Terry Francona back managing Guardians following COVID-19 outbreak

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
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CLEVELAND — Guardians manager Terry Francona missed so much time over the past two seasons that even a four-game absence was difficult.

“This was forced retirement,” he said. “It wasn’t very fun.”

Francona and two of his coaches cleared health and safety protocols Wednesday and returned to the team after missing part of the past week after testing positive for COVID-19.

Francona was back for Wednesday’s game against the Cincinnati Reds along with bench coach DeMarlo Hale and assistant hitting coach Justin Toole. The trio tested positive with coronavirus last week while the Guardians were in Chicago and returned to Ohio by bus as the team continued its trip to Minnesota.

The Guardians have dealt with two separate outbreaks in recent weeks, and the latest rash of cases has heightened the team’s awareness.

“Up to this point I think we feel pretty fortunate,” Francona said. “It was starting to work it’s way through. Once it gets into the clubhouse, everybody’s breathing on each other. We live together.

“But I will say this, it’s not like it’s over and you can let your guard down. We’re going to have to mask up indoors just to take care. Because once it happens, it’s kind of too late.”

First baseman Josh Naylor remains the only Guardians player currently sidelined with the virus. However, Naylor is close to returning and was back in the clubhouse. Francona said he could be n the lineup as early as Friday, when the Guardians open a three-game series at home against Detroit.

The 63-year-old Francona, in his 10th season with Cleveland, dealt with some symptoms over the weekend but has felt better the past few days. He missed most of the last two seasons to handle some serious health issues.

With Francona back, pitching coach Carl Willis returns to his normal duties after serving as acting manager.

Sandy Alomar and Mike Sarbaugh, the team’s respective first- and third-base coaches, are still sidelined after testing positive.

Hitting coach Chris Valaika returned to the Guardians on Tuesday after missing three games.

The Guardians considered bringing up other coaches from the minors, but Francona said the team opted to shift healthy members of his staff into other roles to give the players some continuity.

“The biggest thing with Carl was, we’re trying to keep some sense of normalcy,” he said. “When you’re missing seven guys, that’s kind of hard. One, we know that the players will respect when Carl talks. We just wanted the games to be played like they’re supposed to.”

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

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Dave Nelson/USA TODAY Sports
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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.