ST. PETERSBURG -- Rays manager Kevin Cash joined exclusive, Hall of Fame company on Tuesday night by winning his second straight Manager of the Year Award.
Cash is the first American League manager to win the award twice in a row. He and legendary Braves skipper Bobby Cox, who was named National League Manager of the Year in 2004 and ’05, are the only managers to be named Manager of the Year in back-to-back years.
That honor was not lost on Cash.
“I shouldn't be in the same sentence, shouldn't be in the same conversation, none of it,” Cash said. “Very humbling. When you think of Major League managers, or really the greats in this game, Bobby Cox is going to find himself at the top of many lists.”
Cash received 109 points in the Baseball Writers’ Association of America voting, appearing on 27 of 30 ballots and receiving 19 first-place votes. The Mariners’ Scott Servais finished second with 71 points, and the Astros’ Dusty Baker was third with 33 points. Cash finished third in the voting in 2018 and ’19 before claiming 22 of 30 first-place votes last season and winning the award again this year.
This is the fourth time a Rays manager has won the AL Manager of the Year Award. Before Cash took home the honor each of the last two years, Joe Maddon won it in 2008 and ’11. He admitted he was nervous in the moments leading up to Tuesday’s announcement, and the excitement in his house became apparent on the MLB Network broadcast when his wife and daughters rushed to hug him after Mike Scioscia revealed the results.
“I was certainly excited,” Cash said.
Cash has led the Rays to back-to-back AL East titles and three straight postseason berths, both of which were firsts in franchise history. Tampa Bay has also strung together four straight winning seasons under Cash, two shy of the club record set from 2008-13, capped by their AL-best 100 victories this year.
“I'm most proud of the players and the team and the accomplishment of the regular season,” Cash said. “One hundred wins in the American League East, with the talent level that was top to bottom in our division -- pretty remarkable.”
The 43-year-old Tampa native is still a young manager, barely senior to his oldest player (Nelson Cruz) this past season, but he’s established himself as the Majors’ second-longest-tenured dugout leader in seven seasons with the Rays. Only Cleveland’s Terry Francona, one of Cash’s mentors, has been with his current team longer than Cash.
“Our players, they come to play. They come to get better. And that's a reflection on him and his leadership and the staff as well,” Rays president of baseball operations Erik Neander said recently. “We're lucky to have him, and we really appreciate him. And it's nice to see him receive that recognition. It's not ultimately why we do it, but it does speak well to just what an impact he's had on our group and the games we've won.”
This year, the Rays set a club record for most wins in a season and went 51-25 against their opponents in the Majors’ toughest division, posting a winning record in their season series with the Yankees, Red Sox, Blue Jays and Orioles. The end result might indicate an easy road for the Rays, yet it was anything but that.
Tampa Bay had to use 61 players and 38 pitchers, both marks shattering club records, as the team put 33 players on the injured list over 43 total stints excluding the COVID-19 related IL. At three points in August, the Rays had a club-record 17 players on the IL.
By mid-June, the Rays were without their three best starting pitchers from their 2020 run to the World Series: Charlie Morton (option declined), Blake Snell (traded) and Tyler Glasnow (injured). They didn’t have a single pitcher qualify for the ERA title, making them just the third team in AL/NL history (also the 2017 Astros and '18 Dodgers) to do so while winning their division, and three of their four pitchers to work more than 100 innings did so with ERAs above 5.00.
“Look, our players are really good. We want to do everything we can to put them in the best position,” Cash said. “We're not looking to push the right buttons. We're looking to assist them however we possibly can.”
Cash’s flexible bullpen management was on full display as Tampa Bay navigated most of the season without top reliever Nick Anderson, missed fellow high-leverage arm Pete Fairbanks at times due to a shoulder injury and wound up moving late-inning reliever Diego Castillo prior to the Trade Deadline. The Rays had 14 pitchers record a save this year, breaking the AL/NL record they tied in 2020. They traded away shortstop Willy Adames in late May, losing a central piece of their clubhouse culture, and never missed a beat.
“Erik does an awesome job of bringing the right players in to help us win games, but the core from those teams just showed the consistent belief to know we're OK,” Cash said. “Credit our guys. They did, and did it above and beyond.”
Cash also deftly managed a roster built on depth and flexibility more than star power, writing out a MLB-leading/franchise-record 158 lineup combinations in 162 games. He put players in position to succeed by utilizing his entire roster, something the Rays can do because players buy in on their roles -- even if they aren’t always traditional -- thanks to clear and direct communication from Cash and the coaching staff.
“He knows how to support your team. He's always got your back. He's always there to support you. If he's got something to say, he'll say it,” AL Rookie of the Year Randy Arozarena said through interpreter Manny Navarro. “He's not afraid to speak his mind, and I think that's what gets the chemistry going really well inside that clubhouse because he does a really good job. I think he's a real manager and a real person, and I think he's very deserving of the Manager of the Year.”