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Story of Rays 2020 season will be different from the source

Rays Tales: Changes in access will impact the information that's available to reporters on a daily basis.
Tampa Bay Rays manager Kevin Cash talking on the Zoom video call after Saturday's workout.
Tampa Bay Rays manager Kevin Cash talking on the Zoom video call after Saturday's workout. [ MARC TOPKIN | Times ]
Published Jul. 18, 2020

ST. PETERSBURG — There are going to be a lot of things you won’t know about the Rays this season.

And there’s not much we can do about it.

Just as the TV and radio broadcasts will be significantly different as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, so will coverage by reporters who work for newspapers and websites (or, say, both).

Major League Baseball’s health and safety protocols have eliminated just about all in-person contact with players and uniformed staff by the media (as well as much of their own employees), creating almost a soft bubble to limit their exposure.

So that means, obviously and understandably, that reporters are not going to be in the clubhouse before or after games, not on the field or in the dugout during batting practice, not in informal group interviews or media conferences.

All interviews are being conducted over Zoom media calls, and done — barring special circumstances — communally, for all media covering the team. And because of the limited access, many reporters won’t be traveling to all, and maybe not many, road games.

Which means we’re not going to be able to have those casual and private conversations that lead to many of the daily notes and updates fans expect, and to the occasional longer personal and human-interest stories.

Not able to easily make quick checks on an injury and/or playing-time status; to ask a player about a potential contract or family question; to work the room to get six or eight players’ thoughts on a broader leaguewide or societal issue; or address a simple topic, such as facing a certain team or visiting a specific stadium.

Not that we’re not going to try, but it’s not going to be the same. Each day during Spring 2.0 training, the Rays PR staff has been very accommodating, arranging Zoom calls with three players — asking who reporters wanted — and manager Kevin Cash. They similarly plan to make Cash and select players available before and after games.

The interviews are done from the “Zoom room” — a small space off the clubhouse that had been used for naps — with a camera and microphone and big-screen monitor. That’s a more formal setting than a player standing at his locker or talking on the way out of the clubhouse.

But will a player who makes a costly mistake or has a bad game want to talk? Or one who has words — from a distance — with an opponent or umpire? Reporters won’t be able to relay the mood in the clubhouse, or the scene – of a player being consoled or congratulated by teammates.

Players — okay, some — have acknowledged they also miss the daily back and forth with reporters. Cash, too.

“It’s different,” he said. “But everything’s different. We’ve just got to do a good job, myself, the players, because hopefully everybody recognizes that you guys are the bridge to our fan base, and that’s throughout MLB.

“The awkwardness — probably every conversation we have in an interview, talking to a player, in the game setting, it’s going to be weird the entire year. We just have to accept that and try to get away from acknowledging it time after time because then it becomes somewhat stale.

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“But I do think from what we’ve experienced over the last two weeks, it’s doable. This can work. We just need to make sure we’re doing a good job of getting quality information to everybody and to make sure we’re putting the game in the right position for it to be successful and viewed properly.”

Morton’s optional assignment

While players getting paid on a prorated basis — at roughly 37 percent for 60 games instead of 162 — options and performance bonus clauses had to be adjusted. Most were simple, but pitcher Charlie Morton’s unique 2021 team option required talks between his Jet Sports agents and the team to work out new terms. Under the original deal, Morton had a $15 million option with fewer than 30 days on the injured list for 2019-20 combined, then less if those days increased: $10 million, $5 million, $3 million or $1 million. (He had none in 2019.) The new terms give him the $15 million option for 43 or more days active (of 67) this season, $10 million for 22 to 42, $5 million for 11-21, $3 million for 0-10. Days on the injured list for COVID-19 causes won’t count. Also of note, Morton, 36, hasn’t decided if he will keep playing or retire.

Rays rumblings

Sad news with the passing at 64 of Bart Braun, a top scout and executive — and storyteller extraordinaire — with the Rays from their 1995 inception before joining the Phillies in 2012. … Breaking from usual practice to limit time/exposure on the road, the Rays plan to fly day-of-game for their short trips to Atlanta and Miami. … Logan Morrison, now with the Brewers, on having no fans in the stands: “For me, it’s not going to be that difficult. I played for the Rays and the Marlins.” … Mlb.com’s Anthony Castrovince ranked the Rays as having the second-best rotation (behind Nationals) and fourth-best bullpen (Yankees, Padres, Brewers). … Fangraphs.com projects the Rays to go 34-26, with a 61.9 percent chance to make the playoffs, 34.3 to win the division, 6.8 to win the World Series. … Prospect Shane McClanahan, with an interesting idea on Twitter: “Hear me out, a fan interactive app that controls the crowd noise for the game?” ... Fox Sports Sun is building a studio in Tampa — delayed a bit by pandemic issues — that next year will provide a more convenient base for pregame and postgame shows for road games than the one they currently use in Fort Lauderdale. … Edwin Jackson, who pitched for an MLB-record 14 teams (and two twice) told Neil Solondz on the Rays Radio podcast that he had his most fun with the 2008 Rays, that the atmosphere was “like a college baseball team.” … Though work has continued to have the plan for splitting future Rays seasons in Montreal ready as soon as 2024 (if they get permission to do so before their Trop use agreement expires after 2027), principal owner Stuart Sternberg said the shutdown is likely to set them back about a year. … Cuban pitcher Rolando Arrojo, the team’s first All-Star in 1998, turned 55 Saturday. … The Trop was ranked the worst of the current stadiums by The Athletic’s Marc Carig, lumped in with some parks in “Irredeemable Dump” category. … MLB.com’s Mike Petriello puts the Rays in a No. 3 tier of “strong contenders,” with the A’s, Braves, Mets and Nationals, though behind the Title or bust! Dodgers, Twins and Yankees, and also the second tier Astros.