More from Rays manager Kevin Cash’s winter meetings Q&A session thanks to a transcript provided by the league, slightly edited:
How did you view the balance of the trade (Tommy Pham and prospect Jake Cronenworth for Hunter Renfroe, prospect Xavier Edwards and a player to be named later) vs. what you got and what you gave up?
“To be honest, I haven’t put a ton of thought into it. I trust our guys so much that they’re going to do what is best for us right now and going forward. I know talking with (general manager Erik Neander), we cannot deny that Tommy Pham was a huge piece to our team, our offense, defense, on the bases, whatever it was. But sometimes those decisions come up. And if you look at the guys’ track record upstairs, they do a pretty good job of recognizing when we gotta make decisions like that. They’re all difficult decisions, and just appreciate how professional our group goes about doing them.”
Travis d’Arnaud is gone, but how do you feel about the possibility of Mike Zunino and Michael Perez being the catchers?
“We’re betting on Z to bounce back. He’s very much capable of doing it. A lot of people didn’t talk about Z and the contributions he made to our pitching staff and our defense. When you talk about your pitchers, and I think we could all agree we had a pretty good staff, the pitchers get a lot of credit, and (coaches) Kyle (Snyder) and Stan (Boroski) get credit, and our catchers have to get that credit, also, and they’re communicating back there, and Z played a big part in that. You look at his offensive seasons in the past he’s capable of bouncing back. There is not a guy in our clubhouse that can generate as much power as he can, so looking forward to a clean slate and just go out and do his thing.”
How much can a catcher benefit from Year 2, same pitchers and not having to worry — just being around the same pitchers all the time?
“I think a lot. Anytime a catcher comes over to a new club it’s like a crash course and I don’t know in that crash course ends in the first season but I think Z did a tremendous job. I think he did tremendous when Travis came over and started taking the playing time the way Z handled it, the professionalism and when his opportunity was called he was ready to go. But certainly our pitchers would probably back that up, saying how good he was for them back there.”
How do you feel about the strength of the potential starting rotation with the 1-2-3 between Charlie (Morton) and Blake (Snell) and the secondary line of defense and just overall that strength?
“Really, really well. We learned last year how these injuries can be nagging and tough to swallow at times. We lost all those guys with the exception of Charlie at certain points of the year. If we’re healthy, we got a chance to be a special pitching staff again. We gotta get 'em healthy, but to sit in December and think about what it could look like come opening day, those three and Yonny (Chirinos) and (Ryan Yarbrough) have to be in that conversation. They’ve done special things for one and two-year players, pitchers, they’ve been pretty remarkable for us.”
With the injuries to the pitching staff — and there were quite a few especially the starters — how do you go about managing their workload next year? Does that start in spring training or something you haven’t approached yet?
“We’ll sit down as a group, the front office, Kyle Snyder, Stan will be involved and our medical group, Joe Benge will have a lot of input on what he thinks, what we all feel is best from the standpoint of ― Kyle does a tremendous job of easing these guys into it. You would like to think with the time missed that they’re that much fresher going into the season. I don’t know if it always works out that way. Obviously aware of Charlie Morton’s workload. It was bigger than what we wanted. We don’t get where we did without having Charlie fulfill those innings in and that workload, and we will talk about all those things with him specifically and the other guys get 'em ready to pitch.”
Having lost a number of the power (numbers) with Tommy then with Avi Garcia as a free agent, how big will having a bounce-back year from guys like Yandy Diaz and Brandon Lowe missing time with injury, supplement that?
“I would say not so much bounce back, a healthy season would help. Both those guys were tremendous when they were healthy. Yandy, we probably got more home runs than what everybody envisioned when we acquired him. Brandon Lowe, there was a reason he was up for Rookie of the Year, and it would have been great to see his season unfold with a healthy year, with one- and two-year players now graduating to two- and three-year players, we gotta think we’re going to be that much better and continue with progress.”
What was your assessment of Brendan McKay’s performance and what are you looking for him to do this year?
“I was impressed by it. We’ve thrown a lot at Brendan. He’s one of few players that does a lot of the hitting and the pitching combination. He’s young, super talented. He can command the baseball. We saw the command go away from him a little bit, but I think he learned a lot and recognized that his best games and his best stuff is in the strike zone. When he maybe got away with in college and coming up through the minor leagues, big league hitters didn’t allow him to do, and I think Brendan is going to be that much better for it going into his second opportunity whether it’s at the mound or getting more reps at the plate.”
You used a lot of relievers over the course of the year. What made that successful for you guys and what were the challenges in taking that approach with the bullpen?
“The reason it’s successful is because we have good pitchers. Everybody talks about unique and creative things. You have to have good pitchers. We’ve been fortunate for the last couple of seasons and this organization for the last ten years has set a high bar with quality pitchers, and no different than the last two years. I give Kyle and Stan a lot of credit for the calm they provide those pitchers. We ask a lot of them, we put 'em in different roles. We try to get out in front of it, do we do it all the time like we would like, probably not but the guys enjoy playing those different roles and adjusting on the fly. When you get a couple of veteran leaders like we have with Chaz Roe, and even though Emilio is young he carried himself like a leader willing to pitch in any role. Sergio Romo two years ago, the buy-in is easy to get.”
How about from your perspective as a manager: Do you embrace the challenges that come with it when you’re using so many different relievers in different roles and trying new things? How do you look at it?
