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Are unvaccinated pitchers letting the Rays down?

Rays Tales | The question comes up as teams head to Toronto without their full rosters.
Rays pitcher Ryan Thompson is not in Toronto for this road trip because his unvaccinated status won't allow him to play in Canada.
Rays pitcher Ryan Thompson is not in Toronto for this road trip because his unvaccinated status won't allow him to play in Canada. [ JEFFEREE WOO | Times ]
Published Jul. 2|Updated Jul. 2

TORONTO — The decision by relievers Brooks Raley and Ryan Thompson to not get vaccinated against the coronavirus raises questions.

Perhaps most relevant: Are they letting their Rays teammates down? Specifically in knowing that Canada has a vaccine mandate in place, which keeps them from playing games against the American League East rival Blue Jays in this current key series, but likely in a bigger context in September and in a potential postseason matchup.

It’s a fair question, no matter which side of the vaccine issue one falls on.

It is also a question that is being raised elsewhere.

When the Red Sox played in Toronto without unvaccinated closer Tanner Houck and blew a ninth-inning lead Tuesday, Boston Globe columnist Dan Shaughnessy went in hard with this Twitter post:

“Most richly-deserved loss ever. Anti-vax Sox closer is back in Boston enjoying personal freedom, while Sox pen blows 5-4 lead in the 9th. Pen never got an out in the ninth. Sox are 2-7 vs. Jays, 7-16 vs. AL East. But everybody evidently ok with Tanner Houck quitting on team.”

Rays reliever Brooks Raley also is absent during the five-game series with the Blue Jays.
Rays reliever Brooks Raley also is absent during the five-game series with the Blue Jays. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]

For Rays officials, who prefer to keep such matters in house, this is the second issue to surface in the last month reflecting a difference of opinion in their clubhouse.

More than five players, including Raley and Thompson, declined to wear rainbow-colored logos on their caps and jersey sleeves for the June 4 Pride Night game.

Asked a few times Thursday about having to face the potent Jays over five games without the two somewhat key relievers, manager Kevin Cash said they talked with the players about the vaccine issue earlier this year. “We’re going to support whatever each individual chooses or chooses not to do moving forward,” he said.

As with other teams, Rays officials encouraged players to get vaccinated and made accommodations if they chose to. At least one holdout agreed earlier this season to get the shot.

The players who remain unvaccinated feel strongly enough in their beliefs that they are willing, under an agreement between Major League Baseball and the union, to give up service time and pay: approximately $93,406 over the four missed days on this trip for Raley, who has a $4.25 million salary, and about $15,615 for Thompson, who makes $710,500.

And they feel strongly enough to not be available to their team at a key juncture, though most other days, players say, somewhat by rote, they’ll do whatever it takes to help their team win.

Rays team leader Kevin Kiermaier said he had “no issue” with the two relievers opting out and knows that players who decided against getting the vaccine “are stern” about it.

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“I respect my teammates’ decisions,” Kiermaier said. “I don’t hold anything against them whatsoever. That’s their choice. That’s what they want to do. I’m OK with it. Live your life. It’s OK. We’ve got guys coming up, filling in.

“I know how people can easily look at it from the other side; I just choose not to do that. If I made a personal choice that some of these guys weren’t a fan of … I want my teammates to have my back and know that there’s a reason or logic for whatever they’re doing. With this situation, I’ve got no issue whatsoever with it.”

Ex-Rays rumblings

Evan Longoria, 36 and in the last year of the $100 million extension he signed with the Rays in ‘12, with a $13 million option/$5 million buyout for ‘23, told the San Francisco Chronicle’s Susan Slusser he is considering retirement: “I’m trying not to think about it because I haven’t made up my mind. … Some days I feel good and I feel like I could play for another five years. And then there are other days where I come in here and I feel like I’m 100 years old and like, ‘This is it.’ " If he does retire, he would be free to be honored at the Trop next year for a Rays 25th anniversary season event. … A remarkably bulked-up Kyle Farnsworth, who pitched for the Rays from ‘11-13 and is 46, recently won three medals in his first venture into bodybuilding competitions. … Willy Adames, Mike Brosseau and hitting coach Ozzie Timmons were understandably the headliners during the Brewers’ visit last week, but a nod goes to reliever Brad Boxberger, who was an All-Star for the Rays in 2015 and at 34, and six teams later, is pitching effectively. … Brosseau wasn’t kidding; Adames’ popularity is such in Milwaukee that T-shirts really are being sold calling the city Willy-Waukee.

Rays rumblings

Randy Arozarena’s 416,018 votes were by far the most All-Star nods for any Ray but 800,000-plus short of advancing in the voting. Shane McClanahan looks like he’ll be their only representative at the July 19 game. Pitchers and reserves will be named July 10. … Several designs are circulating internally for the Rays’ version of the City Connect uniform series, to debut in ‘24. … As the latest stadium talks proceed, one big question for St. Petersburg officials to get answered is whether MLB will accept a plan to rebuild at the Trop site. … The Rays (and Rowdies) are looking to hire a specialist to “enhance the team’s public affairs and military- related initiatives.” … Baseball America’s latest mock draft has the Rays taking Nevada prep lefty Robby Snelling with the No. 29 pick July 17. MLB.com has them on Liberty Union (Ohio) High right-hander Jacob Miller. … Craig Counsell, who withdrew as a candidate for the Rays’ managerial job before Cash was hired in 2014, recently became the Brewers’ all-time winningest manager. Among those sending a congratulatory video was Bucs QB Tom Brady. How? Why? “I have not met Tom Brady,” Counsell said. “I think the connection there is with our owner (Mark Attanasio) and with (broadcaster) Bob Uecker and with (outfielder Christian) Yelich a little bit.” … The website The Athletic named shortstop prospect Greg Jones as the Rays’ “tradeable player” in a league-wide list.

Contact Marc Topkin at mtopkin@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.

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