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Tampa Bay Ray News and Links: MLB supports minor leaguers, and we recall 2010 Rafael Soriano

Let’s untuck our shirts in his honor

Tampa Bay Rays v Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images

Actual baseball news

The St. Louis baseball media has kept tabs on the players traded away by the Cardinals, and Randy Arozarena gets high marks for a strong spring training performance.

With the Yankees experiencing several injuries, apparently the Rays odds to win the American League East have gone up? I don’t know about you, but reading that just irritates me, given how uncertain we are that any meaningful baseball can be played this season.

Speaking of injuries, he got a first opinion, he got a second opinion, and finally sought a third opinion. And apparently the medical consensus was clear: Chris Sale will have Tommy John surgery.

The US and South Korea both reported their first cases of COVID-19 on the same day. But while we’re probably still at the beginning of this catastrophe, South Korea is already seeing cases diminish and slowly getting back to normal. As a result, Ji-Man Choi is heading back there, where he’ll be able to work out and stay in shape for the season. ($)

If you just need to see a game, any game, you have a chance to relive the 2019 season — well, at least some of the wins. Fox Sports Sun is replaying some 2019 games for those of us in the local market, and here is the schedule:

MLB finally addresses needs of minor league players

Their salaries are very low even when they are playing. But now, minor league players have been told to go home, and they are not getting paid at all (players get per diems but no salary while participating in spring training).

Major League players are represented by a union, the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA) that has been engaged with team owners from the start of the shut-down process to discuss player salaries and access to training facilities.

Minor league players, however, have no representation or collective bargaining status. They had received inconsistent messaging about whether to stay at camp or leave, most recently having been instructed to go home.

Jared Diamond has written about the plight of minor leaguers in the Wall Street Journal ($):

For now, though, minor leaguers face an uncertain future. They’ve been instructed to stay in shape, even as gyms around the country close. They can’t take a part-time job, because they don’t know when they’ll have to depart suddenly to head back to spring training. They can’t collect unemployment, because they are technically still employed by their baseball teams. Now that they aren’t in spring training more, they will no longer get the team-provided lodging and meals.

Baseball America surveyed teams to see whether they planned to continue supporting minor league players who were in camp. As you can see, the Rays were among just a few teams who have pledged to provide those modest living stipends to players, and indeed were the first to do so. Other teams apparently dragged their feet, waiting for MLB to take action and forgetting that if you earned $15,000 last year, you might not have the financial resilience to go with no pay for a few weeks.

Finally,yesterday, the MLB announced a league-wide program to provide stipends (modest of course) to players:

There are also some spontaneous community efforts to help minor league players.

A Minnesota baseball fan has set up a program where those with a few dollars to spare can “adopt” a minor league player. The needs of lower level minor league players are not only related to the current shutdown but rather reflect low salaries across the year; this program would allow fans like us to become patrons of players who could use our help:

Also, Emily Waldon, who covers the minor leagues for the Athletic, has mobilized her networks to find appropriate employment opportunities for minor league players across the country. If you follow her on Twitter — which you should — you’ll find dozens of tweets like this one:

This will be a hard season for everyone, but it is imperative that major league owners figure out a way to keep their minor league players from starving. If empathy does not move them, perhaps self-interest will — baseball will start up again and the owners have an interest in providing for the young players they will still count on to take the field once this pandemic is behind us.

Remembering favorite Rays players and seasons

On a less serious note, I’m using this space to reminisce about some of my favorite Rays players and moments. Today I’m remembering Rafael Soriano’s 2010 season.

The Rays had acquired Soriano from the Atlanta Braves. The Braves had offered him a one year contract at $7.25 million, expecting him to turn it down in favor of free agency (which would have given them an extra draft pick), since they didn’t really need him in their bullpen. Instead, Soriano accepted the contract. The Braves were eager to trade, and the Rays were able to pick him up for the relatively low price of pitching prospect Jesse Chavez.

Soriano, just turning 30 that year, had had a good but not spectacular career, struggling with injuries from time to time.

But for Tampa Bay in 2010, he was nearly perfect. His 1.73 ERA was spectacular, and while he overperformed his FIP of 2.81, even 2.81 is quite good. I don’t know that I’ll ever see a bullpen quite like the combination of Balfour (7th inning), Benoit (8th inning) and Soriano (9th inning) that the Rays had in 2010. For one whole year I felt that 1-run games were pretty much sure wins.

Here’s the recap of a game James Shields might want to forget, but I include it for the shot at the end of Soriano’s characteristic post-victory gesture — untucking his shirt. He did this, he once said, because to him it represented finishing the job — you come home from work, and you untuck your shirt as a sign that you’re done.

Saving a game with a one run lead? Sure, that’s something but doing it with an immaculate inning?

Here he is notching a strikeout to clinch first place in the American League East.

Soriano went on to pitch another few season, first with the Yankees and then with the Nationals. He pitched well, but never as well as he did in 2010.