Freddie Freeman — who tested positive for coronavirus — and was discouraged after hearing Freeman describe his symptoms.
At least four players on the Braves have tested positive for coronavirus — including All Star first baseman Freddie Freeman.
All-Star pitchers opt out of 2020 season
With his announcement on July 4, Price became one the biggest names so far to opt out of the 2020 season.
The 34-year-old left-hander figured to play a prominent role in the Dodgers rotation after coming over with Mookie Betts in a blockbuster winter trade. Despite the fact he won’t suit up, Price made a positive impact this year by donating $1,000 to each Dodgers’ minor leaguer while baseball was shutdown.
The five-time All-Star and former Cy Young award winner is under contract with the Dodgers through the 2022 season. He was set to make $32 million in 2020, 2021 and 2022.
Hernández, 34, was preparing for his first season with the Braves after spending 15 seasons with the Seattle Mariners. Hernández’s agent, Wilfredo Polidor, confirmed his decision to sit out.
Hernández has struggled the last two seasons, posting a combined 5.82 ERA over 44 appearances. Overall, he’s been one of MLB’s most successful pitchers since debuting in 2005. Along the way he’s earned six All-Star selections and an AL Cy Young award in 2010.
Three Nationals players won’t play in 2020
Zimmerman and Ross, two members of the Nationals’ World Series-winning team, won’t be back this year. Castillo, who was signed over the winter, will also sit out the season.
Zimmerman, 35, is an original Nationals player and clubhouse leader who was chosen to come back this season on a one-year, $2 million deal. Zimmerman wrote a piece for the Associated Press last week, discussing the decision he was making. Here’s a statement he released Monday through his agent:
Ross, 27, figured to be the fifth starter for the Nationals, but instead will not play, Yahoo Sports has confirmed. Ross split time last season between the bullpen and the rotation for the Nationals. Ross’ brother, Tyson, had also decided to sit out the season. He’s currently a free agent.
Castillo, 33, was signed to provide depth behind Washington’s regular catching tandem of Kurt Suzuki and Yan Gomes. Instead, he will remain home, manager Dave Martinez confirmed.
Mike Leake becomes first player to opt out
D-backs GM Mike Hazen confirmed Leake’s decision on Monday to opt-out of the season. Leake, a reliable rotation stalwart who has started at least 20 games in every season since his debut in 2010, joined the D-backs in a July 2019 trade. A statement from Leake’s agent said it was “not an easy decision.” He will walk away from about $5.6 million that he would have made in a 60-game season.
Not accruing service time would not be a concern for the 32-year-old right-hander, who already reached free agency and was entering the final guaranteed year of an $80 million contract. A 2021 option and buyout for the contract will remain.
What players are wrestling with
A player opting to sit out the season was inevitable. With more than 40 COVID-19 cases around MLB already confirmed, it’s clear the league will not be able to escape the virus. It will have to do its best to manage a situation that, frankly, hasn’t been managed well on many levels for nearly four months.
The real question is how many players will elect to sit out MLB’s 60-game campaign. Also, how will each respective team react to the decision? We will keep you updated as those decisions come in.
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