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Rays’ Ji-Man Choi, Ryan Yarbrough will hear a lot at arbitration hearings

Rays Tales | Reasons to not settle cases can sound good for now. Also, Blake Snell comments and rumblings.
Ji-Man Choi is one of two Rays, including Ryan Yarbrough, heading to arbitration hearings.
Ji-Man Choi is one of two Rays, including Ryan Yarbrough, heading to arbitration hearings. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]
Published Jan. 16

ST. PETERSBURG — Arbitration hearings can be interesting, educational and hard to handle.

Team officials and players know it’s the business part of the game, a process to resolve earnest differences of opinion with no lingering aftereffects. They typically go into the sessions saying they understand it’s not personal, trying with varying degrees of success to keep that it mind as they hear the cases made against their side, with negative stats flying.

That’s where the Rays are headed next month with first baseman Ji-Man Choi and starter Ryan Yarbrough.

The difference in money isn’t (relatively) much: $800,000 for Yarbrough ($3.1 million request, $2.3 million team offer) and $600,000 for Choi ($2.45 million request, $1.85 million offer).

You wonder why they would go through the expense, hassle and — more so for the player — potential for hurt feelings. (Jake Odorizzi, who beat the Rays twice in 2017-18 hearings, said it’s like being in court and “pretty much all negatives, definitely enough that it it kind of (ticks) you off a little bit.”)

But both sides have their valid arguments, citing stats and comparables, principles, precedent. Whatever salary the players get during first-time arbitration eligibility becomes a foundation for future earnings.

Rays general manager Erik Neander said the team opted for the hearings after a long Friday of “good faith” talks on both sides, noting that valuing stats from the abbreviated 2020 season “presented a unique challenge.” That may have been the biggest issue, more than Yarbrough’s unique role of pitching behind an opener (primarily in 2018-19) or Choi’s harder-to-quantify defensive contributions.

Neither Choi nor Yarbrough, nor their agents, wanted to comment about the decision to go to hearings.

Choi may have given a glimpse of his feelings by tweeting — in technical terms — the “lying face emoji,” which has a Pinocchio-type nose and, per emojipedia.org, “May represent lying, a liar, and other concepts of deceit and dishonesty to varying degrees of intensity. Sometimes used to convey disbelief (such as, “You must be kidding”) or feeling abashed (as if caught in the act of lying).”

Thirteen players overall in the league did not reach agreements by Friday’s deadline and appear headed to hearings, down from 22 last year. (Some teams continue negotiations until the hearing; the Rays don’t unless it’s for a multi-year deal.)

Snell on World Series handoff

On CC Sabathia’s R2C2 podcast, new Padres lefty Blake Snell said he felt “lost” and “checked out” after the Rays’ World Series-ending Game 6 defeat, from which he was pulled in the sixth inning: “I just remember I called my dad when I got to the hotel. ... I was just, like, ‘We really just handed them the World Series.’ That’s how it felt.” Also, that he gave up the one-out single to the Dodgers’ Austin Barnes “strictly because my mindset switched when I saw (reliever Nick Anderson) warming up.”

Rays rumblings

With their usual February FanFest inside Tropicana Field a no-go due to coronavirus concerns, the Rays are exploring creative options, including a potential drive-through type event in the stadium parking lot. It worked for the recent Jurassic Quest dinosaur exhibition. ... The Rays made a very strong run at free-agent pitcher Corey Kluber, who opted for a one-year, $11 million deal with the Yankees, and will keep searching for an experienced starter, looking at free-agent (ex-Ray Chris Archer remains a possibility) and trade options. … The surplus of unsigned free agents could be a benefit, as the Rays can open roster spots at the start of spring camp by shifting rehabbing pitchers Jalen Beeks, Yonny Chirinos and Colin Poche, and possibly Brendan McKay, to the 60-day injured list. … Chirinos, who had Tommy John surgery, already is playing catch. McKay, who had shoulder surgery, will start soon. … In planning to host a limited number of fans (around 7,000) at the start of the season, Rays officials are hoping to adjust upward if the virus situation improves. … Anderson was fourth on MLB Network’s list of “Top 10 relief pitchers right now”, behind Liam Hendricks, Drew Pomeranz, Devin Williams. Kevin Kiermaier, surprisingly, didn’t make the centerfield top 10. … Among former Rays signing elsewhere: Jose Martinez, Mets; Daniel Robertson, Brewers; Ryne Stanek, Astros; Curt Casali, Giants. Enny Romero got a minor-league deal from the Dodgers. … Neander is doing a cool thing for his Virginia Tech alma mater, serving remotely as the guest speaker the annual fundraising Baseball Night in Blacksburg event on Jan. 30. … Lack of a long-term stadium solution for the Rays and A’s was cited by Ken Rosenthal in The Athletic among the main reasons owners are pushing back any plans to expand, along with not wanting to further dilute talent or to share revenues with two new teams. … Ex-Ray Delmon Young, last in the majors in 2015 but somehow only 35, is playing for the third straight winter in Australia, hitting .429 with a 1.016 OPS through 13 games for Melbourne.