ST. PETERSBURG — The oldie-but-goodie Rogers Hornsby quote is often brought up around this time, the one where he says, “People ask me what I do in winter when there’s no baseball. I’ll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring.” Apparently he didn’t have Candy Crush on his phone or a borrowed Netflix password then, so there are more options now to pass that time. But, after a Super Bowl that had so much punting it made bunting cool; with nine weeks to go until the NHL playoffs start and, the Lightning hope, another eight weeks after that until they end; and with the NBA generating more off-court drama than on until the Warriors win again (though at least they won’t be playing the Cavs for a fifth straight year!), baseball season is on the clock. The A’s, with a March 20 regular-season opener vs. Seattle in Japan, will be the first to start spring training, on Monday. The Rays will be on the field in Port Charlotte for the first time a couple days later, on Feb. 13. Here are a few things to toss around until the pitchers and catchers step on the field:
1. Are the Rays going to make any more moves?
Probably not. After winning 90 games last year, the Rays went into the off-season talking big – that they had their eyes on making some impactful additions to their core, and had some money to spend. But they also were mindful of not straying from the philosophy that worked last year, which was giving some of their young players opportunity. So in a way they kind of split the difference. The big money (for them) they spent was on a starting pitching, giving veteran starter Charlie Morton $30 million over two years, plus an option. They filled the hole at catcher with a trade for Mike Zunino, who makes about $4.5 million. They swapped Jake Bauers, and threw in $5 million, to get Yandy Diaz, thinking he can, with some adjustments, become a beast. But they passed on some hitters with better resumes in replacing 30-homer hitting C.J. Cron (who they dumped on waivers after being unable to find a trade) in signing on Avisail Garcia. As much as they like what they have, they still seem to be a little light in the power department and are clearly lacking a reliever with closing experience. Given the abundance of unsigned free agents, there’s a chance they could find an unexpected bargain later in the spring. Especially if they can get a veteran on a minor-league deal, knowing they’ll have some roster space open up with rehabbing pitchers Anthony Banda, Jose De Leon and Brent Honeywell go on the 60-day DL. But as it stands now, what you see on their 64 roster is likely what you’ll get to open camp.
2. What’s happening between now and the start of camp?
If you can’t wait for a baseball fix, Saturday is the team’s annual Fan Fest, 11-3 at the Trop, free of charge (but with tickets required this year for anyone 18 and up, see raysbaseball.com/fanfest). Players and team officials will be around, there are plenty of activities for kids and adults, q-and-a sessions, displays of new merchandise and promo items, and a chance to walk on the field and see the clubhouse.
3. What happened with Pham’s arbitration case?
The Rays and Pham had their hearing on Monday, so a decision is likely to be announced Tuesday. The spread between the $3.5 million they offered and the $4.1 million he requested obviously wasn’t huge, just over the cost of one of the many pre-arbitration player salaries they’ll have.
4. What are the cool promotional items this year?
The full schedule is due out any day now. From what we’ve heard and seen from a WDAE preview Monday, one of the cool ones is the Ryne Stanek (bottle) opener. Another is the Blake Snell Cy Young “Cyzilla” bobblehead, set for March 30). There’s also a Tommy Pham bobblehead and, what we hope is for a throwback game, a Devil Rays fanny pack.
5. When do single-game tickets go on sale?
Friday at 10 a.m., if you use raysbaseball.com. Saturday, if you prefer other outlets, including the Trop box office (no cash though!). Or Thursday, if you’re a Rays Insider (sign up at raysbaseball.com/newsletter by noon Wednesday).
6. What else is important to know about the ticket sales?
A couple things:
* Even though the Rays are cutting capacity at the Trop by closing the upper deck, they are keeping the popular $7.11 Friday ticket special. Those tickets now will be located in the lower corners and the party deck above left field, and subject to availability. You need a coupon from 7-Eleven to get that deal, and those won’t be in stores until March 11.
* Flex packs, which offer a good deal of five tickets for $75 (plus a $6.25 convenience fee per pack) also will be limited to those seating areas. Flex packs are again available only on mobile devices. Game selection starts Wednesday at 10 a.m.
* There are a series of other standing specials, including family deals for some Sunday games; free tickets to Monday games for military, teachers and first responders; $2 kids tickets to select weekday games with a full-price adult ticket purchase, $15 press level tickets for seniors to midweek day games, and student tickets starting at $5 for some games. See tampabay.com/rays for more information.
7. What are the biggest questions going into spring?
For all the changes the Rays made, they seem, barring injuries, to have a pretty set roster. Position player wise, the only battle could be between INF/OF Brandon Lowe and OF Guillermo Heredia for the final job. Most of the 12 pitching spots seem to be set, too. They are planning for three starters (Snell, Morton, Tyler Glasnow) and using two openers, and most of the bullpen spots are also determined, with maybe competition for one or two.
8. Who are the must-see players in camp?
In addition to the newcomers, this will be the first Port Charlotte camp for Ji-Man Choi, Austin Meadows, Glasnow and Pham, all acquired during last season. Also, Nate Lowe, a minor-league invitee who has a chance to join the team at some point during the year.
9. Anyone else?
There’s been a ton of praise heaped on the Rays farm system this winter. Two players who will be in minor-league camp but of considerable interest are pitcher/hitter Brendan McKay, and 17-year-old Wander Franco, who is ranked among the top five prospects in the game.
10. Any chance of seeing Bryce Harper or Manny Machado?
Sure, if either (or both) ends up signing with one of the teams that train near the Rays on the west coast of Florida, like the Phillies – or the Yankees.
Contact Marc Topkin at [email protected]. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.