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No-contact policy forces Rays to get creative in keeping everyone sharp

Rays Tales: The team is focusing on health, communication and video coaching.
While there are long-term issues to sort out — like whether Charlie Morton would be more or less likely to retire or pitch in 2021 — during the current delay to the season, the Rays are focused on more pressing matters in the short term.
While there are long-term issues to sort out — like whether Charlie Morton would be more or less likely to retire or pitch in 2021 — during the current delay to the season, the Rays are focused on more pressing matters in the short term. [ JOHN BAZEMORE | AP ]
Published Apr. 4, 2020
Updated Apr. 5, 2020

ST. PETERSBURG — Rays officials at some point will dive deeply into the impact of an abbreviated or potentially cancelled season on their roster.

How different scenarios could affect broad issues like future team payroll and arbitration/free-agent eligibility, and specifics such as contract extension talks with Austin Meadows and whether Charlie Morton would be more or less likely to retire or pitch in 2021.

But for now, as they await updates from Major League Baseball on resuming play, the priority is on keeping their players and staff safe and healthy through the coronavirus pandemic, and exploring ways to keep them sharp physically and mentally.

While encouraging regular phone and text check-ins and expanding the use of video calls and conferencing, the Rays have instituted a strict social distancing policy.

Related: Why Rays are teaming up with Feeding Tampa Bay to help

“We’ve asked for no staff-to-player in-person contact. That’s a constraint across the board until further notice," general manager Erik Neander said.

That includes players rehabbing injuries getting treatment from team staff, so pitcher Brent Honeywell and a half dozen minor-leaguers in Port Charlotte will be going to private physical therapy centers, which have remained open.

Also, in theory, it precludes pitching coach Kyle Snyder from driving by just when Blake Snell “happens” to be throwing in the front yard of his St. Petersburg home.

But there’s an app for that, or something similar.

Neander said staffers are working out best practices to provide video coaching, or at least monitoring, for players who want input on baseball activities and/or strength and conditioning training — and in engaging and even entertaining ways. Also, to advise players on acquiring baseball training equipment, such as batting tees and nets to hit or throw into.

They’re assembling a program for staff development and growth, a recommended list of books, podcasts and online programs, including topics such as self-help, motivation and language learning. Also, some inter-department presentations and collaborations. For example, if a minor-league coach wants to learn more about analytics.

Related: Former Rays star Chris Archer pitches in to help at All Children's

“The approach for the most part has been to find the best ways to communicate and instruct as we go forward," Neander said. “How do we keep our players sharp in all aspects, and how do we keep our staff sharp mentally and emotionally. We’re thinking through ways we can make the most of the time, while never losing sight of safety and health as the priority."

Money matters

Team officials are working to finalize details this week of how, and to whom, they will disperse the $1 million fund for game-day employees they announced March 17. “We are including all segments of our seasonal worker population in the process," president Brian Auld said. “Our goal is to get one million dollars out as efficiently as we can because we know there is an immediate need." … MLB agreed last week to extend the $400 weekly payments, plus medical benefits, to minor-leaguers through May 31 if they’re still idled, which is a big help — and more than some lower-level players would have gotten in salary. … Advance payments to big-leaguers started Friday, with players on guaranteed deals getting $286,500 spread bi-weekly over two months ($4,783 a day), and others with split majors-minors contracts between approximately $16,500-$60,000 total. … The union will provide additional help to players with previous big-league experience who were in camp on minor-league deals, such as Aaron Loup, Chris Herrmann and six other Rays. Under a plan pushed by executive director Tony Clark, they get $5,000 to $50,000, based on service time, as a supplement to their $400 weekly payment. …. The lack of announcement from the Rays on refunds or credits for unplayed games is based on a league-wide policy to wait to see when/if play resumes.

Rays rumblings

About $10,000 was pledged in the first two days of the Feeding Tampa Bay drive, and Auld said they are heartened and confident of reaching the $150,000 goal the team will match, on top of its initial $100,000 donation. “We have been having some very encouraging discussions with our partners, season-ticket holders and fans who want to help," he said, noting that players and staff have also contributed. … The Trop roof is being lit in red, white blue 7:30-11:30 nightly as a show of solidarity to honor healthcare workers. … Congrats to catcher Mike Zunino and wife Alyssa on the birth of daughter Paisley Grace, who joins 11 ½-month old brother Rhett Michael. … The Rays got off to a 5-2 start, including a three-game sweep of the Yankees, in Strat-O-Matic’s season simulation. … The Rays and Papa John’s teamed to deliver pizzas to “frontline workers” at St. Anthony’s Hospital and St. Petersburg fire departments on Friday, and will to the Moffitt Cancer Center on Monday. … Tyler Glasnow buzzed by Keynan Middleton in the first round of MLB Network Radio’s Best Hair in Baseball Twitter poll, and now faces Carlos Martinez. … A TMZ tweet with 17,500 likes about early prison release for rapper Tekashi 6ix9ine pictured him wearing a black Devil Rays jersey. … Matt Duffy renting Evan Longoria’s St. Pete house had seemed like a big player-to-player real estate deal until Tom Brady moved into Derek Jeter’s place. … A @RaysRadio Twitter bracket to name the “top moment” of the Rays era is headed toward a predictable final matchup: Clinching the 2008 pennant vs. Evan Longoria’s Game 162 walkoff homer. … In another Twitter poll by the Class A Bowling Green affiliate, Blake Snell topped Kevin Kiermaier as the “Greatest Hot Rod of All Time.” Matt Moore and Derek Deitrich were the other semi-finalists. … Too much free time hasn’t been good for Rays president Matt Silverman, who said on 95.3-FM WDAE: “I hit a new level of boredom, I tried cutting my hair for the first time. … And I’ll tell you, it does not look very good. But I’m not going to see many people for the next couple weeks."