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There’s a big if, but 2020 season could be quite interesting for Rays

Rays Tales: Facing extremely good NL East pitching would be an added challenge under a proposed setup, but other issues look manageable.
Tampa Bay Rays Japanese slugger Yoshi Tsutsugo and Willie Adames, in center, embrace as they talk while heading off the field after drills during the Rays first full-squad workout at the Charlotte Sports Park, 2300 El Jobean Rd, on Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2020 in Port Charlotte. Pictured from left is Joey Wendle, Hunter Renfroe, Tsutsugo, Adames, and Manuel Margot.
Tampa Bay Rays Japanese slugger Yoshi Tsutsugo and Willie Adames, in center, embrace as they talk while heading off the field after drills during the Rays first full-squad workout at the Charlotte Sports Park, 2300 El Jobean Rd, on Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2020 in Port Charlotte. Pictured from left is Joey Wendle, Hunter Renfroe, Tsutsugo, Adames, and Manuel Margot. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published May 16, 2020
Updated May 16, 2020

There are, as Rays lefty Blake Snell reminded the world this week, many issues to be resolved for baseball to get underway in July, as has been proposed.

A major topic of discussion is finances, stemming from the owners’ plan to further reduce salaries beyond the agreement for prorated pay previously reached because games will be played, at least initially, with no fans.

The players also may not be comfortable with elements of the league’s 67-page plus health and safety proposal, including testing for the coronavirus several times a week rather than daily, with a 24-hour turnaround; and to isolate only people who test positive while allowing others to continue in their jobs, and then do contact tracing and followup tests.

But just for a few minutes, let’s assume the players and owners (whom Manfred said would lose nearly $4 billion in a canceled season) can make a deal to play and the requisite approvals from medical and government officials are granted. Let’s talk about the season purely from a good-problems-to-have-on-the-field perspective.

What would the Rays’ season, for which they initially had extremely high hopes, look like?

In a word, tough. In another, exciting.

The current plan is for a roughly 82-game season with the Rays playing only their usual AL East rivals and, for the supposed benefits of simpler and safer travel, NL East teams.

So not only would the schedule be compressed — think four-game series and doubleheaders — the competition would be rugged.

The Rays would be dealing with the powerhouse Yankees, rising Blue Jays and at least pesky Red Sox, plus now the strong-armed Braves, Mets and defending world champion Nationals.

“The NL East is a very challenging division. The AL East certainly presents its own challenges,’’ manager Kevin Cash said.

“I hope in a week or 10 days, we can actually discuss that. If that’s what they come up with, those are going to be fun conversations and fun things to plan out. We’ve got a really good pitching staff, so there should be some great games if it goes that way.”

How the schedule would be set up also would factor in. Playing 12 or 13 games against the four other AL East teams and six versus each of the five NL East teams would work math wise, but there are said to be numerous schedule iterations depending on when play would start and how many teams would play at their home stadium.

Manfred acknowledged that Major League Baseball has contingency plans for teams that wouldn’t be allowed to play in their stadium. It’s fair to speculate that group could include the Blue Jays and/or Yankees, given restrictions in Canada and New York. For those two teams, coming back to their Florida spring bases would seem likely, but would they rather share Tropicana Field with the Rays or dodge the daily rain and play in Dunedin and Tampa.

The Rays have let the league know the Trop is available, team president Matt Silverman said on WDAE-AM 620, "if we need to potentially host other games and other teams.''

What else would be a factor in the Rays’ season?

Having mostly young, healthy players should help the Rays get through a compressed schedule. The depth of their overall organization, and especially their pitching, should be a huge benefit given the plans for expanded rosters, rumored to be 30 players, with a “development squad” of maybe 20 more with the minor-league season expected to be canceled. Implementation of a universal designated hitter would help the National League teams and save the Rays the risk of having their pitchers hit in interleague games, but it wouldn’t have much impact. Expanding the playoffs from five teams to seven in each league would seem good for all.

Cash said he’s confident the Rays players are, for the most part, ready, eager and excited to get going, possibly in less than a month, and that “they consistently show kind of a champing-at-the-bit mentality of (being) ready to go.”

Rays officials are talking about a lot of things, but Cash said they’re not talking yet about how they’ll manage under these new circumstances.

“I’m hoping we get to have those conversations really soon,’’ he said Thursday. “There has been so many back-and-forths, whether it’s with MLB or us connecting with players and staff, we have not gotten in detail about different in-game strategies.

“I think before we start doing that, we need to hear some sort of definitive on what rosters are going to look like, what are the exact parameters of the rules and how you can (use) your roster. All of those things, I think it would be wise of us to wait for that to come out before we start jumping to conclusions.”

Snell show

Snell made headlines, even the back page of New York’s Daily News, with his comments during a Twitch video game stream about not wanting to risk playing this season for reduced pay, with an “I gotta get my money” tagline. And he drew some high-profile reaction. Phillies star Bryce Harper, who has a 13-year, $330 million deal, agreed in comments on his Twitch video game stream: “(Snell) ain’t lying, he’s speaking the truth, bro. … Somebody’s gotta say it; at least he manned up and said it. Good for him.’’ ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith was among the loudest dissenters, saying Snell “should shut the hell up. You signed a $50 million contract. You can’t tell people at a time 33 million-plus are on unemployment … 'Oh, I got to get mine. I can’t accept half of $7 million.’ Shut up. That’s just dumb, period.’’ … It also wasn’t good optics for Snell to complain about pay while constantly plugging his new website and its hoodies selling for $44.44. … Snell also lashed out at owners in general, saying they are loaded, greedy and “trying to play the athletes because they’re like, ‘We’re smarter than them.’ ” But he was quick (and smart enough) to praise his boss, saying Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg is the best and he feels “lucky” to play for him. “I love our owner,” Snell said. “He’s always there, always showing love. I’ve got nothing but love for him. He’s so dope.”

Rays rumblings

The draft will be done remotely over two days, with the first and competitive balance A rounds June 10, the Rays picking 24th and 37th, which will end the night. Rounds 2-5 will be the next day; the Rays have four picks. … As in the NFL draft, TV will have live cameras at the homes of the top baseball executives, so get ready for NeanderCam. …’s mock draft has the Rays taking Texas prep right-hander Jared Kelley 24th. Keith Law of the website The Athletic and Baseball America peg them for Illinois high school shortstop Ed Howard. … While at least a few other teams are allowing official or unofficial small workouts at team facilities, the Rays continue to keep their fields closed in prioritizing health and safety issues. … Nothing is set, but the Rays seem likely to hold their second “spring” training at the Trop, preferring the convenience of staying home over limited facilities elsewhere. They could split into groups for staggered workouts and possibly use nearby Al Lang Field for conditioning work when the Rowdies aren’t there. … Ji-Man Choi remains in Korea and Yoshi Tsutsugo in Japan, but Cash said “the bulk” of the Rays’ other foreign-born players are in the United States and overall well more than half are in the Tampa Bay area. … When a planned Zoom video media session had to be switched to a conference call due to technical difficulties, Cash joked he’d actually combed his hair for the first time in a couple of weeks.