Rockies GM backs Desmond’s decision to skip ’20

DENVER — Colorado Rockies general manager Jeff Bridich said he supports Ian Desmond’s decision to sit out the 2020 season to focus on his young family and help rejuvenate youth baseball in his hometown in Florida.

Bridich said he had a pair of recent conversations with the 34-year-old outfielder, who announced his decision in a lengthy and heartfelt Instagram post Monday night.

Desmond wrote that the “COVID-19 pandemic has made this baseball season one that is a risk I am not comfortable taking.” The slugger, who is biracial, also mentioned a myriad of issues within baseball, including sexism, homophobia and socioeconomic concerns, as well as the racial reckoning that emerged after George Floyd’s death while in police custody in Minneapolis sparked protests around the world.

“The conversations with Ian felt the exact same that his written words feel to me,” Bridich said, “which is from the heart and honest. … I did not know that he was going to write something as thoughtful and as comprehensive as (he did), but I’m not surprised.”

Desmond, who hit .255 with 20 homers in 140 games last season, had been due $5,555,556 for the prorated share of his $15 million salary, part of a $70 million, five-year contract. He is owed $8 million next year, and his deal includes a $15 million team option for 2022 with a $2 million buyout.

Opting out this summer doesn’t affect his 2021 status, nor does it affect his relationship with Bridich.

“Ian is extremely thoughtful in what he does, he’s thoughtful in how he prepares as a professional athlete, he’s thoughtful as a husband and a father … he’s thoughtful about things that are bigger than him,” Bridich said. “And to this point, the reference has been the team or the clubhouse or the locker room, or things that affect the organization, his charity work, passion projects of his outside of the game of baseball.

“He’s willing to devote a lot of time and energy and thought to all of the things that he does. And so when you have somebody like that who is a professional athlete who is in the thick of it every day and trying to do the very best that he can to hold up his end of the bargain as an athlete, a teammate, a performer, and then he’s always willing to think about other people on the team, in the organization and outside the organization, it’s easy to gravitate to people like that.”

Desmond complained about a lack of diversity in baseball and criticized the clubhouse atmosphere, saying it includes racism, sexism and homophobia. Bridich said Desmond didn’t complain specifically about the Rockies’ clubhouse, but Bridich did acknowledge the organization could be more diverse.

In his Instagram post, Desmond said he has been sharing more of his thoughts and experiences as a biracial man since Floyd’s death on May 25. Floyd, a Black man in handcuffs, died after a white police officer held his knee on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes.

Desmond said his mind started racing during a recent visit to the Sarasota baseball fields that he played on as a kid. He wrote about how they looked run-down and neglected and how important youth baseball was for him growing up.

Desmond said he wants to help Sarasota Youth Baseball get back on track.

Although Desmond’s decision is a big loss for Colorado, the Rockies on Tuesday agreed to a minor league deal with veteran Matt Kemp, who owns a .327 batting average with 21 home runs and 77 RBIs over 86 career games at Denver’s downtown ballpark.

“Yeah, we’re well aware of the damage that he’s done against us,” Bridich said of Kemp.

Kemp, who is expected in Denver by Thursday, will have to earn his way onto the roster, and he’ll benefit from the National League using the designated hitter when pro baseball attempts to start the coronavirus-delayed season in late July.

“The DH is an obvious benefit in terms of his potential place on our major league roster,” Bridich said. “That was going to be the case whether Ian opted in or opted out, and so again, it’s a right-handed power bat. He’s got a sense of the strike zone, we’ve seen it for how many years? And he’s very motivated to get back on the field and continue his career and play well. Whether that’s in the outfield or only at DH, we have to let some weeks pass before we can make any decisions like that.”

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