Spring training starts soon. There’s a lot we still don’t know.

Rays Tales | Protocols and roster limits haven’t been announced, and exhibition schedules may change to a regional format.
Spring training is supposed to start in less than two weeks. The Rays have yet to decide if fans will be allowed at Charlotte Sports Park for games.
Spring training is supposed to start in less than two weeks. The Rays have yet to decide if fans will be allowed at Charlotte Sports Park for games. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published Feb. 6, 2021

Once the Bucs and Chiefs are done playing Sunday night, the clock starts ticking for the start of spring training.

With the players union declining to even further discuss Major League Baseball’s request for a one-month delay, camps are set to open in about 10 days, even though all the pandemic-related rules, regulations and protocols still haven’t been announced.

Here are a few things we have heard being talked about:

• Though exhibition schedules were released, and some teams are selling tickets, they may get revised for the league to adopt a more regional approach. The idea would be to cut unnecessary longer trips, where players and coaches are on buses or sharing rides. The Rays, for example, have eight trips of roughly 100 miles each way, including four from Port Charlotte to Lakeland (Tigers). Spending the full spring playing the closer-by Braves (North Port), Orioles (Sarasota) and Red Sox and Twins (Fort Myers) makes more sense.

• Teams are operating under the assumption there will be limits of around 75 players and 75 staffers in camp. That’s basically players for the majors and Triple-A rosters, as Double-A, Class A and lower-level players won’t report until April, which eliminates using them to fill in at the end of spring games, as many teams do. The Rays currently have 55 players on their big-league spring roster, with more likely to come. The staff limits are also an issue as they includes coaches, athletic trainers, clubhouse personnel and front-office execs. Alternate training sites could be used again.

• With pitcher health and durability a major concern, and no lower-level minor-leaguers available to cover innings, the start of games could be pushed back (currently Feb. 27) and teams initially may play only six or seven innings, and even shorten innings if necessary. Also, split-squad games may be dropped. Workouts will be broken into small groups for distancing purposes, which will make for some long days.

• While some teams are planning to host fans for spring games, the Rays are among those who haven’t decided. Seating would be limited and distanced if they do, so likely only 1,500-2,000 at Charlotte Sports Park. Also unclear is if fans will be allowed to watch workouts, given how the setup at some complexes could make it difficult to keep them distanced from players. And media won’t be allowed for early pitcher-catcher sessions; on-site coverage starts with the first full-squad workout.

Home with the Braves

Free-agent outfielder Marcell Ozuna’s return to the Braves was the most likely outcome. But it made sense for the always-opportunistic Rays to get involved as his market seemed somewhat limited with the National League — at least as of now — not having the designated hitter. The Rays were not going to get anywhere near the $64 million over four years, plus an option, Ozuna got in Atlanta. But they would have talked about a one-year deal, even with an option, maybe with the $13 million Nelson Cruz got from the Twins as a barometer.

Pitching in

Minnesota Twins pitcher Rich Hill throws against the Cincinnati Reds during the first inning of a Sept. 27, 2020, game in Minneapolis.
Minnesota Twins pitcher Rich Hill throws against the Cincinnati Reds during the first inning of a Sept. 27, 2020, game in Minneapolis. [ CRAIG LASSIG | Associated Press (2020) ]
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The Rays hoped they filled another rotation spot by bringing back the supposedly healthy and more mature Chris Archer on a one-year, $6.5 million deal. There were no issues with Archer’s physical, just some logistical things pushing the official announcement to this upcoming week. Clearing a 40-man roster spot is another factor, as the Rays like their position player group (though they have one too many outfielders) and are trying to stockpile and further add pitching. Among serious candidates is free-agent Rich Hill, the 40-year-old lefty who could start or pitch bulk innings behind an opener and is looking to join a contender.

Kicking things off

In honor of the Super Bowl, we wondered who among former Rays major- and minor-leaguers was the best football player. Doug Johnson, who played third base for two seasons in the minors while also quarterbacking the Gators football team, seems the obvious No. 1, as he went on to play parts of five seasons in the NFL. Next could be Plant City native Kenny Kelly, who was a college quarterback at Miami. Others to consider, known mostly for their high school accolades, include Carl Crawford, Desmond Jennings, Jason Standridge, Doug Waechter and former minor-leaguers Spencer Edwards, Johnny Eiermann and Todd Glaesmann.

Rays rumblings

Information is expected this week or next on the plans to sell tickets to regular-season games as Tropicana Field, with a maximum of around 7,000 per game. … Brandon Lowe was fourth on MLB Network’s list of top second basemen behind DJ LeMahieu (Yankees), Jeff McNeil (Mets), Ketel Marte (D’backs). Lowe likely will get a look at third base this spring. Nick Anderson, fourth among relievers, was the only other Ray to make a list. … Ji-Man Choi, who won a $2.45 million salary beating the Rays in arbitration, joked with Korean media about getting into seven figures for the first time in his career: “I will believe it when I see those numbers in my bank account. After taxes and fees to my agent, I won’t end up with much anyway.” … The mysterious pinky finger injury that sidelined lefty reliever Cody Reed shortly after his Aug. 28 acquisition has been resolved, and he has been throwing bullpen sessions at the Trop. Shane McClanahan and Ryan Yarbrough, whose intriguing arbitration hearing is this week, also have been off the mound. … There are no Super Bowl-related events at the Trop but Al Lang Stadium, home of the Rowdies, was to host a charity barbecue event Saturday and a watch party Sunday for up to 2,500 members of the Chiefs Arrowhead South fan clubs. ... Reliever Colin Poche’s fiancée, Jessica Jewell, was one of the healthcare workers chosen to attend the Super Bowl. ... The Blue Jays still haven’t said anything, but their most likely home to start the regular season continues to look like Dunedin. … Manager Kevin Cash, on now-retired former Red Sox teammate Dustin Pedroia: “Maybe the most competitive player I’ve ever been around to this day. He’d do anything to beat you.” ... In Andrew Friedman’s first-year running the Rays in 2006, the team payroll was around $35.5 million. Friday, as the Dodgers’ boss, Friedman signed Trevor Bauer to a three-year deal with a 2021 salary of $40 million. ...’s Jim Callis projects Royals shortstop prospect Bobby Witt Jr. as the more well-rounded player than Wander Franco, saying the Rays’ prized prospect has “the highest offensive ceiling, but he can’t quite match Witt’s speed, arm or shortstop defense.” … Eric Boyko, a member of the Montreal group talking with the Rays about a split-season plan, told BNN Bloomberg that despite the pandemic “there’s been a lot of work behind closed doors and a lot of things moving forward.”