Decisions, decisions: Rays’ Randy Arozarena working to make better ones

LAKE BUENA VISTA — Limits on pickoff throws and an increase in base sizes should benefit players who have tended to run wild and free.

Such as, say, Rays outfielder Randy Arozarena.

“First, I’ve got to understand them and actually know the rules so that I can take them out into practice,” Arozarena said Monday, via team interpreter Manny Navarro, of the changes being implemented by Major League Baseball this season.

Arozarena (we think) was joking, though his past recklessness on the bases — including getting caught stealing a majors-most 22 times in 74 attempts over the last two seasons — makes it at least a fair question.

But on the opening day of full-squad workouts at the Disney World complex, Arozarena — coming off the first 20-homer, 30-steal, 40-doubles season in Rays history — said his top goal for 2023 actually is to make better decisions.

“I just want to be a little bit more present during the game time, be a little bit more smarter during the game situations ...,” he said.

“The last couple seasons I’ve been able to learn from some of the mistakes I’ve done. And that’s something that I want to focus on this season.”

And in all phases — at the plate, in the outfield and on the bases, where he also made 13 other outs last season, third most in the majors.

“Anything that I can do to hopefully help this team,” he said.

The coaches have heard the same from him, which is a significant change. Arozarena, who turns 28 next week, previously boasted not only of not knowing the scouting report on opposing pitchers — usually just asking for the fastball velocity — but even their names.

Last week he asked the staff to gather and present him detailed data on how pitchers have tried to attack him in specific situations and what he has done.

“He’s much more interested in how the league is pitching him in different counts, bases empty, people on,” hitting coach Chad Mottola said. “He’s trying to dive deeper into the overall approach of the game that will get him more consistent.”

What Arozarena has done with back-to-back 20-20 seasons, following his record-smashing 2020 postseason performance, has been impressive. But how he gets there can be frustrating to watch.

“We all know how Randy can do special things, but we’d like it to show up more often,” Mottola said. “At the end of the year, you look at his numbers and he had a special year. But as a compliment to him, we think there’s more in there.”

In hitting .263 with 20 homers, 32 steals, 41 doubles and a .773 OPS last season, Arozarena ran through some extreme hot and cold streaks. Consider this breakdown of his OPS by month: .507, .860, .693, .812, 1.023, .685.

“He’s very driven to continue to, I think, find that consistency throughout the year,” manager Kevin Cash said. “He’ll go for a month and he’s the best player in baseball, and then maybe goes quiet a little bit.

“But in fairness to Randy, at the end of the year, you look up (and) he’s putting together some pretty special statistics. We’d be thrilled if he does it again. And if he continues to get better, that’s fine, too.”

Arozarena said that, too, is his goal — “Obviously, I want to get my numbers better than last year” — and he has plenty of motivation individually as well.

He got a hefty raise for this season, from $716,600 to $4.15 million after qualifying by one day of service time for Super Two arbitration eligibility. But there could be a huge contract in his future, whether with the Rays (there’s ongoing discussion but no active negotiations) or eventually elsewhere, though he won’t be a free agent until 2027, and his agent, Scott Boras, is typically against extensions.

Being accountable in taking the initiative to learn more about how pitchers work him is a step.

“Those are the things that he hasn’t really been doing in the past,” Mottola said. “He’s just out athletic-ed the league. Now he’s kind of realizing that there’s a next step to this in talking to other players and other veterans around the league. He’s already been more willing to do it than ever. So that’s a good sign for all of us.”

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