ST. PETERSBURG — There’s a lot manager Kevin Cash doesn’t know yet about the 2021 season, including whether it will be delayed or abbreviated due to the coronavirus.
But after losing in the World Series in 2020, one thing the Rays manager knows for sure is that his players will be motivated to make a return trip.
“I think they were very proud of the accomplishments, and they should be,” Cash said Wednesday on a Zoom media call. “But what makes this group special is that there’s not a phone call or a text message or anything … from the day the season ended that hasn’t ended with, ‘We’re going to get back. We’re going to do everything we can to get back there. That was too great of an experience to pass up.’
“So, the guys will be very committed to do everything they can to get back to the postseason.”
Cash said he was told as recently as Tuesday — during a call with other managers and Major League Baseball officials — to expect spring training to start as planned in mid-February. He expects at least some of the extensive health and safety protocols from this past season to remain in place.
“I think everybody will do everything they can to provide a safe environment for when we do start, and hopefully it is on time like we’re being told right now,” Cash said.
Whether it does and if a full 162-game schedule will be played depends on multiple issues, including the spread of the virus in Florida and Arizona, state and local restrictions on gatherings or activities, availability of the vaccine and negotiations between players and owners on multiple topics.
But the Rays and other teams will work to be ready and adjust if there is a delay. “We’ll continue to plan and prepare until we are told, or if we are told, otherwise,” Cash said.
With Mike Zunino returning to fill one of the two open catcher spots, the Rays’ primary focus now seems to be on adding starting/bulk-inning pitching depth.
After declining Charlie Morton’s option and letting him leave for Atlanta, and with Jalen Beeks, Yonny Chirinos and Brendan McKay all sidelined by injury, the Rays need some help. They will need more if they trade ace lefty Blake Snell, as is being considered. Tyler Glasnow and Ryan Yarbrough are set to return.
The Rays have had discussions about trading for a starter and also signing a second-tier free agent, such as Chris Archer.
Another option is to turn to one or several of their own young arms, with Josh Fleming, Shane McClanahan and Brent Honeywell the top options. Fleming (5-0, 2.78 in seven regular-season games) and McClanahan made their debuts in 2020. Honeywell is expected to do the same in 2021 after dealing with multiple injuries.
“I think those are the guys that are kind of right there on the up and up that we’ll get a good look at in spring training, see where they fit,” Cash said.
Though the pace of the offseason has seemed slow, Cash said Rays officials are “working really hard” on deals to improve the team, and he is confident they will.
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“I think ultimately you just trust that the people that we have in our organization, led by (general manager) Erik (Neander), that we’re going to make the right decisions to keep our club as consistent as possible while continuing to find ways to improve it and improve the overall status of our organization,” Cash said.