“Yes, I embrace it, we embrace it. It’s a lot of conversation, a lot of pregame conversation, a lot of thoughts and a lot goes into checking in on who is available, who is not, what the workload is. I’ve been fortunate to learn from a special group of people over the last couple of seasons and to see these conversations come to fruition and work out in ball games, it’s a good feeling.”
In regard to the Astros investigation, how noticeable to you are the differences from 2017 to 2019 in terms of the policing of tunnels, video rooms, what have you from, you know, sign stealing by ill-means?
“I can’t speak on anything other than what took place in the playoffs. I thought MLB did a tremendous job of monitoring everything. There were MLB supervisors, official, two at one end of dugout, two at the other end, one or two in the video rooms. Fully trust MLB did a really good job.”
Do you feel like the problem is solved or there is a key pivot point in terms of what they might do to stamp out that stuff going forward?
“I have no idea. We’re kinda like you guys, waiting to hear, but as of now I don’t know what’s taking place.”
What is injured pitching prospect Brent Honeywell’s status?
“He texted me happy birthday the other day. (Chuckles.) Caught him in a good mood! Man, hopefully it’s good, because he’s been through it with the injuries. You hate to see that with such a talented pitcher, we were talking about Brent Honeywell a year and a half ago maybe the most special pitching prospect in baseball. Hopefully the rehab is going well. I know we gave him a blow at the end of the year to get him away from that rehab, so we don’t burn him out, let him have an enjoyable off-season, but know for him to get back to being that pitcher, he’s going to have to continue to work and we know that he will.”
In a time of $245 million contracts, what is it about the lower payroll teams such as yourself and Oakland that has allowed you guys to be consistent contenders? Is it the creativity?
“Yeah, I think it’s fair to say that we mirror each other in a lot of ways. We have some really smart people making decisions, and more times than not they’re making the smart decision right at the pivotal time. They do what’s best for the organization that season and looking forward. I think you gotta give credit to the players. They put all that aside and they don’t care. They want to show up and play. I certainly didn’t like playing the Oakland A’s, because I know how talented they were and they could care less about what’s taking place in the division, payroll and whatnot, they come to beat you.”
Is your team of the same mind-set? Is that like a challenge they relish, a chip maybe?
“Maybe a chip. I think when you play some of the teams we play in our division so much, it’s probably best not to think about it. Using it as a positive or a negative, just go play. When you’ve got young players like we do, more times than not they don’t care.”
Given all the talk last offseason about juice baseball, do you guys, do you look at evaluating your own players or opposing players any different than numbers that were put up by hitters or pitchers or the last year when it comes to looking forward at all?
“No, I don’t think so. People in the organization that can answer that better than me, but I don’t think so. They are what they are. We would all agree that — forget the acquisitions about the ball, they’re all using the same ball so the results are fairly consistent.”
With the addition of the 26-man roster spot, how does that affect you?
“I haven’t spent enough time thinking about that. We’re going to discuss that. I’m waiting for all these rules and thoughts to be finalized. I think it’s good to add to it, and I know there is a pitcher/hitter factor into it, the balance of it. I’m probably not a fan of taking pitchers off the roster. We like our pitchers and we want to use them as much as we can.”
Have you heard anything?
“Officially I haven’t heard anything. Officially.”
Ji-Man for the season, what was your impression?
“Ji-Man? You know what? One of the better guys in the clubhouse that we have had, and I think with the opportunity that he’s made the most of. We’ve seen a guy that was a prospect when he first came over and then typical, what we talk about, fall through the cracks a little bit, where things didn’t come as easy but he’s made the most of an opportunity and really picked us up on the field and off the field this year.”
Does the concept of a window apply to a franchise like yours, like a contention window? Or are you guys churning to the point where one year isn’t more higher stakes than the next?
“Well, I hope we’re in a window right now, because from 2018 to 2019 we’ve had some good clubs. Not good enough but we want to continue to improve on that and we feel confident we have the players that can. They’re going to continue getting better and making progress. I know not everybody gets better, but with the group that we have, there is a chance that a high volume of them get more confidence and you look at what took place the last six weeks of the year and in the postseason, those were big confidence builders. Once they got past that our season was over and the disappointment, I think a lot of them probably looked back and said what an experience that was.”
What about the leadership culture, losing Guillermo Heredia, Travis? Are you confident the clubhouse culture is good enough? Bringing someone in to keep things rolling?
“It will be a challenge. Those guys that you mentioned were big, big parts of our clubhouse. Heredia, the energy that he brings, d’Arnaud, Travis, the mental calmness he brought, been there, done that. He had experience with the Mets in the postseason. That will be something that is up to myself and the staff that we try to do everything — create that atmosphere and allow some of these players to transition and transform into those roles, and we have some guys that are capable of doing it.”
Erik Neander said Brian O’Grady is capable of playing outfield and the infield corner positions. As a manager you have several guys in the lineup. When you are creating the daily roster, how much of a benefit is that when you have multiple guys that can play multiple positions?
“Versatility is key. We have been really versatile over the last couple of seasons and if we’re not as versatile as we were last year we’re in trouble because we had key injuries to different spots where we could plug holes, whether it’s Joey going from second to third or Brandon going from the infield to the outfield, Travis going from catcher to first base. There were a lot of guys that were able to move around for us, Daniel Robertson can play all over the field. Little things like that, they help us keep up.”