LAS VEGAS -- Two of his coaches just got managing gigs. Rays manager Kevin Cash takes no credit for this. On the other hand, why not? He has become the prototype for what every team is seeking in a manager.He's comfortable in the data-driven world in which the Rays operate
LAS VEGAS -- Two of his coaches just got managing gigs. Rays manager Kevin Cash takes no credit for this. On the other hand, why not? He has become the prototype for what every team is seeking in a manager.
He's comfortable in the data-driven world in which the Rays operate and understands its importance to the franchise's success. He also knows the importance of building relationships with players.
In a season during which Tampa Bay reinvented how to utilize pitching staffs while using 54 players -- including 35 rookies -- Cash made it all work seamlessly on the way to 90 wins.
Now, he'll enter the 2019 season -- his fifth -- as the sixth-longest-tenured active manager.
Seems like only yesterday…
"That's amazing to me," he said Monday at the Winter Meetings. "There's a lot of good managers. I know the transition in this game, especially this offseason, with all the jobs that came about, but that's a little odd."
His hiring four years ago raised some eyebrows since he was 36 years old and four years removed from playing his last game. His coaching career was brief.
But the Rays saw him as a perfect fit because of his people skills, smarts and ability to collaborate with analysts. In four years since, everything the Rays hoped he was has been confirmed.
"The person that he is, that we felt so strongly about, that's still the person he is today," said Chaim Bloom, the Rays' senior vice president of baseball operations. "[This job is] so much more than the X's and O's. The tactical part of the job is really important, but so much more of it is about leading the group and learning how to handle people, and really put everybody in position to succeed, especially when you want to do different things tactically."
It was the highest kind of compliment to the Rays and their manager when the Twins (Rocco Baldelli) and Blue Jays (Charlie Montoyo) hired Tampa Bay coaches to be their new managers.
When Cash attended his first Winter Meetings in 2014, he didn't even know what he didn't know.
"It's different. It's different," Cash said. "There's no doubt there's more comfort. I think comfort comes with experience. And this thing here at the Winter Meetings in Vegas, you're going to be more comfortable just because of the atmosphere I think that's created.
"But just the years of managing, the experience, getting to be around so many educated people in the game. You find that balance to where you continue learning, but you also kind of keep in the back of your mind all the stuff that you've learned along the way, and I think gives you some confidence going forward."
The Rangers just hired Dodgers third-base coach Chris Woodward to be their new manager. He and Cash are former workout buddies and teammates.
When asked what he saw in Woodward that indicated he might someday be a manager, Cash remembered an incident in Spring Training when he had not run hard to first base on a pop fly.
"Chris kind of took me in the dugout afterward in a very quiet way and said, 'That's not you. That's not the type of player that you're going to be,'" Cash said. "For a guy to do that with three years' experience, I think you've got a pretty good sense. He knows how to communicate with all players, whether it's a veteran guy or the young player. It had a big impact."
One thing Cash understands is how to embrace baseball's information age and to recognize that the walls that once existed between the front office and clubhouse never made sense.
"We just hired a process and analytics coach in Jonathan Erlichman," Cash said. "All teams are looking for an edge right now. And the traditional way of thought is a great way, but if you can bring that thought with maybe those innovative, out-of-the-box thoughts, I think you're getting the best of both worlds.
"There's a tech conference here [at the Winter Meetings]. We have five, six guys going to that to get more knowledge. Whatever we can do, whatever we can look at, whatever information we can utilize to help our players perform on the field, help them get rest, help them with just the grind of the season, we're going to do it."
Richard Justice has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2011. Read his columns, listen to his podcast and follow him on Twitter at @RichardJustice.