Blue Jays receive approval to return to Canada on July 30

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TORONTO — The Toronto Blue Jays were given approval from the Canadian government for an exemption on border restrictions that would allow them to play in Canada later this month.

The Blue Jays had asked the federal government to allow them to play at Rogers Centre starting July 30 and wanted a response by Friday.

“We haven’t had a home game in 650-some days. It’s definitely going to be an energy boost the minute we walk out there. I’m so excited to just hear that national anthem,” Blue Jays pitcher Ryan Borucki said.

The Blue Jays played home games during the shortened 2020 season in Buffalo, New York, and started this season in Dunedin, Florida, before moving to Buffalo. The Canadian government didn’t allow the team to play in Toronto because of the risk of spreading COVID-19, citing frequent travel required in the U.S. during a baseball season.

“We’re the Toronto Blue Jays, so it will be great to be home and show this team to the city and the nation,” manager Charlie Montoyo said after Toronto’s 10-2 win over Texas. “Toronto is one of the best cities in baseball and we haven’t been able to be there in two years.”

Pitcher Robbie Ray, who has been on the roster for almost a year, is one of several players on the current Toronto team who have never played there in a Jays uniform. Ace Hyun-Jin Ryu, signed before last season, is another.

“It should be fun. I’ve never been in the home clubhouse,” Ray said. “The city is clean. It’s a great city.”

The decision was made in conjunction with the Public Health Agency of Canada, with the approval of provincial and municipal health officials. The team was granted a national interest exemption.

Second baseman Cavan Biggio said it was difficult not knowing when they would return.

“Knowing we’re finally going to get to go to Toronto is a satisfying feeling,” Biggio said. “It will be a big difference, a good difference to play on our home field, to know where we’re going to be, and play in front of our fans.”

Toronto last played at 49,000-capacity Rogers Centre on Sept. 29, 2019, an 8-3 win over Tampa Bay.

Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino said unvaccinated players and staff will not be permitted to go anywhere but the hotel and stadium and will have no interaction with the general public. There will also be a designated compliance officer for each team.

“Anyone who breaches these stringent conditions will have their exemptions revoked and may also be subject to fines or prosecution under the Quarantine Act,” he said.

The U.S.-Canada border remains closed to nonessential travel, though Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said this week those restrictions could end in mid-August for fully vaccinated Americans.

Major League Baseball requires an exemption for unvaccinated players and team staff to play games in Canada. As of this month, fully vaccinated players who have valid work permits are no longer required to complete a 14-day quarantine upon entry into Canada, but teams have players who are not vaccinated. A quarantine exemption and protocols around that have been approved.

The team described Friday as a breaking point, noting the long homestand that starts July 30 represents over 25% of the remaining games at a crucial juncture competitively. The Blue Jays entered Friday tied for third in the AL East.

They require lead time in order to move what they need from Buffalo and to prepare for Toronto operations, including ticket sales, although the team has already begun preparations at Rogers Centre, according to two team officials who spoke the AP on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly.

The club noted this week that MLB has high vaccination rates, with more than 85% of players and team staff fully vaccinated. Vaccinated players and staff on the home and visiting teams will have to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test, with no quarantine requirement, and fully vaccinated individuals will undergo weekly testing.

RHP Fairbanks, Rays agree to 3-year, $12 million contract

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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Reliever Pete Fairbanks and the Tampa Bay Rays avoided arbitration when they agreed Friday to a three-year, $12 million contract that could be worth up to $24.6 million over four seasons.

The deal includes salaries of $3,666,666 this year and $3,666,667 in each of the next two seasons. The Rays have a $7 million option for 2026 with a $1 million buyout.

His 2024 and 2025 salaries could increase by $300,000 each based on games finished in the previous season: $150,000 each for 35 and 40.

Tampa Bay’s option price could increase by up to $6 million, including $4 million for appearances: $1 million each for 60 and 70 in 2025; $500,000 for 125 from 2023-25 and $1 million each for 135, 150 and 165 from 2023-25. The option price could increase by $2 million for games finished in 2025: $500,000 each for 25, 30, 35 and 40.

Fairbanks also has a $500,000 award bonus for winning the Hoffman/Rivera reliever of the year award and $200,000 for finishing second or third.

The 29-year-old right-hander is 11-10 with a 2.98 ERA and 15 saves in 111 appearances, with all but two of the outings coming out of the bullpen since being acquired by the Rays from the Texas Rangers in July 2019.

Fairbanks was 0-0 with a 1.13 ERA in 24 appearances last year after beginning the season on the 60-day injured list with a right lat strain.

Fairbanks made his 2022 debut on July 17 and tied for the team lead with eight saves despite being sidelined more than three months. In addition, he is 0-0 with a 3.60 ERA in 12 career postseason appearances, all with Tampa Bay.

He had asked for a raise from $714,400 to $1.9 million when proposed arbitration salaries were exchanged Jan. 13, and the Rays had offered for $1.5 million.

Fairbanks’ agreement was announced two days after left-hander Jeffrey Springs agreed to a $31 million, four-year contract with Tampa Bay that could be worth $65.75 million over five seasons.

Tampa Bay remains scheduled for hearings with right-handers Jason Adam and Ryan Thompson, left-hander Colin Poche, third baseman Yandy Diaz and outfielder Harold Ramirez.