ST. PETERSBURG — Manager Kevin Cash’s decision to pull Blake Snell in favor of reliever Nick Anderson in the sixth inning of Tuesday’s World Series Game 6 against the Dodgers has remained a popular topic of conversation around the baseball world.
And for Rays general manager Erik Neander, who was asked about it during Friday’s season wrap-up Zoom call and spent 6 minutes and 6 seconds answering, saying he could probably go for another hour.
In short, Neander noted that Cash has remained consistent in pulling starters early to go to the bullpen during the regular season and playoffs; that with his success “he’s earned the benefit of the doubt"; and that he admires Cash for having "the conviction and the fearlessness to make the decision he made, forget right or wrong.''
And that Cash doing so in the face of second-guessing with such high stakes, "to be willing to make the decision that he felt was best in that moment and to stay consistent with the way he’s managed and led this team all year, says a lot more about him, in my opinion, and our staff and the way that they’ve run this club, than it does the specific outcome of a single situation.''
Cash, who has been criticized by former and current big-leaguers, media and fans, said he reached out Thursday night to make sure Snell didn’t take the move as an indication of a lack of confidence in him, just that Anderson was considered a better matchup against Mookie Betts.
"Pretty remarkable how (Snell has) handled all of this,'' Cash said. "Speaks volumes about his character, and just appreciative of the way he’s gone about it.''
Cash also wanted to address what he called the "highly inaccurate'' narrative that the decision to take out Snell before he faced the Dodgers lineup a third time was mandated or prescripted. Rather, Cash said, it was a call he made at the time based on a philosophy "to listen to everybody and try to be as prepared as possible'' to make decisions.
"If it wasn’t for listening really, really well the last five or six years, I don’t think I would be capable or equipped to make some of the challenging in-game decisions that myself and the staff have done, and with the intent of every decision being made to put our team in the best chance to win that game that night,'' he said.
The end of the season means the start of roster shuffling, as the Rays have made a series of moves. That included putting four players on waivers: catcher Michael Perez was claimed by the Pirates; and relievers Andrew Kittredge and Chaz Roe, who finished the season injured, and catcher Kevan Smith became free agents after clearing waivers. With starter Charlie Morton and catcher Mike Zunino free agents after the Rays declined to pick up their options, and reliever Aaron Loup completing a one-year deal, the Rays have 35 on the 40-man roster. Pitchers Jalen Beeks, Yonny Chirinos and Colin Poche (who all had Tommy John surgery) and Cody Reed need to be reinstated from the 45-day injured list by Sunday. And the Rays are expected to add at least two prospects, outfielder Josh Lowe and infielder Taylor Walls, by the Nov. 20 deadline to be protected in the Rule 5 draft.
Neander said there is no set plan for when consensus top prospect Wander Franco will be deemed ready for the majors. While saying it is “unquestionable” Franco has the abilities for a long, impactful career, Neander added, "you also want to make sure he is fully set up for success in all aspects that go into that. He’s 19 going on 20. You want to make sure that you do everything possible to help him mature physically, emotionally, mentally, to be best positioned to take on all the expectations that are going to be with him.'' And, that Franco, who has not played above Class A but spent the postseason on the Rays' taxi squad, shows he is prepared. "That day in, day out, the routines that he’s on, the way he takes care of himself, the way he does all that stuff is where it needs to be to put him in the best position for success,'' Neander said, "because it’s not something that’s just going to be handed to him because he’s a No. 1 prospect.'' Though Franco has played primarily shortstop, and quite well, Neander noted, “we’ve got a few guys that can really play shortstop,” adding Franco “certainly has the abilities to play other positions” if that’s how he gets to the majors.
Though not a finalist for a Gold Glove, Kevin Kiermaier won the Fielding Bible honors as the top defensive centerfielder in the majors. … Lefty Brendan McKay is “on track” in recovering from shoulder surgery, Neander said, and should be back on the mound sometime in the first half of the 2021 season. … There was no update or more information on the status of the unidentified Rays player whose wife tested positive for the coronavirus on Tuesday in Texas. … Infielders Franco, Nate Lowe and minor-leaguer Jim Haley will play for Escogido in the Dominican Winter League, and infield prospect Vidal Brujan will play for Toros del Este.