Why Rays gave Kevin Cash such a big deal

Rays manager Kevin Cash's work before and during Tampa Bay's 90-win season has earned him a contract extension and raise. MONICA HERNDON   |   Times
Rays manager Kevin Cash's work before and during Tampa Bay's 90-win season has earned him a contract extension and raise. MONICA HERNDON | Times
Published Oct. 9, 2018

ST. PETERSBURG — The Rays obviously didn't have to do this.

Not when they had Kevin Cash under contract for next season, and if they didn't want to deal with lame questions about "lame duck" status, they could have just picked up the option they held for 2020-21.

They certainly didn't have to do it now.

Not that this season's 90 wins weren't an accomplishment, but when they could have waited to see if the second-half progress with the young core was real. And how he managed with a team better equipped and more widely expected to compete rather than being an upstart that was not.

And they definitely didn't have to do it to this extreme.

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Not how the manager business is changing, when turnover is becoming commonplace, inexperience is an appealing resume item but winning not so much, and prices are dropping. A three-year commitment is about the most anyone gets anymore.

But here are your Tampa Bay Rays, once again changing the game. Restructuring what was left on Cash's original five-year, $5 million deal and then adding on three more years, with a raise, of course. Announcing Tuesday an extension that has Cash under contract six more years, through 2024, with an option for 2025.

GM Erik Neander had plenty of "why,'' keyed mostly to the Cash's effective leadership.

He talked about how the Rays play – hard, with energy, for the most part the right way — and how they want to play for Cash, all traceble to the example Cash provides with his own ultra-competitive personality, zest, consistency in approach, even authenticity.

"It just makes him real,'' Neander said. "It allows him to motivate internally to a wide assortment of people.''

Also, how Cash's humility, curiosity and desire to learn — all characteristics that first attracted the Rays to Cash in somewhat brazenly hiring him with no experience in 2015 to replace Joe Maddon — have remained in place.

"It's been a joy to watch him blossom,'' Neander said.

As to why now, and why for so long?
Stability was one of the first things Neander mentioned, specifically "the stability that's necessary for us to continue to build on the work that has taken place.''

That's a message, seemingly aimed primarily at the young players, that Cash is going to be here, and that the hard work and the buy-in that they showed in 2018 is going to become a requirement, pretty much SOP (standard operating procedure).

Also, that while some faces will change on the roster and maybe among the coaching staff and front office, Cash is going to be there every day, the public face of the organization, no matter how much he'd rather stay out of that spotlight.

And even to other teams that may have eyed the good work Cash had done and may have been thinking ahead, that he wasn't going to be available anytime soon.

The extension looks like a reward for this season's 90 wins, but Neander made clear it was more, especially how Cash got them there.

How he meshed with the coaching staff he was given a voice in assembling last off-season. Handled the early injuries and 4-13 start that threatened to doom the season (that was "really impactful" in the decision). Navigated the ongoing purge of veterans and revolving roster, introduction and implementation of the opener pitching strategy. Integrated the young players into roles where they could succeed.

"We put a lot on his plate,'' Neander said. "When it comes to managing effectively, leading a club effectively, frankly, I don't know how much more one could have demonstrated over the course of a season than what he did.''

Aside from self-deprecating jokes about his playing career spent mostly on the bench and in the minors, Cash doesn't like to talk about the job he has done. Almost every question gets deflected into credit for his players, coaches and bosses.

After saying all the right things Tuesday about how thrilled, humbled, excited, even flattered he was that the Rays would do this for him and his wife and three kids, Cash preferred to talk about how great it was to work with his bosses, how exciting a group of players they have, how bright the future looks.

What, he was asked, was he most proud of during his four seasons in charge, given the 318-330 record, and the most wins to not make the AL playoffs the last two years.

"That I've done? Not much,'' he said, adding. "And, yes I'd rather be at the dentist than answer that.''

Cash, who turns 41 in December, is somehow the youngest manager in the majors yet the most secure. Equally odd to consider, the sixth longest tenured, on equal footing with A.J. Hinch, who won a World Series with the Astros and is aiming for another, and Maddon, who won the Series no one could with the Cubs and made the playoffs all four years.

If Cash stays through 2024, he will surpass Maddon's nine years as the longest tenure in Tampa Bay. (How would this side-bet have been four years ago, that Cash would be with the Rays longer than Maddon with the Cubs?). Cash also would lead the Rays into that new Ybor stadium, if it gets funded and built.

For both sides, this deal was a show of faith. Cash, believing that his bosses are in it to win here, when, though a Tampa native, he could have opportunities elsewhere. And the Rays banking, somewhat soundly, that he keeps up the good work.

Listening to all the nice things Neander said about him on Tuesday's media conference call, Cash said: "I hope somebody taped what Erik just said because I might need to use that down the road.''

No rush, though. He's not going anywhere for a while.

Contact Marc Topkin at Follow @TBTimes_Rays.

Seniority dept.

Only five current managers have been with their teams longer than Kevin Cash, who heads into his fifth season with the Rays:

Manager, team           Entering this season
Bruce Bochy, Giants       13
Ned Yost, Royals             10*
Clint Hurdle, Pirates         9
Bob Melvin, A's                 9*
Terry Francona, Indians  7
Kevin Cash, Rays               5
A.J. Hinch, Astros              5
Joe Maddon, Cubs            5

* Took over during 2010 season