Desmond decides not to play in '21 'for now'

February 21st, 2021

After deciding not to play during the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, Rockies outfielder announced in a Sunday morning Instagram Stories post that “for now” he does not plan to play in 2021.

The post from @i_dez20 reads:

“Over the last few months, I’ve had tough conversations. I’ve asked a lot of questions and done a lot of thinking. For now, I’ve decided to opt out of the 2021 season. My desire to be with my family is greater than my desire to go back and play baseball under these circumstances. I’m going to continue to train and watch how things unfold.

“This impacts a lot of people, some positively and some negatively, and I own that. At the end of the day, this weighs on me more than anyone but I’m following my heart and I feel good about my decision. I’ve let my teammates know, as well as the coaching staff and front office, and they have all been extremely understanding and supportive. I wish nothing but the best for the entire Rockies organization and have let them know I am willing to do whatever I can to help them from afar.”

By not playing last season, Desmond was not paid his adjusted salary of $5,555,556. Players under some specific, virus-related health circumstances could “opt out” and receive salary, but Desmond did not fall into that category. Desmond’s contract for 2021 calls for an $8 million salary. He has a 2022 option worth $15 million or a $2 million buyout. Desmond’s decision this year means he will forfeit his 2021 salary when not participating.

Rockies manager Bud Black said Desmond prepared him and general manager Jeff Bridich for the decision through “conversations over the past few weeks. I didn’t ultimately know what was going to play out, but when you talk to someone and it's part of the conversation, when this happened it didn’t come as a total surprise.”

Black left the “conditions” Desmond referred to in his statement for the player to detail.

The announcement came a day before position players were due to report to Spring Training at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick in Scottsdale, Ariz., where pitchers are already working out. The first full-squad practice is Tuesday.

Desmond, 35, has played in 11 seasons, including 2017-19 with the Rockies after signing a five-year deal worth $70 million. In three seasons with the Rockies, during which Black noted Desmond provided “some big home runs” and off-field leadership, Desmond batted .252 with 49 home runs and 193 RBIs.

The sport was shut down last Spring Training because of the novel coronavirus. Before the Rockies reconvened in July for Summer Camp, Desmond announced on Instagram that he would not play. He cited the pandemic, social injustice and his desire to help in his hometown of Sarasota, Fla., by reviving youth baseball.

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Desmond has been active through Newtown Connection, designed “to inspire youth in the Newtown community within Sarasota to engage with baseball in a meaningful way, regardless of financial circumstances, experience, athleticism, or skill.” Desmond also continued his longtime project, “End NF with Ian Desmond,” an effort to raise funds for the Children’s Tumor Foundation. Neurofibromatosis causes tumors to grow on nerves throughout the body, according to CTF.

Desmond’s efforts earned him the Rockies’ 2020 nomination for the Roberto Clemente Award, which goes annually to a player who demonstrates the values of “commitment to community and understanding the value of helping others.”

The expectation was the right-handed-hitting Desmond would compete for starts and be a valuable hitter against left-handed pitching. Left-handed-hitting Raimel Tapia used last year’s opportunity to take the left-field spot; he established himself as the leadoff hitter and batted .321.

Before Sunday’s decision was revealed, teammates said Desmond was a key figure in group text messages encouraging players to stay focused in the aftermath of the Rockies’ trade of star third baseman Nolan Arenado to the Cardinals.

Black said he saw no contradiction between Desmond trying to keep his teammates together while deciding not to play.

“That goes to show who he is and his commitment to the team,” Black said. “He's going to follow us and, like he said, he's going to continue to train and assess what's going on. Maybe his feelings [change] in a month, two months, two weeks, two days, I don’t know.

“He has not, obviously, from those conversations with his teammates, checked out of his engagement with his teammates, or with me, or the front office or Dick [Monfort, team owner, chairman and CEO].”

The decision opens a spot on the 40-man Major League roster and sparks competition for an Opening Day roster spot.

Veteran Chris Owings, who made the team as a non-roster invitee last year, is in camp under the same deal this year. Already with routes to the roster, starts and playing time in the infield, Owings, 29, has played the outfield effectively. Also, there is a possibility that both veteran first-base signees under Minor League deals -- right-handed-hitting C.J. Cron and left-handed-hitting Greg Bird -- could be in line for spots.

Two outfielders on the 40-man roster have greater opportunity. Right-handed-hitting outfielder Yonathan Daza, a sparkplug and strong defender, gets his shot after debuting in 2019 (.206 in 44 games) but spending 2020 at the team’s alternate training site. Daza, 26, the team’s No. 12 prospect according to MLB Pipeline, is out of Minor League options.

Left-handed-hitting Bret Boswell, who hit .296 at Class A and Class A Advanced in 2018 before hitting .219 in Double-A in '19, is on the Major League roster for the first time. Drafted as an infielder in the eighth round out of the University of Texas in 2017, Boswell made a smooth transition to the outfield in '19.