Saturday, February 24, 2018
Tampa Bay Rays

Rays' Cuba trip a big opportunity, and a big disruption

PORT CHARLOTTE

Going to Cuba for a planned March 22 exhibition will provide the Rays with a remarkable opportunity.

They will be part of a historic moment in not only sports but world politics and international relations, given the tentative plans for President Barack Obama to attend and possibly throw out the first pitch. Plus they will get the chance to sightsee, explore and experience the island, and its baseball-rich history, before tourism becomes mainstream.

But the trip can also be a major hassle in terms of disruption to schedule and routine less than two weeks before the start of the regular season. And it will surely cause some personal inconveniences, a few players already voicing their preference to not go.

Major League Baseball is doing what it can to make it worth the Rays' while by paying each player who goes a stipend, said to be $10,000 a man.

And the players union is working diligently on the details, seeking to reduce the potential issues and concerns by dealing with issues such as field and stadium conditions, safety and transportation. Union chief Tony Clark said the goal is making the trip "as comfortable and as less invasive as possible."

Just the schedule alone can cause problems, as the Rays have to decide which players may be better served by getting more work, or certainly any medical treatment, by staying home.

Under the latest plan, they would head out on two flights on Sunday, March 20, one mid-day and another with most of the players after their game in Sarasota.

With the potential that last-minute field improvements will be needed at Havana's Estadio Latinoamericano, they may not be able to work out Monday nor do too much before the Tuesday afternoon game. And they won't get back to Port Charlotte (via a flight to Tampa) until late Tuesday night, with a game scheduled for Wednesday afternoon in Fort Myers.

So among the scheduling questions are whether to take the pitchers who worked the Sunday game or those who are slated to throw Monday and Wednesday; and to make sure they have adequate backup along, especially if the field proves to still be a concern.

"I know full well what something like this does and the adjustment that it may force guys to make in their preparation for the season," Clark said. "And I don't take it lightly."

RAYS RUMBLINGS: The team so values its No. 13 pick in the upcoming draft that it might take free agent SS Ian Desmond going with the Andre Dawson/'87 Cubs "blank check" to get signed. … RHP Chris Archer was 12th and CF Kevin Kiermaier 22nd on an espn.com ranking of MLB's "best assets" — based on projected performance and contract terms/status. … One ripple in roster-guessing and setting is that with six off days in the first five weeks, the Rays could keep an extra reliever or position player, including a third catcher. … Bovada online odds have the Rays at a division-high 9-1 to win the AL East, the Red Sox are 8-5 favorites. … For what it's worth, LHP Drew Smyly ranked fifth on an mlbtraderumors.com projection, albeit extensively researched, of pitchers at greatest risk to need Tommy John elbow surgery. … Baseball operations president Matt Silverman on manager Kevin Cash's spring opening address: "It was Kevin being Kevin — direct, succinct, straightforward and full of energy and positivity." … Clark called the Rays a young team that is "always interested and asking a lot of questions, which is good."

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