Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo said the organization was ready to step up to pay their minor league players if Major League Baseball did not move swiftly enough.
During a morning teleconference, Rizzo said that, as a former minor league baseball player himself, he knows how difficult it is to make ends meet even without the threat of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic canceling games.
“Very, very glad to see that Major League Baseball is beginning to take care of minor league players,” Rizzo said on the conference call. “That’s something that we were certainly prepared to do without MLB’s authority, if it came to that. We did want to wait to see what Major League Baseball would do for us to make our move. These minor league players are not only of great importance to Major League Baseball and the Washington Nationals. These are the next star players for the Nationals. These are the next union members for the MLBPA.”
Rizzo added that while the Nationals were prepared to act on their own, they made sure to talk with MLB officials first.
“I don’t think there was any real balancing act,” he said. “Our motives were pure and we wanted to take care of our people. I think you have to. This is an industry-wide issue that needed to be addressed by the industry. I think that when people step out and do things on their own, it’s great, but in lieu of the bigger picture, I think it was prudent to contact MLB. We felt it was kind of our obligation to be a good team player and do it the way we did it.”
Rizzo said the Nats have also made arrangements for their players from the Dominican Republic and Venezuela to get home safely, including those at their Dominican academy. In case returning home turns out not to be viable option for some players, Rizzo said, the team has made contingency plans to keep them in a safe place.
“We have our Dominican academy players go to a safe place outside of the academy,” Rizzo confirmed. “If they have a safe haven to go to that would be safer than being, again, in a larger group of people, we have sent them home for the most part.
“There’s certain people at the academy and here in the U.S. that’s unrealistic to go to their homes. The Venezuelan players that were in minor league camp, they are still here in West Palm. We’ve got them put up in a hotel here because it just didn’t work to send them to Venezuela. And we have a handful of players in the Dominican academy that are staying in the academy because they’re from other parts of the world that are less safe than in our academy atmosphere.”
Rizzo said the minor league players in the Nats organization are very important to him because they represent the life blood of the organization.
“I feel very, very fortunate that we’re able to take care of these minor league players. They are near and dear to my heart,” he said. “I was one of them for many, many years, and I remember the trials and tribulations of being a minor league player in the best of times. There’s a struggle. Going back to my days as a minor leaguer, I played for $850 a month living in Rohnert Park, Calif., in 1984.
“So it’s a tough existence, and just a little bit more certainty on their part to kind of sooth them through this pandemic until it ends. We’re certainly going to continue to work with MLB for an industry-wide plan for minor league player compensation. 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 (who own the team). We are going to work with MLB diligently to get that done.”
The bottom line for Rizzo is the health and welfare of Nats players at every level, the coaching staffs and others in the organization in what is an unprecedented and uncharted time.
“This thing is not in the general manager’s manual,” Rizzo said. “These are very, very fluid times, and they are very uncertain times, and suffice to say, we are all about caring for our players, our staff and their families, to make sure we do what we’re supposed to do and be good citizens and take care of each other.”