Let's say we were naming the best managers in baseball right now. Who would be No. 1?
There are plenty of good ones out there — San Francisco's Bruce Bochy, Cleveland's Terry Francona, Mike Scioscia of the Angels and Mike Matheny of the Cardinals among them.
But the best? I'd say Joe Maddon. Look at what he did with the Rays. Look at what he's doing with the Cubs. Players love him. Fans love him. What's not to love? He's cool, interesting, smart. He's a winner.
He's the story of the year in baseball, having resurrected the Cubs, whose long-suffering faithful actually believe it's only a matter of time before they win their first World Series since 1908.
So, if I'm the Rays, whom do I want managing in Tampa Bay? Actually, give me Kevin Cash.
This isn't to suggest that Cash is a better manager than Maddon. That's silly. Maddon has managed 1,621 games. Cash has managed 113. Maybe someday Cash will be considered a better manager than Maddon. But that's not what this is about.
This is about the Rays. Right here and right now. And, at this very moment, Cash is the better fit for Tampa Bay.
There are a lot of reasons why Maddon decided to leave Tampa Bay last October after nine seasons. Actually, there were 25 million good reasons why. That's what the Cubs are paying him to manage for five seasons. (As opposed to the $5 million total Cash is scheduled to make over five seasons).
But there are other reasons, too. Maybe Maddon wanted to leave because Andrew Friedman left to run the Dodgers. Maybe it was a chance to manage a legendary franchise. Maybe it was a chance to trade his office view of a dull gray roof of Tropicana Field for the beautiful green ivy of Wrigley Field.
Maybe he wanted an ownership that was willing to spend money. Maybe he thought the Cubs were closer to winning a World Series.
Whatever the reasons, Maddon was ready to go somewhere else. I don't blame him. All the reasons to leave were valid, especially that $25 million carrot.
But that also means the Rays now have a skipper who wants to be here. That's Cash. And considering all the injuries the Rays have had, you have to say Cash is doing a heck of a job.
"It has been great," the Rays' John Jaso said about playing for Cash. "It has been an adventure for him, I know. He loves the game. Having been closely removed from the game as a player, playing for him has been great because his communication skills are awesome."
His job is even more impressive when you consider that he is constantly being compared to Maddon.
"What Joe did here was awesome," Jaso said. "I was here for some of our postseason runs, and Joe definitely left a legacy here. But, for Cash, he is setting his own personality on the team. He's not trying to be like other managers. He's doing a great job being himself."
Cash hasn't been perfect. At times he has looked like a rookie manager with how he has handled — or should we say, mishandled — the pitching staff. There's now this hot-button topic of offensive philosophy, which comes up every time the Rays go into a hitting slump.
Maybe he is merely following organizational advice, but he has room for improvement. That improvement should come with age and experience.
There are whispers that maybe Cash is a paint-by-numbers manager, a puppet — that every move he makes has been predetermined by some spread sheet put together by the eggheads sitting behind computers in the front office. Certainly the Rays use analytics, but Cash has unquestionably left his fingerprints all over the clubhouse, in the lineup and on the field.
Without the use of magicians and snakes and dress-up road trips and all the other oddball shenanigans that Maddon used to dream up, Cash has managed to keep his team in the running despite losing streaks, hitting funks and injuries that have led to an ever-changing roster that has included a club-record 17 rookies.
Here we are on Aug. 12 with 49 games left, and the Rays still have a credible shot at the playoffs. You telling me the manager doesn't have something to do with that?
"Oh, this is a blast, especially when we win," Cash said. "I'm having a good time. I don't want to speak for everyone else, but I hope they are having a good time because this is what it's all about."
Would the Rays be in the same spot if Maddon were still here? It's hard to ever doubt Maddon. But as soon as Friedman left and the Cubs started sniffing around, Maddon's mind wandered and his heart wavered.
At that exact moment, it was time for him to exit and someone like Cash to enter.
The other day, Maddon told Tampa Bay Times baseball writer Marc Topkin that his move to Chicago was a "win-win" for everybody.
He was right. The Cubs got the best manager in baseball and Tampa Bay got the best manager for Tampa Bay.