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Rays Tales: Trade deadline acquisitions face complex acclimation process

Lucas Duda, who joined the Rays after spending his whole career with the Mets, relied heavily on team staff to help him get settled in: “They’ve done a great job.”
Lucas Duda, who joined the Rays after spending his whole career with the Mets, relied heavily on team staff to help him get settled in: “They’ve done a great job.”
Published Aug. 6, 2017

There is something shocking about getting the call that you've been traded, and then there are a lot of complications. The three veterans the Rays acquired last week — RHP Steve Cishek, DH/1B Lucas Duda, LHP Dan Jennings — all went through that to differing degrees, having to pack a bag, leave loved ones behind and jet off to join their new team. And even before they arrived, the Rays staff was already hard at work to make them feel welcome and comfortable. Here are some glimpses of the acclimation process:

For introductions

Steve Cishek wanted to get a head start on learning his new teammates, so in flying from Seattle to New York he grabbed his phone and Googled some of his mates. "I did some homework just getting to know the guys, going over their backgrounds a little bit," Cishek said. "Like Jim Hickey, since he's the pitching coach, I found out he's from Chicago, and he's been here 11 years. I like to come prepared a little bit. I care a lot, and I want to be able to mix in with this team as quick as I can. We're in a playoff run, and I want to do everything I can to help out. And getting to know the guys quicker will help out for sure. … But you still feel like the new kid at school."

As Dan Jennings made his initial rounds in the Yankee Stadium visiting clubhouse, meeting staff and teammates, he took a different approach. "The way I got acclimated was making sure every single guy knew that I would have a hard time remembering their name right off the bat," he said. "I've got no chance. I'm bad with names anyway. So to remember all the guys' names and faces and stuff is hard. It'll come in time. I try to keep to myself until I start to get to know everyone a little bit and their personalities and kind of go from there."

Ties that bind

The connection between players can run deep, which helps in the transition process. Lucas Duda, for example, played on a youth league team with 3B Evan Longoria in Southern California. Of more recent vintage, Steve Cishek and Dan Jennings not only came up together in the Marlins system and played in Miami from 2012-14 but were teammates there at times with SS Adeiny Hechavarria, 1B Logan Morrison and DL'd RHP Nathan Eovaldi. (Plus, Cishek, Jennings and Morrison all live during the offseason in the Jupiter/Palm Beach area).

Family first

Even though the White Sox were trading most of their veterans, Dan Jennings said he tried not to think too much about the possibility of being dealt, right up until he got the call after getting back to his downtown Chicago condo with his wife, Courtney, and 3½-year-old daughter, Brooklyn, after what turned out to be his last White Sox game. "From a family standpoint, that's when it started to kick in a little bit," he said. "What do you do if you have to get up and move, what do you do with your family and stuff like that? I've got a wife that's seven months pregnant, so a lot to think about."

Taking it to the house

One reality of being traded is needing a place to live in the new home city. MLB rules provide for a week stay in a hotel, which worked fine for Lucas Duda. But some players, especially those with kids, such as Steve Cishek and Dan Jennings, prefer something more comfortable. Joining the Rays at the front end of an eight-game road trip bought them time and plenty of advice from new teammates and staff. So by the time they got back to St. Petersburg early Friday, Jennings' wife and daughter were settled into a downtown condo they rented online via Airbnb, and Cishek had rented a house — the one Rays OF Colby Rasmus had been living in — for his wife and two daughters. The Rays also pay for their cars to be shipped (and arrange for rentals in the interim) and cover the costs of their families' travel.

Lending a hand

Soon after deals are made, Rays clubhouse, athletic training and other staff reach out to their counterparts with the players' former teams to get "scouting reports" for everything from specifics on uniform sizes and equipment to what special requests they have and what they're like.

Once the players arrive, Rays travel and logistics director Chris Westmoreland, clubhouse/equipment manager Jose Fernandez and head athletic trainer Ron Porterfield provide them with all the info they need regarding how the Rays do things. That covers everything from dress code, team rules and travel policies to when the clubhouse and training room open, what they can wear on the field for early work, where their families sit for games and myriad others. "We try to answer all their questions before they have to ask," Westmoreland said. "We want to make them as comfortable as we can so they can focus on what they have to do on the field."

While Steve Cishek and Dan Jennings had been traded before, Lucas Duda had been with the Mets his entire career, so the transition was new to him. "The Rays have been pretty awesome in setting stuff up and getting us a place," he said. "They've done a great job as far as acclimating us and pointing us in the right direction."

Some things we think we know

• The Rays aren't being ignorant, or stubborn, in not calling up top RHP prospect Brent Honeywell to join their rotation. They have their reasons, starting with their confidence in RHP Austin Pruitt and RHP Matt Andriese's projected return from the DL. Though Honeywell is 4-0, 1.33 in his past five starts at Triple-A Durham, they feel there are still some inconsistencies in his performance, plus there are two other starters at Triple A with better stats — LHP Ryan Yarbrough (11-5, 3.46, 1.15 WHIP) and RHP Yonny Chirinos (11-3, 2.89, 0.98) — in comparison to Honeywell (11-7, 3.95, 1.37). There is a 40-man roster crunch, as the Rays already will have to create three spots to reinstate CF Kevin Kiermaier, INF Matt Duffy and Andriese. Honeywell's innings are being monitored, as with all young pitchers, which is why he works only five or six for the Bulls and, if called up, he would be more likely as a September bullpen addition. And there is a financial component, though a long way off, in that he would reach free agency a year sooner.

• INF Tim Beckham (right) is off to a roaring start with the Orioles, 11-for-16 (with six extra-base hits) in his first four games. But the scale on trading him will be more determined by whether the Rays bet right on Brad Miller, who was 2-for-15 in his first five games after the deal. Also, it will be interesting to see how Beckham handles a reserve role when Orioles SS J.J. Hardy comes off the disabled list later this month.

Rays rumblings

The Rays are fifth (up from a preseason 10th) in mlbpipeline.com's updated ranking of farm systems and one of three teams with three top 25 prospects: RHP Brent Honeywell 14th, INF Willy Adames 18, top pick 1B/LHP Brendan McKay (right), 23rd. Baseball America had the Rays sixth. … For the Aug. 25-27 Players Weekend in St. Louis, look for the Rays to sport a light-blue softball-style jersey with yellow sleeves, and with nicknames on the back. … After making an impromptu appearance with the children's choir singing the anthem Wednesday in Houston, OF Mallex Smith said he would be up for a solo performance if the Rays asked. … A new popular product in the Rays clubhouse is Essentia alkaline ionized water, which supposedly rehydrates better. … Names we heard linked to the Rays, in various degrees, around the trade deadline included INFs Zack Cozart (Reds), Darwin Barney (Blue Jays), Brandon Phillips (Braves) and Tyler Saladino (White Sox) and INF/OF Howie Kendrick (Phillies to Nationals). Also, that the Yankees wanted to get 1B Lucas Duda. … In ranking the 61 prospects traded at the deadline, Baseball America had the Rays giving up No. 33 RHP Drew Smith (to the Mets for Duda) and No. 41 1B Casey Gillaspie (to White Sox for Dan Jennings) and getting back No. 57 RHP Tobias Myers (from Orioles for INF Tim Beckham). … There really is a DJ Kitty credit card? … Odds on the Rays winning the World Series from the online Bovada site remained 66-1 after the trade deadline.