KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Rays are playing for a lot as they head into the final month of the season. Most important, beyond the usual individual milestones and contract boosts, is an entry, even if it's as the second wild card, into the American League playoffs field.
But one thing not in play — nor in question — is the status of manager Kevin Cash.
Even if the team falls short of making the playoffs, Cash will not take the fall and — despite the possibility of a third straight losing season — will return for his fourth year.
"Kevin is incredibly consistent with his energy, authenticity and the way that he guides this team," general manager Erik Neander said.
"We've had good stretches and some tough stretches, but through it all our players and staff have followed his lead and have showed up every day well prepared to compete and to make the most of their abilities.
"There are things that we can all do to help this organization improve, and that certainly applies to the front office. But he's doing the most critical part of his job, and one that tends to be less visible to the public, very well."
When the Rays hired Cash as a 36-year-old with no managerial experience to replace the celebrated Joe Maddon following his contentious October 2014 departure, they envisioned Cash having an extended stay. That was evidenced when they gave an extraordinarily long contract for a first-timer, five years (for about $5 million) plus two options.
The results — 214-243 (.468) going into Tuesday's late game against the Royals — have obviously done nothing to dent their confidence in him.
Though Cash has strong support throughout the Rays clubhouse from players and staff, and is praised by opposing coaches and managers, executives and scouts around the game, news of his guaranteed return may not be universally well-received.
Cash's status, particularly during the Rays' 3-12 run that knocked them back into the wild-card pack, became a popular subject of discussion among fans and was starting to become a topic with media and officials around the game.
That includes arguably the Rays' most prominent backer, ESPN basketball guru Dick Vitale, who on Aug. 18 took to his nearly 900,000-follower Twitter account to ask: "What is the status of the skipper? Is he safe?"
Simply put, Cash's bosses like what he does running the team and the game as well as how he does it, with a positive attitude and upbeat approach to embracing the organizational philosophies — admittedly, occasionally unorthodox — they adhere to and share in as a team, not with the divisiveness of some other organizations.
To fire him after three seasons in a way would be an admission of their own mistake — in hiring him as well as in managing him.
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Are there players in the clubhouse who moan about the moves Cash makes, specifically the inconsistency in his handling of the pitchers?
Certainly. (Though he sure seems to be a "better" manager since the Rays improved their bullpen.)
Are there baseball people who question some of the moves he makes and strategies he employs?
For sure. (Including, on certain nights, those in the Rays' employ.)
Does Cash, now 39 and a bit grayer, openly admit he still has much to learn and specific aspects of the job to improve upon?
But with the Rays — despite myriad injuries, extended stretches of inconsistency and regular roster shuffling — battling for a playoff spot going into the final month, Cash is viewed internally not as a cause for concern but a reason for their success.
Ask around about Cash, on and off the record, and you hear what many like about him:
The way he communicates up and down the chain, how he brings energy and enthusiasm every day, how he has improved in decision-making and game-running and, another flash point among critics, how he can be tough (out of public view) when he needs to be. An executive with another team lauded him for the way he always makes it about the players and never himself.
Last weekend in St. Louis, none other than Hall of Fame manager Tony La Russa asked about the fellow Tampa product, then volunteered how impressed he'd been watching Cash in action.
"He does a good job," La Russa said.
And one he's going to keep doing.
Marc Topkin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.