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Rays quickly turn attention to ‘uncertainty’ of 2021

Rays Tales | Playing deep into this season has team officials scrambling to get caught up on planning for the next.
Will Kevin Kiermaier’s $11.5 million salary force the Rays to make a trade?
Will Kevin Kiermaier’s $11.5 million salary force the Rays to make a trade? [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published Nov. 1, 2020
Updated Nov. 1, 2020

ST. PETERSBURG — The Rays are going to look different next season.

They always do. It’s pretty much in their DNA to spend their offseason days looking for ways to tweak the roster, adding talent and managing payroll by making trades and signings, often under the radar, that result in an annual churn.

But how much differently?

There is an industry-wide effort to cut costs given the massive pandemic-driven revenue losses from 2020 and the uncertainty about 2021. The amount of players having options declined, including Charlie Morton ($15 million) and Mike Zunino ($4.5 million) by the Rays, is the first sign. A significant number of arbitration-eligible players being non-tendered by Dec. 2 will be another.

While most teams are expected to cut back, some will keep spending, such as the Mets under new owner Steve Cohen, and likely the Yankees, because, well, they have to find some way to finish ahead of the Rays.

Will the Rays, who you could posit were less affected by having no revenue from fans than other teams, be able to maintain a payroll of about $70 million as they had planned for this season? Will there be a significant reduction? Will Kevin Kiermaier’s $11.5 million salary and/or Blake Snell’s $10.5 million force trades? At what number can Morton fit? Could the Rays zig while other teams zag, take advantage of the market and add some high-level talent on relatively low-priced deals?

General manager Erik Neander admitted playing through Game 6 of the World Series this season has left them a little behind in planning, especially as complicated as it may be without knowing if fans, and that revenue, will be back.

"There is uncertainty. I think we all know that,” Neander said Friday. "What’s going to make it especially challenging here in the early going is that more so than any recent season, the 2020 season, it consumed us, it took all of our focus, all of our attention, all of our energy. …

“We’re going to have to work quickly here to try to bring some things into focus about what type of team we can put together next year, what it’s going to look like, what type of financial flexibility will come with it, etc. But those answers are not here yet.”

When they answer those, there will be more. Who goes from the glut of outfielders that includes Randy Arozarena, Kiermaier, Manuel Margot, Austin Meadows, Brett Phillips, Hunter Renfroe, Yoshi Tsutsugo? Similarly with their stockpile of relievers. With Morton potentially gone and Yonny Chirinos and Jalen Beeks recovering from Tommy John surgery, do they need to add starting pitching, or can Josh Fleming and/or Brent Honeywell step in? What is the best way to improve the offense? There are many questions.

Game 6 rumblings

The wizards at Strat-O-Matic played out World Series Game 6 with Blake Snell staying in and he worked seven shutout innings — but the Rays lost in the ninth on a walkoff homer from Max Muncy off Diego Castillo. … Among the louder critics of Kevin Cash’s decision was Fox analyst Alex Rodriguez, who between Twitter and the postgame show, called it “the worst” Series decision he’d seen, that his heart was broken for Snell, “The Rays front office & computers may end up being the MVP for the Dodgers,” and “The Ivy Leaguers keep getting an F in this class called playoff baseball.” … Michael Wilbon, of ESPN’s Pardon the Interruption, called Cash’s decision “offensive” for not using his eyes to keep Snell in and deemed it “a sad night for baseball.” … Dodgers reliever Joe Kelly said on Boston radio he tipped his cap to Cash at the time “because the only way we were winning that game was if that happened.” … MLB would have faced a significant issue if the Rays won in deciding if and when Game 7 would be played due to the positive coronavirus tests for Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner and the wife of an unidentified Rays player.

Rays rumblings

Randy Arozarena already broke a slew of major-league postseason records and won the American League Championship Series MVP award, and, as of now, still will be eligible to win the 2021 AL Rookie of the Year award. … Cardinals exec John Mozeliak has been getting just a few questions on trading Arozarena: “I will own that. That’s on me. You need to know your own players. We will revisit how we rank our own players and make sure that we don’t have something like this happen again.” …. The Rays want Morton back and he wants to return, but in declining his option they are gambling he doesn’t get the $15 million (or more) elsewhere. ... Early in the process that led to hiring A.J. Hinch as manager, the Tigers talked with Rays bench coach Matt Quatraro, who eventually should get a manager job. … Special assistant Bobby Heck is reportedly in consideration for a GM-level job with the Mets. … Brandon Lowe and Nick Anderson are the only two Rays on the ballot for the all-MLB team, with voting online at mlb.com through Nov. 13. … Glad to see the Fielding Bible folks had better data on Kevin Kiermaier than the Gold Glove group, which didn’t even deem him a finalist. … The Rays are 10-1 in the opening odds to win the 2021 Series per betonline.ag, behind the Dodgers (9-2), Yankees (13-2), Padres (8-1). ... No surprise, but MLB canceled the annual winter meetings, which were to be held in Dallas.