Ryan Zimmerman has been a fixture in the Washington Nationals lineup and clubhouse since the franchise moved from Montreal in 2005, and he was a key reserve on a team that beat the Houston Astros in a thrilling seven-game World Series last October.
But if Major League Baseball is able to launch a pandemic-shortened 60-game season in late July, the Nationals will defend their title without the 35-year-old corner infielder who was considered the heart and soul of the organization.
Zimmerman and Nationals pitcher Joe Ross, 27, have opted out of the abbreviated 2020 season "for the personal health and safety of themselves and their loved ones," the team announced Monday. Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher Mike Leake, 32, also opted out of 2020, forfeiting about $5.2 million in prorated salary.
Zimmerman, who made his major league debut Sept. 1, 2005, cited his family circumstances -- he has three young children, including a newborn, and a mother who has been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis -- as the reason for his decision.
"Everyone knows how much it means to me to be a part of a team, and I will miss that camaraderie dearly this year," Zimmerman said in a statement. "Of course I would love to pursue back-to-back titles. I cannot speak for anyone else, but given the unusual nature of the season, this is the best decision for me and my family, and I truly appreciate the organization's understanding and support."
The decisions of Zimmerman, Ross and Leake come four days before teams are scheduled to begin training camps in their home stadiums and with COVID-19 cases, positivity rates and hospitalizations rising dramatically in several states -- including Florida, Texas, Arizona and California -- that are home to MLB teams.
Fear and trepidation over the coronavirus could push more players to opt out of the season.
"I'm excited about having the opportunity to go back and play, but at the same time, I'm a little bit scared of what it will look like ... there's some nervousness and apprehension," Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun said Monday as he prepared to leave his Malibu home to return to Milwaukee for the restart of training camp.
"My biggest priority is being a father first and a husband second, so to leave three young children and my wife to go into an environment where I don't know what it will look like or when exactly I will come back or how safe it will be, it's a little bit scary and completely different than anything I've experienced."
Braun, 36, said he isn't yet comfortable with his wife, Larisa; 5-year-old daughter, Celine; 3-year-old son, Greyson; and 4-week-old son, Carter, traveling to Milwaukee. He wants to see if there is an MLB season and how both L.A. and Milwaukee are faring in case numbers and hospitalizations next month.