Washington Nationals’ GM Mike Rizzo and Nats’ skipper Davey Martinez both showed public support of Ryan Zimmerman and Joe Ross’s decisions to opt out of playing in 2020’s COVID campaign.
“Ryan Zimmerman and Joe Ross have decided not to participate in the 2020 season for the personal health and safety of themselves and their loved ones,” Rizzo said in a statement on their decisions last summer.
“We are one hundred percent supportive of their decision to not play this year. We will miss their presence in the clubhouse and their contributions on the field.”
“I don’t hold anything against those guys,” Martinez declared. “They have family. I know Zim, I love him to death, Joe is a big part of this organization, they all are.”
That doesn’t mean they weren’t missed. “I missed [Ross] last year,” Martinez said this winter, after a disappointing 24-36 finish for the Nationals in the 60-game season.
“We could have used him last year, but for me, he did what he felt was right and I back him on that, but I’m glad he’s going to be back with us, and like I said, he’s got every opportunity in the world to be — whether it’s the fifth starter, whether it’s the fourth starter, who knows, but he’s going to get every opportunity to do that.”
Ross was under team control, of course, so the Nationals knew they would have him back, while Zimmerman, who’d signed a 1-year/$2M for the 2020 campaign before opting out of the season, became a free agent at the end of the year, but expressed a desire to return to the only team he has known as a professional, which he did, officially, last week, signing on again to a 1-year/$1M contract for 2021.
Do either of them regret the decision to sit out last season?
“I wouldn’t say I felt like I made the wrong decision,” Ross told reporters in early December, before the 27-year-old and the club avoided arbitration, and agreed on a 1-year/$1.5M deal for 2021.
“There was a lot of — like you saw with the Marlins and certain teams where a lot of major kind of breakouts happened and altered their season. I think at one point early, maybe within the first month, they had played maybe 12-15 less games than other teams and it’s just kind of a weird thing. So, no I wouldn’t say I second-guessed it.
“Obviously, watching them play, I want to be out there, I kind of want to be with the team. But I made the decision and have to go with my gut instinct. And that’s what I did.”
“I don’t know if there’s regret,” Zimmerman, 36, said earlier this month of opting out of what would have been his 16th season in the nation’s capital over what he said at the time was concern for his family, with a newborn child then on the way, and his mother, who has lived with multiple sclerosis for years, both cited as factors in the decision.
“I definitely think it was the right decision,” he explained. “The biggest thing for me when I made that decision was kind of the unknowns and the situations was still so new and fresh.
“A lot of people have kind of asked me, ‘Well, not much has changed?’ but I think that’s kind of wrong, I think a lot of things have changed.”
Having dealt with the pandemic for well over a year now, and having gone through a 60-game schedule with healthy/safety protocols in place, Zimmerman said, the league and clubs know more about what it takes to do things as safely as possible.
“We know so much more about the whole situation that everyone is in right now,” he added.
“The guys that played last year and MLB — like I’ve said before — I can’t commend them enough for what they went through. There was some tough environments and tough things that ... were so abnormal, and those guys kind of grinded through it and put a great product on the field, so with the amount of success that they had, with the tough situation and environment that they were in last year, we’re now months ahead of where we were last year so just my confidence in first of all safely being able to do it and second of all, them kind of having more experience and making it as normal as you can be in a situation like this.
“So ... I don’t know if I regret [opting out]. It was the right decision for me with a newborn and my mom and all that, and now that we know so much more and hopefully are starting to get some vaccinations out there and do some things, the other sports have done pretty well.
“You’re going to have some things that pop up, but I don’t think there’s any way to stop that.”
With all the time he had to watch how things played out last season, and the reality of the situation now, Zimmerman said he was comfortable enough to make the decision to play again.
“Yeah, my comfort-level is obviously a lot more — enough to play, but I think that can be attributed to a lot of hard work done by the players, by MLB, by all the health officials.
“So I can argue we’re in a way different place than we were last — I guess end of May — when you kind of had to make that decision, before they started the second Spring Training.”
Ross said much the same.
“I’m comfortable coming back,” Ross said.
“I think that last year, we were at a standstill so long with going back and forth on what the season pay was going to look like, and things like that, and I think we kind of lost a little bit of insight on the whole reason we stopped playing baseball in Spring Training. It was a health reason. I think when that came back, I kind of — I wish there was maybe a more complete plan I think on how to handle the whole situation.
“I guess they did it with the World Series and playoffs and things, more of a bubble aspect, but the NBA, they literally locked their players in and kind of ensured everyone’s health throughout the season.
“I’m pretty confident going into this year that everyone will have a pre-solidified plan on how to do so.
“I know they made some adjustments last year in the middle of the season, once they did start back up, but I’m confident going into Spring Training, everything hopefully will be going better. I know they say winter is supposed to be a hard time, but I’m looking forward to getting the spring started.”
Ross said he hopes the time off will be a benefit in the end, once he gets back on a mound in competitive action.
“It will be different with this extended time off, but I think that at the same time it kind of gave my arm a break and I could use it to my advantage in the long run as far as being prepared for the season.
“I’m sure that the first live BP jitters are going to be real. I look forward to it, it’s always a fun competition usually. That’s the first time those guys see pitching since the season ended.
“We’ll see how it goes, I’m excited to get it going and I expect myself to be as competitive as ever.
“I usually have very high expectations for myself, so we’ll see how it goes.”
“The easy answer is taking a year off definitely helps your body,” Zimmerman said of how he thinks he’ll react to the time away from the field.
“Spring Training shut down — what was it March 16th I guess it was, something around that time — so that’s really the last time I was in a competitive baseball atmosphere,” he added.
“So it will be about 11 months since I’ve been affiliated with someone. I think usually an offseason I’ll go four months or so without doing much baseball stuff.
“I’m not a big baseball guy in the offseason. I usually do it when I get down to Spring [Training]. If you can’t get ready in six weeks there’s nothing that’s going to help you anyway. So, but it will be different.”