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MLB rosters shuffle due to COVID-19

PHOENIX (AP) — The Minnesota Twins have shuffled their on-field staff to protect the health of some of their older coaches. A trio of players, including Diamondbacks pitcher Mike Leake and Nationals slugger Ryan Zimmerman, have announced they won’t be playing in the upcoming 60-game season.

As Major League Baseball lurches toward a late July start during the coronavirus crises, it’s clear that roster flexibility and organizational depth will be key.

The Twins confirmed Monday that bullpen coach Bob McClure and major league coach Bill Evers won’t be in the clubhouse at the start of this season because of health concerns. Both coaches are in their 60s and will stay with the organization to help in altered roles.

Twins manager Rocco Baldelli, who was sitting in a Target Field dugout during a Zoom call, said he’s known both coaches for a long time and that the decisions were difficult. He added that both coaches were disappointed.

“I think we all know that we’re making the right decision, but that doesn’t mean it feels good,” Baldelli said. “It’s very, very challenging to even think about these sorts of things and have these conversations.”

But they’re exactly the conversations that are being had at both the organizational and personal level across the MLB landscape. The defending World Series champion Nationals will begin their title defense without Zimmerman and pitcher Joe Ross, who both declined to play because of health concerns.

“We are one hundred percent supportive of their decision to not play this year,” Nationals GM Mike Rizzo said in a statement. “We will miss their presence in the clubhouse and their contributions on the field.”

Zimmerman, who told The Associated Press last week he was still deciding whether to play this year, ultimately said having three young children, including a newborn, and a mother at higher risk because of multiple sclerosis factored into his decision.

“Given the unusual nature of the season, this is the best decision for me and my family,” Zimmerman said.

The 35-year-old — who has been with the Nationals since 2005 — said this does not mean he’s retiring. He’s still deciding on his future beyond this season.

Ross, 27, has five seasons of MLB experience. He appeared in 27 games last season.

Zimmerman was due $740,741 and Ross $555,556 as prorated portions of their salaries, originally $2 million for the first baseman and $1.5 million for the pitcher. If they are deemed high risk by team physicians, they would still get paid and receive service time.

Arizona’s pitching depth took a hit even before the sport’s second training period begins later this week. The 32-year-old Leake was expected to be a part of the team’s starting rotation after starting 10 games last season and finishing with a 3-3 record and 4.35 ERA following a midseason trade with the Seattle Mariners.

D-backs general manager Mike Hazen didn’t elaborate on Leake’s decision but the pitcher’s agent issued a statement saying he made a personal decision not to play during the pandemic. Arizona still has substantial pitching depth with Madison Bumgarner, Robbie Ray, Luke Weaver and Zac Gallen expected to be in the starting rotation.

The fragility of baseball’s current health situation has been apparent for the past few weeks. The Philadelphia Phillies had a coronavirus outbreak at their spring training facility in Clearwater, Florida, earlier this month. Seven players and five staff members tested positive in the organization.

Phillies GM Matt Klentak said the team was “fortunate that none of the cases, player or staff, have been especially serious.” He said no one has been hospitalized.

But the outbreak is another example of how difficult it is to limit exposure.

“What is eyeopening to a lot of us is how quickly it spread even in an environment where we were on the extreme end of caution,” Klentak said. “The facility in Clearwater was pretty airtight in terms of staggering times of players reporting to work out, cleaning the facilities in between. Truthfully, it was frustrating to some players how strict it was and yet the outbreak still happened.”

Boston Red Sox manager Ron Roenicke, 63, said his organization is doing as much as it can to keep everyone — especially older staff members — as safe as possible. Cleveland’s 61-year-old manager Terry Francona said he’s not nervous, even though he’s had previous health issues.

“I know I’m probably one of the higher-risk guys because of my age and some of the things that have gone on,” he said. “But the trainers and the doctors have been terrific. I would rather manage and be around the guys and be around the game than not.

“I’d be miserable if I didn’t do it.”

Angels manager Joe Maddon, who is 66, said it’s up to individual players and coaches to accept and embrace the safety protocols. There’s little doubt the upcoming season will be unlike any other — if it can be played.

“If you want to come in expecting the norms that we’re normally accustomed to, then you’re going to be frustrated constantly, and you can’t permit that to happen,” Maddon said.

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