Rays invest future in Kevin Cash

Cleveland Indians manager Terry Francona, left, and bullpen coach Kevin Cash watch during spring training baseball in Goodyear, Ariz.  Cash was hired as the new manager of the Tampa Bay Rays on Friday, Dec. 5, 2014.  (AP Photo/Paul Sancya, File) NY160
Cleveland Indians manager Terry Francona, left, and bullpen coach Kevin Cash watch during spring training baseball in Goodyear, Ariz. Cash was hired as the new manager of the Tampa Bay Rays on Friday, Dec. 5, 2014. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya, File) NY160
Published Dec. 6, 2014

Say this for Matt Silverman: The guy has guts.

Not many baseball executives would have had the nerve to do what he did Friday. In his first big hire since taking over baseball operations for the Rays, he is swinging for the fences.

After losing, arguably, the best manager in baseball, Silverman is handing the keys of the franchise over to a kid who has never filled out a lineup card before.

Silverman hired Kevin Cash to be the fifth manager in franchise history.

Kevin Cash, who turns 37 today. Kevin Cash, who is now the youngest manager in baseball. Kevin Cash, whose next game as a major-league manager will be his first.

Good for the Rays and good for Silverman. Go big or go home. Malaise has set in with the Rays. Time for a change, a big change. They could use something new, something different, something outside the box.

That's what Cash is — something new, something different and well outside the box. Even Cash said he "couldn't put into words'' how surprising it was that he was named manager. The first word that came to mind: "Wow.''

My sentiments exactly.

Maybe he will be a complete disaster. After all, some of you have shoes older than Cash.

But maybe Cash will be a star and for the Rays, who have never done things the conventional way, the possibilities are worth the risk.

The safe pick would have been long-time bench coach Dave Martinez. The players endorsed Martinez and most fans campaigned for him. Silverman could have picked him and everyone would have been happy.

An even safer pick would have been Don Wakamatsu, who was the other finalist along with Cash. At least Wakamatsu has managed before — 247 big-league games, which is 247 more than Cash. Silverman could have picked him and everyone would have said it was a sensible, safe hire.

But sensible doesn't mean great, and safe doesn't mean smart.

Forget safe. Dare to be great. That seems to be Silverman's philosophy. That's not to say the hire is any less perilous for Silverman.

A lot of eyes are on Silverman, and he likely will be judged on how Cash pans out.

Rightly or wrongly, most folks in the baseball world think the recently-departed Andrew Friedman was the real brains behind the Rays' success. Silverman? He was in charge of the business side, the stadium stuff. That might not have been the reality, but that is the perception. So when Silverman became the voice when it was time to name a new manager, he easily could have thrown his support behind Wakamatsu. If Silverman was more worried about his reputation and legacy than the future of the organization, Wakamatsu would have been introduced Friday.

And no one would have raised an eyebrow.

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But Silverman's gut told him something else, even after he thought about Cash's total lack of experience.

"It was certainly a consideration of ours,'' Silverman said. "When it got down to it, the security of our situation with the staff in place and the clubhouse culture that we have gave us more comfort. But you look at Kevin, his baseball age is much older than his 37 years on this planet. He has been a student of the game and that transition to manager is one we think will be a relatively easy one made even easier by the environment we already have here.''

It is true that the Rays have a clubhouse full of veterans and leaders — most notably Evan Longoria, Ben Zobrist and James Loney — who don't need a babysitter. Then again, those veteran leaders might not be too keen on a manager barely older than they are with zero managerial experience laying down the hammer and chewing out some backsides every now and again.

It's one thing to sit around a desk in the cool comforts of the Rays offices and explain how you're going to handle a sticky situation and quite another when you're in the cramped and sweltering dugout of Fenway Park in the midst of a six-game losing streak and you just fell behind 7-0 in the second inning.

And that's the part we're waiting to see.

Cash will do just fine making out lineups and changing pitchers and setting rotations and so forth. Baseball strategy will be the easy part for him.

The hard part — the hardest part for every manager — will be setting a tone in the clubhouse and guiding a roster of 25 personalities and egos through an up-and-down 162-game season.

Some days, players will be upset over playing time or their spot in the order. Some days, players will need to be motivated. Some days, a player will dog it.

It will be up to Cash to head off issues before they become problems and find solutions if the issues do become problems. And that's where Cash will have to learn on the job.

Everyone is waiting for the Rays to fail now that Friedman and Maddon have been replaced by someone who has never been a GM and someone who has never been a manager. Maybe the Rays are, indeed, heading for dark days.

But it's good to see the Rays are not thinking about that. They aren't settling for safe. Greatness is their goal.

That's what Cash's hiring means and, if nothing else, give the Rays — and especially Silverman — credit for that.