Winter meetings: Rays manager Kevin Cash on openers, acquisitions and more

And on that somewhat controversial bullpen plan: "It was definitely a choice. It was talked about, planned about."
Rays manager Kevin Cash had plenty to say in the media room Monday. (MARC TOPKIN | Times)
Rays manager Kevin Cash had plenty to say in the media room Monday. (MARC TOPKIN | Times)
Published Dec. 10, 2018|Updated Dec. 10, 2018

Rays manager Kevin Cash batted leadoff on Monday as the winter meetings formally got underway in Las Vegas as the first manager in the media interview room. He got plenty of questions about the opener pitching strategy the Rays used much of the season (the first six, and seven of eight), as well as the team's plans to make moves during the off-season, his tenure, OF Tommy Pham playing winter ball in the Dominican Republic, 1B Jake Bauers chances to rebound from his rough finish, Brent Honeywell's timetable and more. Here, thanks to the MLB provided transcript, are the highlights, edited for clarity:

Do you see bullpenning as a trend in baseball or is it something that if you had a five-man rotation you woudl prefer that?

"Well, I think we're going to see it happen. I know we're going to do it. But every club kind of values their rotation or their pitching staffs differently. I think it's fair to say, like if you look at what the Astros, Red Sox, that had a very veteran group of pitchers one through five, that might be a little challenging to do that with the bullpen.

"But it was kind of the perfect storm for us in the fact that we had so many young guys coming up transitioning, and I think ultimately it helped both. It helped the guys that left Durham as starters, graduated to the big leagues, and it also helped some of those short-reliever starts."

So it was more of a choice than a necessity?

"It was definitely a choice. It was talked about, planned about.

"I think where the choice changed and necessity came in was when the injuries started. When we lost (starter Nathan) Eovaldi at the beginning of the year or had his season cut early and then we had to wait for the rehab, everything jammed up on us. But our young guys did a tremendous job filling in, and it allowed us more flexibility."

When you're judging a guy from Durham or Montgomery coming up, what do you look for in a guy who can be an opener as opposed to not?

"Well, I think in a perfect world you try to complement the opener with the length guy that falls in. So the best example is probably like a guy like Ryne Stanek coming in that throws very hard, high velocity, and you compliment him with a guy like Ryan Yarbrough that's left-handed and uses his pitch mix to navigate his way through a lineup. You're not always going to have that.

"But there's no doubt we are convinced that different looks through an order, challenging lineups, gives us a good chance."

Now that you have more data than anybody in baseball, what's your takeaway as you evaluate what you guys have accomplished?

"Going forward? We're going to do it. I think right now we're discussing internally whether we do it two times through the rotation or three times through the rotation. But the nice thing is we've got all that information last year and we have a bunch of candidates that we can fill in as a traditional starter if need be. Yonny Chirinos, (Yarbrough), Wilmer Font, Jalen Beeks, all those guys have starting experience. If we put the flexibility of putting them back in that traditional role a time or two, we can do that.

"But I'm very confident we're going to do it definitely two, potentially three times through the rotation to start the season."

There's a lot of talk from your bosses about making some impact additions this off-season, how do you look at that? Is it exciting, is it interesting?

"Yeah, it's very exciting. The potential to have that, whether it's payroll flexibility, roster flexibility, to go and be in the market, whether it's acquiring through a trade or free agent. Where the hiccup comes, we have a pretty good roster right now, and whatever you add, somebody that we're probably wanting to continue to develop at the big league level is not going to get those reps. That's okay. If we're making our team better that's first and foremost.

"I know going into the offseason we looked around at our 25-man roster or 35, whatever it was at the end, and really recognized that there's a lot of good players in that clubhouse. And for us to add, it's going to take at-bats or innings from somebody.

"So I know our guys will do their due diligence, and we've recognized over the last three or four years you can never have enough depth."

Your thought on where you want to go with those moves?

"You know what, I'm pretty consistent. From day one and being a coach with Cleveland, it's all about pitching. Pitching, pitching, pitching. I don't think you can ever have enough. Obviously the bats are nice, but we won a lot of games last year because we pitched well and we caught the ball behind our pitchers. And I know that's not going to change. The more pitching that we can add and allow these guys to continue to get good, the better we'll be."

What was it like to watch Rocco Baldelli develop and now become a manager (with the Twins)?

"Rocco is pretty special. And the fact that he — you guys will see, you'll talk to him. He just has a great way about him where he's relaxed, very, very in tune with the new age baseball and also responding with players. Watching him develop or watching him grow as a coach, we were all kind of thrust into this position where it was new for all of us. … To watch how he really learned to communicate with players and have some difficult conversations and also understanding the game, the end game decision making, he's going to do a really good job in Minnesota."

