The Washington Nationals general manager, Mike Rizzo, held a 20-minute phone call with reporters that was to provide up-to-date information on the team and the coronavirus outbreak. The good news is that there was not much news to report as everyone is hunkered down and healthy. Rizzo and manager Dave Martinez are still in Palm Beach County, Florida as are many of the players expected to be on the Opening Day roster.
Fortunately, baseball has only two known cases of COVID-19 positive tests, and they are both New York Yankees minor league players.
“We’re very fortunate here with the Nationals that we’ve had no players show any symptoms of the coronavirus to the point where it would suggest any testing,” Rizzo said. “We’ve had no players tested. Players are in constant, direct contact with our medical teams on a daily basis.”
Thirteen players remain in Florida according to Rizzo with three who went back to the D.C. area (Ryan Zimmerman, Max Scherzer, and Stephen Strasburg are who we were told by a source), and the rest have traveled to their offseason homes. There is still a training and medical staff contingent in Palm Beach County as well as some minor leaguers who could not travel to their homes including all native Venezuelans who are at a team hotel paid for by the Washington Nationals. There is also a plan in place now to pay the minor leaguers.
“We did want to wait to see what Major League Baseball would do [for the minor leaguers] to make our move,” Rizzo said. “These minor league players are not only of great importance to Major League Baseball and the Washington Nationals but hese are the next star players for the Nationals. These are the next union members for the MLBPA.”
As we wrote a few days ago about the financial plight of the minor leaguers, we were hopeful that help was on the way. Definitive word came from MLB yesterday that a plan was in place to send funds to these players. It was very welcomed news as these seemed liked the forgotten people in the world of baseball even though it had only been about a week since the baseball world came to a screeching halt due to COVID-19.
“Each player who is under a Minor League Uniform Player Contract will receive a lump sum equal to the allowances that would have been paid through April 8th.” Rizzo said.
As Jesse Dougherty wrote in the Washington Post today, Rizzo “insisted Washington was ready to take that action without the league’s approval, but it didn’t come to that.” We also had written from a source that confirmed to me two days ago that the Nats had a plan ready to go for each minor leaguer not covered by the MLBPA 40-man payment provisions of $1,100 per week. It was included in that article on the plight of the minor leaguers which you should read again as it was updated with quotes from Brandon Ramsey and Brian Campbell who are two of the most respected hosts in the Nats’ minor league system who provide free housing to Nats’ players and most notably both have housed Juan Soto.
“I feel very, very fortunate that we’re able to take care of these minor league players,” Rizzo said. They are near and dear to my heart. I was one of them for many, many years.”
As many of you know, Rizzo was a minor leaguer himself in the California Angels system back in the 1980’s when the pay was $850 for an entire month. Starting next year, minor leaguers at rookie and short-season levels will see their minimum weekly pay increased from $290 to $400, and players at Single-A will go from $290 to $500. Double-A will bump from $350 to $600, and Triple-A from $502 to $700, and those are for players not on the 40-man rosters.
“It’s something that we’re going to be aggressive with here with the Nationals, since it is so near and dear to my heart and to the Lerners,” Rizzo said, referring to the club’s ownership family. “We are going to work with MLB diligently to get that done. Hey, there are still a lot of unknowns, and our leadership team is working tirelessly to make sure our organization is handling this situation the best we can. It’s a very, very fluid situation.”
Just like the player we interviewed from an American League team for our minor league article, the Nationals have similarly set training plans for players with a “wait and see” on a time to push it harder once the team has more information on restart times. For now, the team wants everyone to remain healthy and safe and protect themselves from public contact.
“There are no formal structured workouts, but they are able to get their workouts in in small, isolated groups in accordance with MLB protocol and [Centers for Disease Control] CDC,” Rizzo said.
“We’re going to be fully ready when we’re asked to be ready. Obviously the ramping up of pitchers and players in a safe manner is of the utmost important to us.”
“What we’ve asked them to do is for pitchers to keep their arms in shape, return to their offseason throwing programs so we can ramp up quicker as Spring Training starts as a prelude to the Opening Day, whenever that is, and we’ve set forth a personal workout baseball plan for all our players to hit the ground running when they do get to camp so we should be ready to expedite a Spring Training atmosphere quicker than the norm because we’ve already had a couple of weeks of Spring Training. We’re trying to keep them at that level that they left camp here and hopefully we can continue so that would be our step-off portion when Spring Training starts as a prelude to Opening Day.”
And yes, the Washington Nationals are still the reigning World Champions of baseball!
“We will be very prepared to defend the world championship, which we hold right now,” Rizzo said. “Can’t forget that. And that we are the defending world champions and we will go into the season, whenever that is, as the defending world champions. We take it seriously and we feel, again, we like the team that we have. We feel we are capable of repeating as the world champs and we’re going to have a strategy in place for player health and player preparation to get us ready for Opening Day, and we from Opening Day it will be our goal to win another world title for D.C.”
“There are still a lot of unknowns,” Rizzo said. “Our leadership team is working tirelessly to make sure our organization is handling this situation the best we can. It’s a very, very fluid situation.
“This thing is not in the General Manager’s manual. So these are very, very fluid times and they are very uncertain times, so suffice it to say, we are all about caring for our players, our staff, and their families to make sure that we do what we’re supposed to do and be good citizens and take care of each other.”
Many players are providing glimpses into their lives on social media. By the looks of it, most are doing what we are all doing, reading, watching TV, and surfing on social media. Make sure you are following Sean Doolittle as he has some YouTube fun for you.