ST. PETERSBURG — The biggest benefit of the Rays signing baseball operations president Erik Neander and manager Kevin Cash to long-term contract extensions is the most obvious: two of the game’s best at their jobs will stay with the team.
As much as the small-market Rays churn their roster, often acquiring players when they are young and cheap and then moving them as their salaries escalate, it is significant that they valued what they had in the two leaders and agreed to pay what it costs to keep them to maintain continuity.
And that, several veteran players said, should send a strong message that can pay off now and in the future.
“Anytime you have a place where people want to be, I think that should speak for itself,” reliever Pete Fairbanks said.
That starts with what has been working. The Rays, despite their low payroll, have made the playoffs five straight seasons.
“I think it’s smart to keep them there, because when you have a head coach and a (baseball operations president) that are going to be there for a while, you kind of get a sense of security throughout your players,” second baseman Brandon Lowe said. “Guys like playing for Cash, guys like working with and working for Erik, and it kind of makes them want to stay as well. So I feel it’s a great thing all around.”
And going forward, it makes Tampa Bay more attractive to other players.
“100% — I think it’s huge,” said pitcher Zach Eflin, who signed as a three-year deal before last season, “Honestly, with all the players that have come in and out of Tampa, all I’ve ever heard is how great Cash and Neander are. And that speaks to the people that they are, and their willingness to want to win more than anything.
“So with them being locked down for a while, I think it’s going to be a lot easier for guys to come here. As word spreads around how good of an organization this is and how fun it is to play here, I think that’s only going to attract more free agents.”
Without knowing how much or how long the deals are for — the only reported framing was beyond the planned 2028 move into a new stadium — there’s no point in trying to assess who got the better end.
While it is safe to assume the Rays didn’t break any records, recent deals have re-set the high end of the market.
Craig Counsell in November signed for a manager-record $8 million annually for five years from the Cubs. Joe Torre reportedly had the record at $7.5 million in 2007; the highest paid last season was Cleveland’s since-retired Terry Francona at $4.5 million. (In leaving the Rays after the 2014 season, Joe Maddon got a five-year, $25 million deal with the Cubs.)
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Front office salaries are harder to track, but the reported $50 million over five years David Stearns got run the Mets’ baseball operations is up there.
Steve Phillips, a former big-league GM who hosts an MLB Network Radio on SiriusXM show, raised an interesting point about the Rays’ philosophy: “I’m wondering if they’re willing to pay the market premium for the front office and manager, even if they can’t afford to do it for the players.”
Specifically to the manager market, Phillips said: “I love Craig Counsell as a manager and I would love to have him manage my team, but I would probably take Kevin Cash over him. If Cash went out there as a free agent after this upcoming season, he’d get $8 million a year. I think he would.”
Principal owner Stuart Sternberg, in a 23-word statement on social media that was the only team comment on the deal until Tuesday’s spring opening media conference, said, “I believe there are none better in baseball.”
Both Super Bowl quarterbacks have dads who were pro pitchers. The Mahomes story is better known, as Pat pitched parts of 11 seasons for the Twins, Red Sox, Mets, Rangers, Cubs and Pirates. He faced the Rays three times, including a July 22, 2001, game at the Trop, when Patrick was 5.
Shawn Purdy, who pitched eight years in the minors for the Angels, Giants and Braves before Brock was born, is a St. Petersburg native. His parents moved to St. Cloud when he was 1 or 2, but he said they had relatives in the Tampa Bay area for nearly 40 years.
The Rays will wear very yellow caps, with a light blue burst, for spring training workouts and games. … Reliever Jason Adam has his arbitration hearing Monday and Harold Ramirez later in the week, both seeking a second straight win. … There’s some talk of adding another pitcher or two to the 73-man spring roster on minor-league deals. … The Athletic graded the Rays offseason a D. ... Expect details before Saturday’s Fan Fest on the promotion schedule, ticket packages and return of the popular Randy Land seating area. Closer to opening day, there will be info on a Ballpark Pass-type ticket offer. … The Rays were eighth in ESPN’s pre-spring power rankings, though behind AL East rivals Baltimore (No. 5) and New York (No. 7). … The new Shaw turf field being installed at the Trop reportedly has a natural coconut husk and fiber filler rather than rubber pellets. … Radio guys Andy Freed, Neil Solondz and Chris Adams-Wall get back to work this week, with the first Countdown to Opening Day show airing at 7 p.m. Thursday on WDAE, then 30 minutes before each Saturday and Sunday spring game. … Two Rays were in the 61-100 initial reveal of MLB Network’s list of the 100 top players: infielder Isaac Paredes at 78, outfielder Josh Lowe at 77. … TV broadcaster Dewayne Staats and his wife, Carla, are hosting a Stellar Night at the Stables event Saturday in Pinellas Park to support their Warriors at Rest program, providing retreats for military and law enforcement personnel with equine interaction. See war-warriorsatrest.org for information. … MLB commissioner Rob Manfred would like to see quicker approval of the new stadium plan: “We’re at the point now where it needs to go. It takes a long time to get in the ground and get a stadium built. The sooner the better from my perspective.” ... Keith Law ranked the Rays farm system 12th and had four prospects in his top 100 list for The Athletic: infielder Junior Caminero fifth, shortstop Carson Williams 38th, infielder Brayden Taylor (their 2023 top draft pick) 56th and infielder Curtis Mead 77th. Xavier Isaac, ranked the game’s top first base prospect and No. 58 overall by mlb.com, didn’t make it, nor was he in Law’s next 10. … Solondz was the pronouncer for Saturday’s regional qualifier for the Scripps National Spelling Bee.
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