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The one thing Rays aren’t talking about amid plans to resume season

Rays Tales | Normally, general manager Erik Neander is consumed with ideas to make the team better. Now he just wants to see the group he has play.
With a new quarantine haircut., Rays general manager Erik Neander said on a Zoom media call Friday that the team is making plans to be ready if and when MLB says workouts can resume.
With a new quarantine haircut., Rays general manager Erik Neander said on a Zoom media call Friday that the team is making plans to be ready if and when MLB says workouts can resume. [ MARC TOPKIN | Tampa Bay Times ]
Published May 2, 2020|Updated May 3, 2020

General manager Erik Neander still has the full 2020 schedule synched in his cell phone calendar, providing daily reminders of where the Rays are supposed to be and who they would be playing.

Instead, he spends his days dealing with the impact of the coronavirus shutdown. Communicating over various platforms with players and staff about training and professional development programs, coordinating preparation throughout the organization for the potential — and hopefully soon — start to the season.

Among a seemingly endless list of topics, there’s one thing Neander spends virtually no time on.

Related: MLB cautiously optimistic about starting play, and with a somewhat familiar look

“One of the most disorienting parts of this, perhaps, is that right now when it comes to roster considerations, our minds are pretty well shut off," Neander said Friday on a Zoom media call. “So much of the focus is on the group that we have and making sure they are as prepared as can be for whenever we start back up."

Given how many of his waking hours he otherwise would devote to contemplating trades, call-ups, contingencies and other moves to improve a team he already thinks quite highly of, that might be the weirdest thing of all.

With hope but no set timetable, Neander wants the Rays to be prepared for all scenarios, but also not do anything to compromise their ultimate priority of keeping everyone healthy, which to this point they have. One possible move if given clearance, for example, would be having some of the 20 players who stayed in the Tampa Bay area start working out informally together.

“There’s obviously competitive temptations that come into play," Neander said. “We all want to play. We have a really good team. We want to see it on the field. But we have to make sure that we prioritize health and safety, first and foremost.

“That being said, each day that passes by we are one day closer to resuming play. We don’t know exactly when that will be and what it will look like. But it is important to try to develop plans that prepare us for whatever comes from Major League Baseball that we are to start working toward a resumption of activity, that we’re ready to go.

“And we’re not losing any additional time in the way that we’re preparing for that, what we’re planning from a facility access standpoint to an instruction standpoint with our players."

Related: Most certain thing about upcoming draft for Rays is uncertainty

While much about a restart is unknown, it seems certain the schedule will be much shorter than the usual 162 games and rosters larger than the planned 26.

Neander is confident the Rays’ depth and versatility will be to their benefit in both situations, as well as adapting to whatever timetable to get ready is presented.

Also, that the players will gain perspective and seize what looked like a prime opportunity going into the season.

“This layoff that we have here is just going to make them all the more hungry," he said. “I think it will only strengthen a lot of the feelings and the beliefs that we saw when we were last together, and really looking forward to see that play out."

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Business department

The Rays were the first team to furlough staff in addition to cutting the pay of most others, but not the only team. The Marlins are also doing so on the business side, the A’s were considering it before reportedly deciding to pay staff through May and other teams are said to be discussing. Part of the Rays’ thinking was to be proactive now in hopes of not needing to make additional cuts as the shutdown goes on and, even if play eventually begins, the loss of revenues mounts over the next month. Other teams potentially could just be delaying the inevitable and have to react more severely then. While that doesn’t make it easier for the furloughed staff, which includes several long-tenured staffers, the Rays claim no jobs will be eliminated. … In offering a 25 percent bonus for concessions and merchandise, the Rays have one of the league’s most generous incentive programs to get fans to take credits for their ticket money rather than refunds, which obviously allows the Rays to keep and use the funds for other purposes. Some teams that offered a bonus — 10 percent was common — did so on additional ticket purchases; the Rays’ plan was to reward the fans with concessions and souvenirs whenever they do get back to the Trop.

Rays rumblings

Top prospect Wander Franco is clearly still thinking big, hoping to get to the majors this season while he is still 19, and telling Dominican journalist William Aish in an Instagram chat that in four years “I see myself with $300 million on the table." … MLB.com has the Rays taking University of Miami right-hander Slade Cecconi with the 24th pick in the upcoming draft, Baseball America projects Hurricanes teammate Chris McMahon. … Bored in the house? The team now has a TikTok account, @rays. … Notable new quarantine looks: Neander sporting a closely shaved haircut, courtesy of his 6-year-old son Penn; TV pre-/post-game analyst Orestes Destrade with a mostly gray beard he is threatening to keep for the first game back; shortstop Willy Adames also with a buzz cut and saying his workout regimen goal is to not get fat. … The Rays are considered favorites by mlb.com to sign two of the top international prospects, No. 3-ranked Venezuelan shortstop Carlos Colmenarez and No. 15 Dominican outfielder Jhonny Piron. … Congrats to now-retired 2012 first-round pick Richie Shaffer, who completed his degree at Clemson (11 years after starting there) and is now writing sci-fi and streaming video games. … The gradient lettered 1998 Devil Rays uniforms ranked ninth on The Athletic’s list of best expansion uniforms; the 1977 Blue Jays were first. … The Tampa area fishing trip with Mets slugger Pete Alonso sold for $70,000 in the All-In Challenge.

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