PORT CHARLOTTE — Under clear skies but clouds of uncertainty, the Rays returned to the fields Saturday morning with 30 to 35 players going through a very informal workout, hitters taking swings and pitchers playing catch.
“It was a pretty short day," manager Kevin Cash said.
Though Major League Baseball announced Friday night that spring training operations and camps were “suspended," the Rays and other teams will continue to make their facilities, and their staff, available for players to keep working out.
At least for now.
If the delay in starting the season due to the coronavirus pandemic stretches into April or even May as some expect, it’s a fair question of how long that will last.
Even for the mighty New York Yankees, whose player rep, Zack Britton, blathered on Friday in pronouncing how their decision to remain in Tampa to keep working out was a show of their unity, dedication and commitment to win.
“Guys are here to win a World Series. … Guys want to be ready for whenever that opportunity comes," he told the New Jersey Star-Ledger. “I was happy to know that we’re all pulling in the same direction. … Guys want to stick it out here. They could have easily gone home to be with their families and they decided we want to stick together and get ready for the season."
At least for now.
At some point, staying in camp to keep going through informal, mundane workouts is going to get old for players across the game. Except for the few who own houses near their spring camps (more in Arizona than Florida), players are going to want to go home to be with their families. Plus, they’re not all multi-millionaires, and the expense of staying, including extending leases or getting hotels, especially if they’re not getting paid (which they don’t during the spring, and may not at the previously scheduled start of the season), will mount.
Depending on the spread of the virus, and how many players or staffers on how many teams test positive (as you know there will be some), sending the players home may even become the safer, or mandated, practice.
With so much unknown about the spread of the virus, some team officials think having the players in somewhat controlled spring training settings, and with direct access to their medical staffs, makes the most sense. But, conversely, having players, coaches, athletic trainers, clubhouse staff, plus food service, security and maintenance personnel, all together in the same building may prove unwise.
Though the Rays had a good turnout on Saturday, team officials don’t know how many players will keep coming out after Sunday’s off-day. Unlike the Yankees, there was no formal vote, nor bravado. Players individually will decide how best to take advantage of the options given by Major League Baseball to stay in camp, go home or go to their team’s regular-season site.
That’s where the Rays may — again, depending on the medical recommendations — be in a better spot. Most players who are going to make their big-league roster either own homes, or already have leases in place, in the Tampa Bay area. And starting March 23, the Rays are planning to deep clean, then open the Trop for the same kind of informal workouts, similar to what they do in January. The Rays figure, at least as of now, that most of their main players would prefer to come back to the Tampa Bay area and work out at the Trop.
There is a question about others whose assignments are less certain among the 49 still on the spring roster, whether they’d prefer to also come north, or stay in Port Charlotte, where the team could also continue to hold informal workouts. While the bulk of the 150-plus minor-league players who normally work out there were sent home, there will be some with extenuating circumstances (rehabbing injuries, being from travel-restricted Venezuela) still there as well.
Also, unclear is whether the team continues to provide the $195 a day meal and housing per diem players get during camp, which is one of myriad issues still being negotiated by league and union officials.
Like general manager Erik Neander on Friday, Cash said Saturday they trust in their players to make the proper decisions regarding staying both healthy and in shape for whenever play resumes.
“We feel our players will take a very responsible course of action in keeping their health up and their bodies in shape, and certainly the pitchers and their arms," he said.
Also, that it’s probably not a matter of individual teams setting up their own plans. “I think that it’s best for Major League Baseball and the union to do everything they can to come up with a unified message," Cash said.
At least for now.
In "confronting a series of unexpected challenges,'' Rays officials are discussing several ways to help employees (including from the Rowdies, which they also own) whose compensation is tied to games that are or will be canceled, citing a focus on the “safety, health and well-being” of their staff. Lightning owner Jeff Vinik on Friday announced a plan to do so. ... Catcher Chris Betts, via Twitter, on Rays minor-leaguers being sent home: "We just got kicked out of the safest and most sanitary place that we would be able to workout at...and teams want us to workout and stay in game shape? Noted'' ... Among many unanswerable questions at this point: how will teams scout for the draft when there are no high school or college games being played? … Rays players have different takes on the threat of getting the coronavirus. Brendan McKay has a unique situation: “I’ve gone up to Tampa and my girlfriend works in a hospital so, like, do I know if she’s come in contact with somebody. Or she may not even know. It’s a little scary.” ... Pitcher Charlie Morton, who lives in the Bradenton area, plans to work out at his home and a local gym and throw on a nearby field, grabbing a box of game-quality baseballs from the clubhouse to use. ... Blake Snell tweeted that he would’ve liked to join Reds pitcher Trevor Bauer’s planned sandlot-style pickup game in Arizona, in which all players would be mic’d up on social media. That would be entertaining. ... One thing the Rays were experimenting with in spring games was using a four-man outfield with a runner on first. … Though on-field matters are clearly secondary, the delayed start to the season, in theory, will allow pitchers Snell and McKay, who had minor injury setbacks, to be ready. … An mlb.com list has Kevin Kiermaier as the fastest Ray.
Contact Marc Topkin at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.