In addition to updating reporters on the latest goings-on in West Palm Beach, Florida and Washington, D.C., Nationals’ General Manager Mike Rizzo talked on Friday morning about two of Major League Baseball’s first actions since cancelling the remaining games on the Spring Training schedule and postponing the start of the 2020 season earlier this month out of concern over the growing COVID-19/coronavirus pandemic: A $30M fund, with each MLB team contributing $1M, for ballpark employees, as well as a league-wide initiative, “... that will create a level of uniform compensation for Minor League players, covering the period between now and the originally scheduled start of the Minor League season.”
“We’ve committed $1M to support our ballpark staff at Nationals Park,” Rizzo explained.
“This is something that we were very, very glad to do. These people are the backbone of the Nationals Park experience, and it really feels good to make sure that they know that there is a little less uncertainty in their lives because of what MLB did and the Nationals did to take care of them.”
Rizzo, a former player, scout, and scouting director before he became an Assistant to the GM, and eventually General Manager and President of Baseball Operations, still talks about the MLB Draft as his own personal Super Bowl, and he’s always stressing the importance of a farm system that produces talent, so of course the move to pay minor leaguers, who were sent away from their respective camps when things shut down, was an important move for him that the Nationals were exploring even before the decision was made league-wide.
“Very, very glad to see that Major League Baseball is beginning to take care of our minor league players,” he said.
“This is something that we were certainly prepared to do without MLB’s authority if it came to that.
“We did want to wait to see what Major League Baseball would do for us to make our move, but these minor league players are not only of great importance to Major League Baseball and the Washington Nationals, these are the next star players for the Nationals. These are the next union members for the MLBPA. So these guys are of great importance to baseball and certainly to the Washington Nationals.”
With 13 players remaining at the club’s Spring Training facilities in West Palm Beach, some back in D.C., and others back at their own homes wherever they live, in keeping with the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommendations to avoid large gatherings of people, the Nationals’ 40-Man roster players are working closely with coaches and trainers to stay in shape for the eventual start of the 2020 campaign, whenever that is, but with all the minor leaguers sent home for now, it was a real important step to make sure they’re taken care of while things are sorted out.
“I feel very, very fortunate that we’re able to take care of these minor league players. They are near and dear to my heart,” Rizzo told reporters.
“I was one of them for many, many years, and I remember the trials and tribulations of being a minor league player. In the best of times, there’s a struggle.
“Going back to my days as a minor leaguer I played for $850 a month for living in Rohnert Park, California in 1984, so it’s a tough existence, and just a little bit more certainty on their part to kind of soothe them through this pandemic until it ends.”
Noting that the initiative for minor league players only covers the period between now and the scheduled start of the minor league season, Rizzo said there will be further action that takes care of them until they start playing baseball again.
“We’re certainly going to continue to work with MLB for an industry-wide plan for our minor league player compensation,” Rizzo said. “It’s something that we’re going to be aggressive with here with the Nationals because it is so near and dear to my heart and the Lerners’, so we’re going to work with MLB diligently to get that done.”
That’s just the minor league players in the U.S., of course, and Rizzo also addressed plans for the club’s Dominican Academy.
“We have told our Dominican Academy players to go to a safe place outside of the academy,” Rizzo said.
“If they have a safe haven to go to, that would be safer than being, again, in a larger group of people.
“We have sent them home for the most part. There are certain people at the academy and here in the U.S. that that’s unrealistic to go to their homes.
“The Venezuelan players that were in minor league camp, they are still here in West Palm, we’ve got them put up in a hotel here because it didn’t work to send them to Venezuela.
“We have a handful of players in the Dominican Academy that are staying in the academy because they are from other parts of the world that are less safe than in our academy atmosphere.”
Though they waited for a league-wide decision on helping minor leaguers before acting themselves, Rizzo said one way or another the Nationals planned on taking care of their players, and they’ll figure something out going forward.
“Our motives are pure and we certainly want to take care of our people. This is an industry-wide issue that I think needed to be addressed by the industry.”
“When people step out and do things on their own, it’s great,” he added.
“But in lieu of the bigger picture I think it was prudent for us to contact MLB and we felt it was kind of our obligation to be a good team player and do it the way we did it.”