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Why playing in Arizona or Florida is still an issue for Rays, others

Rays Tales: Reports generate excitement over games starting, but myriad issues have to be worked out. Plus rumblings.
In this file photo, the Cincinnati Reds play the Cleveland Indians in a spring training baseball game at Goodyear Ball Park in Goodyear, Ariz. Putting all 30 teams in the Phoenix area this season and playing in empty ballparks was among the ideas discussed Monday during a call among five top officials from MLB and the players' association.
In this file photo, the Cincinnati Reds play the Cleveland Indians in a spring training baseball game at Goodyear Ball Park in Goodyear, Ariz. Putting all 30 teams in the Phoenix area this season and playing in empty ballparks was among the ideas discussed Monday during a call among five top officials from MLB and the players' association. [ MARK DUNCAN | Associated Press ]
Published Apr. 11, 2020
Updated Apr. 11, 2020

Plans of how Major League Baseball games could start float out from different sources, providing hope there will be action sometime relatively soon, and some intrigue in how it could work.

For at least a few minutes after reading the latest, with teams playing at their spring bases competing in realigned Florida and Arizona “leagues," there was a welcome diversion, a chance to think about actual baseball (noun; a game played with a bat and ball between two teams … )

How would the Rays fare in a “Grapefruit South” division that featured the Braves and Twins, two 2019 division champs, plus the Red Sox and the lowly Orioles, while playing in Port Charlotte?

Related: Who wore it best? Our spin on the Tampa Bay sports numbers game

Or, as they’d prefer logistically to be based at the Trop, would they be better off competing in the “Grapefruit North” with the mighty Yankees, their regular rivals, but the less challenging Phillies, Blue Jays and lowly Tigers?

Of course, there’s factors we don’t know that go into the equation: How long is the “season?” Is there a universal DH? How many wild-card teams make the playoffs?

But while it was fun to ponder the possibility of watching games on TV — with the likely presumption fans won’t be allowed — starting at best in June, that concept is no closer to reality than the one floated last week of basing all teams in Arizona. Or dozens of others being batted around by Major League Baseball and players union officials, agents, TV execs, media and players.

One involved person stressed Friday that there is no one plan, or even a preferred list, with all considered premature. That’s for many reasons, starting with the biggest unknown: What will the coronavirus pandemic and national/local health scene look like over the next couple months? Related, how safe will it be to try to play anywhere? What advances will there be in testing and treatment? No one knows.

Logistics are also a major issue. As another baseball person said, “We are exploring anything, and everything is challenging."

Broadly, there are major financial implications. Playing games without fans — thus no money from tickets, concessions, merchandise, parking, etc. — will cost teams, by some estimates, up to 70 percent of their local revenue. And national shared revenues are certain to be reduced.

Plus, there will be significant costs in getting players and essential staff set up at whatever base site and providing the safely isolated living, traveling and playing conditions necessary.

Which means that to get back on the field, the owners are likely to ask the players, who already agreed to have their salaries prorated based on the number of games played, to take a further, and potentially substantial, pay cut. The spin on those negotiations could be a fascinating blame game.

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And there are myriad other issues. Under the Arizona-only plan, which could be the “worst case” option, players and staff could be sequestered even from their families, essentially colonized. Also problematic would be the extreme heat — as Chase Field is the only dome — and time-zone differences for East Coast teams, since TV revenue would be the main source of income. Proximity for all personnel is the primary advantage.

A Florida plan requires more travel between sites and heat plus the threat of rain on a daily basis, but with two domes, the Trop and Marlins Park, multiple games could be played indoors each day at both sites, staggered for TV times. East Coast teams like this plan, or an all-Florida option, better.

Ultimately, everyone in baseball would welcome the chance to figure out all the problems and logistics and get back on the field.

“I just wanna play baseball as soon as possible whenever they say it’s clear for us to play!" Rays pitcher Blake Snell said via text. “I’d do whatever to be able to play again. I miss my everyday life with my everyday people."

Money matters

The Rays moved up a spot to 28th with a franchise value of $1.05 billion in the annual rankings by Forbes, ahead of the Royals ($1.025 billion) and Marlins ($980 million), which were both sold relatively recently. Some in baseball dispute the methodology and math used by Forbes, which estimates the Rays’ 2019 revenues (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization) at $264 million (28th most) and operating income at $68 million (tied for eighth most with the Cubs). … Forbes also reported the Rays’ new cable deal pays “an average of $60 million a year;" team officials have declined to reveal the terms but say reports are too high. … Owners of three Florida teams made Forbes list of the 20 richest in the world, but none of the locals: Shahid Khan, Jaguars, was 12th with a net worth of $7.8 billion; Stephen Ross, Dolphins, 13th, $7.6 billion; Micky Arison, Heat, 19th. $5.1 billion.

The Snell game

Snell interviewed Yankees slugger and buddy Aaron Judge on MLB’s Instagram Live page Thursday in the first of what are slated as weekly episodes of The Snell Show. Snell said he’s looking forward to the experience, but being the one asking the questions was “more nerve-wracking than I thought it would be." The best exchange was Snell asking Judge what he expected when they matched up (a fastball up, then a changeup and sliders in) and pretending to take notes. They also talked shoes, clothes, haircuts and music, including Travis Scott and Rihanna. … As the Rays rep in a new MLB The Show Players League video game tournament running through April and benefiting charity, Snell went 2-2 on Friday’s opening night. Other players with local ties include Bo Bichette (Blue Jays), Lance McCullers Jr. (Astros), Brett Phillips (Royals), Ryne Stanek (Marlins).

Rays rumblings

Big-league veterans Nelson Cruz and Robinson Cano raved about top prospect Wander Franco in an Instagram video, Cano saying (in Spanish), “Just wait until they give him a chance in the majors." … First baseman Ji-Man Choi was set to start working out in Korea after a two-week self-quarantine following his return home from the United States, per the Korea Times. ... Team president Brian Auld paused a Friday phone interview to shout hello to former team exec Chaim Bloom, who — still working from his St. Petersburg home — walked by in his Red Sox gear. ... Rays officials are following up with game-day staffers after issues getting out some emails with details of the $500 and $1,000 grants being provided. … The 2008 ALCS-clinching play won the @RaysRadio twitter poll as the team’s greatest moment of the Rays era. … Outfielder Hunter Renfroe told 95.3 WDAE he has a full workout facility in his Mississippi home, including a batting cage with a pitching machine, weights, Peloton bike and treadmill: “I never have to leave my house.’’ Also, he’s fishing, hunting turkeys and raising chickens.

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First turkey in 7 years 🦃

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