ST. PETERSBURG -- With the regular season being shortened to 60 games due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Rays might not be able to fully utilize a deep 40-man roster that was designed to help them over the course of a 162-game marathon. Still, the ballclub should be in a good position to make a push at a second consecutive postseason appearance.
• MLB announces 2020 regular season
Coming off a season in which the Rays took the Astros to a decisive Game 5 in the American League Division Series, Tampa Bay entered Spring Training with a lot of optimism and focus. The club's roster will look a little different heading into the 2020 season, with Tommy Pham, Travis d'Arnaud, Avisaíl García and Emilio Pagán playing with other organizations.
But even with the departures, the Rays bring back most of the pitching staff that led the AL with a 3.65 ERA last season, and they should be even healthier with Tyler Glasnow and Blake Snell returning to the mound. Tampa Bay also added Hunter Renfroe, Yoshitomo Tsutsugo, Manuel Margot and José Martínez to bolster an offense that is led by Austin Meadows, Ji-Man Choi, Willy Adames, Yandy Díaz and Brandon Lowe.
• FAQ: All you need to know about 2020 season
Where will camp take place, and when?
The Rays will move their camp to Tropicana Field, beginning July 1. Tampa Bay has been hosting workouts at the Trop over the past two weeks and has seen up to 16 players attend. The Rays are expected to have most of the roster report on July 1. Snell is expected to return on Thursday, while Choi left South Korea on Tuesday. It's still unclear when Tsutsugo is expected to return from Japan.
When and where is Opening Day?
Major League Baseball anticipates beginning its 2020 regular season either July 23 or 24. The full schedule has been sent to the Major League Baseball Players Association for approval and is expected to be announced in the next week or so. Until then, we won't know if the Rays start at home or on the road, or who they will face in that opening series.
Which teams will be on the schedule?
In order to limit travel in the 60-game schedule, the Rays will play 40 games against the four AL East foes -- Red Sox, Yankees, Blue Jays and Orioles -- and 20 games against teams in the National League East: Nationals, Mets, Marlins, Phillies and Braves.
How did the Rays fare after 60 games last season?
After 60 games last season, the Rays were 37-23 and were 1 1/2 games behind the Yankees in the AL East. In '18, Tampa Bay was 28-32, but managed to finish the season with a 90-72 record.
Meadows slashed .349/.424/.645 with 12 home runs through 60 games last season, though he missed 16 games with a left thumb injury. Charlie Morton was 7-0 with a 2.30 ERA through the first 60 games.
How are the Rays' injured players doing?
Brendan McKay and Snell were recovering from injury before the stoppage, and both are expected to be 100 percent heading into camp. Snell has been throwing bullpen sessions in Seattle, while McKay has been part of the group attending voluntary workouts at the Trop.
Brent Honeywell is the only player on the 40-man roster who will be sidelined for the 2020 season after undergoing a nerve decompression procedure in May.
What are some competitions to watch when camp resumes?
The Rays didn't have many active competitions before the stoppage, but that's expected to change slightly with expanded rosters at the start of the season. Under the new rules, teams will be allowed to carry 30 players on the active roster for the first two weeks. With that, it creates some opportunity for players who otherwise would not have made a standard 26-man roster.
McKay was competing for a spot in the rotation and he could be an option now for Tampa Bay. The same goes for Peter Fairbanks, Jalen Beeks and Andrew Kittredge, all of whom were competing for the final two spots in the bullpen. Randy Arozarena and Brian O'Grady both had impressive Spring Trainings and they will likely compete against each other for one of the extra spots.
The catcher competition will still be up for grabs, with Michael Perez being the likeliest to earn the backup spot behind Mike Zunino. Non-roster invitees Kevan Smith and Chris Herrmann were competing with Perez during Spring Training.
How will rosters be different? How will those changes affect the Rays?
The main change during the restart will be the configuration of the rosters. Teams will be able to have a 30-man Opening Day roster, but then they must reduce it to 28 players after two weeks. Then on Day 29 of the season, they must cut it to 26 players, which is where it will stay until the end of the season.
Expanded rosters would allow the Rays to carry players like O'Grady, Arozarena, Nate Lowe and Mike Brosseau, or prospects such as Shane McClanahan, Kevin Padlo and Vidal Brujan.
In addition to the standard 40-man roster, teams will be allowed to carry 20 more players on a taxi squad. The Rays could use those spots to include potential Major League contributors, but also players such as their No. 1 prospect Wander Franco. Franco isn't expected to make his debut this season, but Tampa Bay could benefit from having the game's top prospect practicing with the coaches at the Trop. Being on the taxi squad will not affect a player's service time, giving teams more of an incentive to add prospects that they want to get a better look at.
“Our understanding of these 60 spots, it’s natural to think about how to best utilize them all. Do you need 60 spots for 60 games? Last year, we had a really nice season, but we used 57 players. It was a grind. You have 60 to play with here,” said Rays general manager Erik Neander. “We used 57 last year, and it seemed like when something could go wrong, it did, from a health and wellness standpoint.
“I think it’s easy to see it that way and to be tempted to put some of these additional roster spots for developmental purposes, but I think it’s important, at the same time, that we recognize how talented of a team we have right now. We want to be careful of how we assemble this group, and I think we need to keep the priority and our focus to do what we need to do to fortify our chances to win games this year, and then we’ll see where we are from there. These are the things we’re thinking about and trying to make the most sense of it right now.”
Teams can take up to three taxi squad players on the road (if three, one must be a catcher). The regular injured list will be for 10 days for both position players and pitchers, as in 2019. MLB is also instituting a special COVID-19-related injured list for players who test positive, have confirmed exposure or are exhibiting symptoms. There would not be a minimum or maximum number of days players can spend on this list.
Players optioned or outrighted off the roster must remain that way for a minimum of 10 days before they can be recalled.
What are they saying?
“I think it comes back to talent,” said Rays manager Kevin Cash on how the team matches up in a 60-game season. “We went into the normal spring thinking we were a talented team and thinking we still had room for improvement. We built depth that allowed for those injuries to pop up. It always circles back to talent, and we feel like we have a talented group and it’s up to us to show that and do whatever we can to keep players, and everybody around us, healthy.”
How can I watch the games?
Though it's not yet finalized, it's expected that all Rays games will be televised on FOX Sports Sun, with Brian Anderson and Dewayne Staats on the call. Out-of-market games can be streamed LIVE on MLB.TV on your favorite supported devices.
How can I listen?
As usual, you can listen to Rays Radio on 95.3 WDAE, with Andy Freed and Dave Wills on the call. Neil Solondz would handle the pregame and postgame shows. Like TV, this is expected, but it's not yet finalized. All Rays games can be listened to LIVE online or on the go with MLB Audio.
Juan Toribio covers the Rays for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @juanctoribio.