The former manager of the Rays knows better than anyone what the new manager is getting into. And Joe Maddon is confident Kevin Cash will do well.
Though he has managed 1,510 games and Cash has yet to manage one, Maddon said the primary challenges Cash will face when he pulls into Port Charlotte are no different from the ones Maddon will have when he gets to Arizona for his new job leading the Cubs.
"It's to learn the players and build relationships," Maddon said. "I've heard him use that phrase a lot, and it's true. That, to me, is the biggest challenge.
"You've got kind of a veteran team that knows how to play. You've got a real good pitching staff. You've got a veteran bullpen. I just think the biggest thing for him is to get to know the guys. He's definitely going to want to put his thumbprint on everything, and totally as he should.
"But I really believe it's a good group. … There is enough holdover from the coaching staff for continuity, and the additions (Rocco Baldelli and Charlie Montoyo) have been very good to the coaching staff. People can say what they want, but I think Matthew (Silverman, baseball operations president) and the boys did a nice job putting it back together."
Maddon said he was not surprised that Silverman — after replacing Andrew Friedman when he left for the Dodgers in October — engaged in a massive roster renovation, making seven trades involving 30 players.
"After last season, the boys probably thought they had to do something differently going into this year," Maddon said. "At the end of the day, a lot of good names have left and a lot of good names have come in."
Offensively, Maddon sees the upgrade behind the plate with the addition of Rene Rivera ("I met him in Puerto Rico and really liked him") and believes the infield is solid, with Evan Longoria and James Loney on the corners, the addition of Asdrubal Cabrera offsetting the loss of Ben Zobrist and the other spots evening out.
Maddon noted the need for a quality bat behind Longoria and said the biggest questions are the outfielders: Desmond Jennings, Kevin Kiermaier, newcomer Steven Souza, Brandon Guyer and (if not traded) David DeJesus. "If they can get production out of their outfielders,'' he said, "they're going to be pretty good again."
WESTWARD HO: Maddon, who opted out of the final year of his contract in October, acknowledged it still feels a little weird to not be managing the Rays. But he has been bolstered by the reaction he gets around the Tampa Bay area from customers at his Ava restaurant in Tampa, fans and neighbors. "The people have been unbelievable," he said. "You talk about being humbled. The conversation I get from everybody is incredible."
RAYS RUMBLINGS: Having been acquired by the Rays from Kansas City in the trade for James Shields and now joined by Shields in San Diego, OF Wil Myers put this take on Twitter: "Probably safe to say Padres are the final winner in the Shields trade. Should be an exciting year in San Diego!" … ESPN has the Rays 19th in its pre-spring power rankings. … With the 2017 game going to Miami, the Rays are the only current franchise (and Tampa Bay the only market) to not have hosted the All-Star Game. … Nice touch by the Rays to have Cash present former Gaither High coach Frank Permuy with a pair of season tickets at the ceremony naming the high school field for Permuy last week. … Compiled in December before the acquisitions of Souza and SS Daniel Robertson, Baseball America ranked the Rays' farm system 17th. … Baseball Prospectus has two Rays among its top 101 prospects, Robertson at 66, Willy Adames at 94. … With Shields signing, the 2015 draft order is set, with the Rays picking 13th, 52nd and 87th. … New Rays INF Jake Elmore has the distinction of pitching and catching in a 2013 game for the Astros. And he has a good sense of humor, posting on Twitter: "Trying to play for all 30 (teams). Really excited to be joining @RaysBaseball #collectinghats #teamnumber7.'' … The Atlantis sports book in Reno has the Rays over/under at 77.5 wins.
Contact Marc Topkin at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.