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Rays owner Sternberg 'extraordinarily' pleased with Kevin Cash

Tampa Bay Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg smiles while talking with the media on the field during batting practice before the Rays take on the Boston Red Sox during Game 34ALDS playoff baseball at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg Tuesday evening (10/8/13).
Tampa Bay Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg smiles while talking with the media on the field during batting practice before the Rays take on the Boston Red Sox during Game 34ALDS playoff baseball at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg Tuesday evening (10/8/13).
Published Sep. 6, 2015

NEW YORK — Like a lot of fans, Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg said manager Kevin Cash has made some mistakes handling his pitching staff during his rookie season in charge.

But Sternberg said the missteps have been few. And he couldn't be more impressed with the job Cash has done overall in handling the team that, despite a slew of injuries and roster changes, after Saturday's 3-2 win over the Yankees is 67-68 and still in the race for an American League wild-card playoff spot with four weeks to play.

"The highest expectations and beliefs I had in Kevin have been more than realized," Sternberg said in a 20-minute chat with Tampa Bay reporters on 2016 payroll, trades, the stadium issue and other topics.

"I'm extraordinarily, really pleased. … The manager he is today, I would have liked him to be next year at this time. He hit the ground running, and he's gone through every obstacle and just learned from it and absorbed it. And it's just made him stronger and better. So I'm really excited about the future with him and what he's going to mean to this organization for years to come."

The Rays signed Cash, 37, to a five-year deal for around $5 million expecting him to grow into the job since he had never managed before. But Sternberg said he has been ahead of the game, noting specifically how Cash — though noticeably grayer — has handled all that has gone wrong.

"Here we are in September and he doesn't seem tired, he doesn't seem battered and worn down," Sternberg said. "He's energized. And it's wonderful to see."

As for those pitching mistakes? "I could really count on one hand the obvious times that maybe we would redo what we did," he said. "I would like to think that next year we would replicate the amount of mistakes we might have made on the pitching side this year."

Among other topics:

• Playoffs: Pleased to be "playing games that matter into September," Sternberg said he remains optimistic the Rays can win a wild-card spot but acknowledged "it's getting late early" and that it would take a run of "exceptional baseball."

Asked if he felt this group of players was capable of doing so, he said, "I'd like to think it's in them."

But he also indicated that he may have overestimated their ability to weather all the early season issues.

"I really did think that because of the way we came through all the adversity and the injuries in particular, that it would make us a better team come August and September," Sternberg said. "But clearly we expended a lot of energy to keep things together as long as we did through June, that maybe we're paying the price for that a little bit now, specifically with the pen."

• Payroll: Sternberg said he hasn't yet looked ahead closely to 2016, but it sounds as if a decrease from this year's $72 million is coming.

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"In a perfect world, we're able to maintain the payroll where it is, but it's not overly likely," Sternberg said. "We'll see."

Having the lowest attendance in the majors, a 15,741 average that is less than half that of the other 29 teams, "hasn't helped."

But, with shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera and DH John Jaso the only prominent free agents, Sternberg also said he feels "really good" about their chances to be competitive next season.

• Trades: While Sternberg admitted the late July trade of outfielder David DeJesus was "clearly money," he said the July 31 deal that sent high-leverage reliever Kevin Jepsen to Minnesota was one of those "hard decisions" they have to make to acquire young talent, in that case low-level minor-league pitchers Chih-Wei Hu and Alexis Tapia.

And, yes, especially with Jake McGee getting hurt a few weeks later, Sternberg admits that "there are games when we wish we still had him."

• Front office: In addition to raving about Cash and his coaches, Sternberg also praised Matt Silverman and his staff for the work they did in taking over baseball operations: "It's gone as well as I ever could have imagined."

• Stadium: The November election could change the dynamics of the St. Petersburg City Council's position on allowing the Rays to look at sites in Tampa, but Sternberg said he hasn't spent much time thinking about the vote since it's out of his control or the whole stadium issue.

"I'm going to get at it after the season," he said. "The tick-tock is getting louder. We're going to have to make some decisions, everybody is going to have to make some decisions. It's 2016 already."

Contact Marc Topkin at mtopkin@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.