Charlie Montoyo, what does he bring  as the new manager of the Jays?

"Experience. When you've managed as many games, I don't care if you're doing it in A-ball, Double-A, Triple-A, and ultimately he was managing right alongside, we were doing it together last year. Charlie's in-game knowledge is second to none. And the way he just —his sense for preparing himself, his staff, and just the quality of person that Charlie is, is really going to stand out."

Personality-wise how is he a good fit with a young organization like the Blue Jays are right now?

"I think the bulk of his career was spent developing players in Durham. I said this about Charlie right when he got the job, throughout the last four years, every time we go to an opposing city, a former player of his will come by, whether they're a fan or whether they're working for another team, and they embrace Charlie like — it's impressive how he was a favorite of players. And I know that will transition over at the big league level."

What is the role that winter ball can have for Tommy Pham, for any player?

"Tommy is a very driven player, very motivated. He was just outstanding for us when he came over. And at the end of the year we sat down and talked and he said he wanted to go play winter ball to work on his swing. And I said, How much more do you need to work? You hit .350 the last two months for us, hit all the home runs. When he was healthy, we had a different lineup because he was in it.

"So there was some concern. But he felt there was more tinkering that needed to be done. He plays all out. I asked him, please don't run into any walls on the Dominican baseball fields. Be careful. We called his manager and asked the same thing. But he's motivated and driven to get his swing where he wants it. And I think that speaks volumes to a guy that has had the last two or three years of success that he still wants to get better."

What does Jake Bauers need to do to take the next step?

"You know, I think Jake, of all of our young players that came up, Jake was as talked about as anybody, rightfully so. I think just experience and maturity, he was the youngest guy in the league. He's been the youngest at every level he's performed at. And he figured it out. He's always struggled and started to stabilize himself a little bit and then he gets hot and he puts together some pretty good numbers offensively.

"I think that's what we saw this year at the big league level. He struggled, he probably didn't have the right time to figure it. It was the right time for Jake to go home and gather his thoughts. But he was a little bit of an anomaly, when you watch his at-bats, his swing looked the same, everything looked the same. He wasn't getting his hits.

"And I'm confident, Jake has hit everywhere, he's going to hit. Defensively, our defense got a heck of a lot better when he was out there. And the confidence that he gave our infielders and the things that he can do around the bag were really impressive. I hope Jake is enjoying himself, letting his mind take a break and come in fresh this Spring training and ready to compete."

How much rehab (from Tommy John surgery) will be needed for Brent Honeywell to make an impact?

"We know how special Brent is, and how valuable and what we view in our organization. But if we're going to do Brent right, we have to let him go through the rehab process, not rush him. Knowing his personality, he's going to want to make a club out of spring training. That's not going to happen. We've got to do it right. Our medical staff is second to none. And I know Brent understands that. But he's a motivated player, and he wants to be a part of something that we all view as pretty special right now.

"We'll do everything we can to calm him down, let him go through the process to make sure he's a hundred percent healthy and get him through his rehabs and get him to affiliate, get some innings, and hopefully he is helping us."

When would you expect him to start his minor-league rehab?

"What we've talked about is some time May, June. But that's not set in stone. We adjust really well given the player. We have a bunch of players coming back from Tommy John and they all have different — they all have some good weeks to the rehab and they all have some slowdown weeks. Everybody is different."

What stood out watching Nate Eovaldi (who was traded to Boston in July, and just resigned there) in the postseason?

"So happy for him. I'm not too thrilled that he decided to stay in the division and sign back with the Red Sox. We'll work around that.

"But watching him perform, we really got to know Nate Eovaldi the year 2017, when he was hurt. And the way he came to the ballpark, the way he went about his rehab, the type of teammate he was, you can't help but pull for the guy. And then he had so much success for us and then he went on to Boston and the way he took the ball. And obviously the extra inning game, it was fun to watch."

 Where the Yankees and Red Sox are, did you guys enter the offseason with a goal? Is there a specific goal that you guys have in the offseason?

"I don't know there's a specific number, I don't think there is. We recognize that New York and Boston, they're there. They're always going to be good. They're very, very talented. And then the rest of the division, Toronto is only going to get better with their youth movement, and the Baltimore Orioles, you scratch your head a little bit about where their season was. You can quickly see them rebounding and challenging the division.

"But, no, I think we've got to worry about what's in our building and make the most of that situation. But, yes, we do recognize that they're talented teams. I hope we don't see 200-win teams again unless we're one of them. How many times do you see that in baseball? And I think we saw it twice, I believe the Astros and the A's did it really close. So there were some really quality teams in the American League this past year."