Mike Leake

MLB opt-out tracker: Every player who has declined to play 2020 season

MLB opt-out tracker: Every player who has declined to play 2020 season

It's extremely common to hear about a player opting out in baseball. Stars have often had opt-out clauses for the final year of their deals, and in recent years many have given themselves the ability to opt out after just a year or two of a massive contract. At the end of every spring, non-roster invitees opt out to look for a better opportunity elsewhere. 

But this season, those two words take on a different meaning. 

Under a March agreement reached by MLB and the Players Association, high-risk players can opt out of the 2020 because of coronavirus concerns and still get paid. Players who are not deemed to be at a high risk can also opt out while surrendering their 2020 salaries and service time.

On the first day of the week MLB was set to return, four players opted out. Here's a rundown of where the list currently stands:

Mike Leake (Diamondbacks starting pitcher)

The 32-year-old was the first to publicly make his intentions known. Leake's agent told reporters that the right-hander "took countless factors into consideration, many of which are personal to him and his family." There has been some speculation that Leake had family concerns; his father was paralyzed in an accident a few years ago and that's in part why he ended up close to home with the Diamondbacks.

Ryan Zimmerman (Nationals first baseman)

Zimmerman is exactly the type of player you would think of when it comes to guys who had a difficult decision to make in recent weeks. He's 35 and now is a part-time player, and he's set for life financially and got his ring last October. In a statement put out by his agency, he made it clear this is about concerns for his family, which includes a mother with multiple sclerosis:

Joe Ross (Nationals starting pitcher)

Ross, a 27-year-old Bay Area native who is the younger brother of Tyson, also opted out Monday. He did not immediately release a statement. Nationals GM Mike Rizzo said Zimmerman and Ross decided "not to participate in the 2020 season for the personal health and safety of themselves and their loved ones. We are 100 percent supportive of their decision to not play this year."

Ian Desmond (Rockies outfielder)

The 34-year-old announced his decision at the end of a series of Instagram posts that examined injustices in baseball and society. It was a powerful statement, and one you should read in full here:

View this post on Instagram

On my mind.

A post shared by Ian Desmond (@i_dez20) on

Tyson Ross (free agent starting pitcher)

It was a bit of a surprise when Ross was released by the Giants last week. As a veteran who could start or come out of the bullpen, he seemed like a good fit for what they were building in March, and an even better fit in a season with no true five-man rotation. But this seems to explain the decision: 

David Price (Dodgers Pitcher)

The biggest name in MLB to this date to withdraw, Price announced his decision to opt out of the 2020 season on social media during the holiday weekend. The southpaw didn't get specific on the reasoning behind it, but said the decision was in the "best interest of my health and my family's health." 

Felix Hernandez (Braves pitcher)

Another former Cy Young award winner has decided not to play during the 2020 MLB season.

Felix Hernandez, who won the 2010 AL Cy Young while with the Seattle Mariners, won't suit up for the Atlanta Braves this season, he agent tweeted Saturday night.

After spending the first 15 seasons of his career with the Mariners, Hernandez signed a minor-league contract with Atlanta this offseason. He will turn 35 next April, when the 2021 MLB season is expected to start.

Nick Markakis (Braves outfielder)

Markakis on Monday morning decides to opt out of the 2020 season, the Atlanta Braves announced. 

This comes after Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman tested positive, which was a big factor in the veteran's decision. Markakis, 36, hit .285 with nine homers last season for Atlanta.

Hector Noesi (Pirates pitcher)

Noesi on Wednesday opted out of the 2020 season, Pirates manager Derek Shelton announced.

Noesi, 33, went 0-3 and posted an 8.46 ERA across 12 appearances with the Miami Marlins last season.

Giants don't expect players to forgo 2020 MLB season over coronavirus

Giants don't expect players to forgo 2020 MLB season over coronavirus

About an hour before Farhan Zaidi and Gabe Kapler talked with reporters Monday, it became known that former Giants and current Diamondbacks starter Mike Leake would sit out the 2020 season.

As Zaidi and Kapler answered questions on a Zoom call, the Nationals revealed that first baseman Ryan Zimmerman and starting pitcher Joe Ross also will not be playing this year. 

It is a fear that hangs over the sport, and as organizations prepare to return to camp this Wednesday, there's a sense that those three are just the beginning. The expectation is that other players will follow and opt out of the 60-game season, but at least for now, the Giants are preparing for their full squad. 

Kapler said he connected with more than 25 players on Sunday alone and has talked to all of the club's established veterans, and there's no hint of opting out. 

"Nobody mentioned anything to me," Kapler said. "I don't anticipate having an issue there. I've talked to a great number of our players and nobody has brought that up."

[GIANTS INSIDER PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

Players who are deemed high-risk can opt out because of coronavirus concerns and still be paid, but unless they have that designation they surrender their salaries and service time by opting out. That, of course, wouldn't be as much of a concern for older players who already have signed massive contracts, but most of the Giants' veterans have indicated on social media that they're heading to San Francisco or already here. 

Even if all of the players choose to come, the Giants might still have some familiar faces missing. They have a young coaching staff, but Zaidi said there are one or two cases of staffers the organization is "still working through." The Minnesota Twins announced Monday that two coaches in their sixties will not be in the dugout this season.

"We're still evaluating that," Zaidi said of staffers. "Almost all of our players and staff were considered low to moderate risk."

[RELATED: Giants, A's working on exhibition games]

The Giants will test players who have been told to arrive Wednesday and will kick off camp Friday. They do not expect any players to have issues reporting on time.

Ex-Giants pitcher Mike Leake first player to sit out 2020 MLB season

Ex-Giants pitcher Mike Leake first player to sit out 2020 MLB season

Former Giants right-handed pitcher Mike Leake became the first player officially to opt out of the 2020 MLB season. 

Leake, now with the NL West-rival Arizona Diamondbacks, has put the well-being of himself and his family ahead of his career.

“During this global pandemic, Mike and his family had many discussions about playing this season,” Leake’s agent, Danny Horwitz, said in a statement on Monday. “They took countless factors into consideration, many of which are personal to him and his family. After thorough consideration, he has chosen to opt out of playing in 2020. This was not an easy decision for Mike. He wishes the best of luck and health for his Diamondback teammates this season and he’s looking forward to 2021.”

The 10-year veteran boasted a 4.05 ERA with a 1.281 WHIP and earned a Gold Glove in 2019 with the Seattle Mariners.

The 32-year-old also is not the only one to opt out of the upcoming season due to concerns associated with the coronavirus pandemic.  

Washington Nationals infielder Ryan Zimmerman and right-handed pitcher Joe Ross also have made the decision to not play in MLB’s 60-game season. They had the full support of general manager Mike Rizzo, as he said in a statement. 

[RELATED: Giants top prospect Hunter Bishop tests positive for COVID-19]

Zimmerman specifically has worries for his mother, Cheryl, who has multiple sclerosis and his three young children, one in whom is a newborn. And at the age of 35, he wanted to clarify the decision to not play in the upcoming season does not mean he’s retiring. He has plans to continue his career following 2020.

The three are the first reported to make the decision, but it’s almost certain they will not be the last.