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Winter Meetings interview with Kevin Cash

MLB.com

Q. Aren't you going to say it was a good win or a bad loss?

KEVIN CASH: (Laughing) No. I'm ready to though, for sure.

Q. There's been a lot of speculation about the team, what you guys might do. As the field manager you have a little different perspective than the front office. What's your take ongoing into this offseason here?

KEVIN CASH: Well, you said it right, it's speculation for the most part. It's funny, we have been here or I've been coming to the Winter Meetings now for four years and I don't know if I've ever seen a transaction actually take place.

So I know there's a lot of chatter about our players, I think I view them as being very special to our current roster, and a big part of us having success at times last year and going forward. How that shakes out, I have no idea what will take place. But when have you good players, people are going to ask about them and I think that's what we're seeing leading into this Winter Meetings is a lot of names are coming up and because they're very respected throughout the industry.

Q. Eric made it sound like he had kind of several different scenarios and they hadn't really decided which direction they were going yet. Where does that put you as far as like your planning for what you want to do when you really don't know some of what your personnel might be?

KEVIN CASH: Maybe a little bit on hold, but nothing major. Look, right now we're in the middle of scheduling for Spring Training. Whatever the roster is, we know we're going to have roughly 55, 60 guys in camp competing for jobs and getting ready for the season. So it doesn't change too much.

We're still going to have our core group, our core thought processes to go into Spring Training with, and I don't think any of the chatter really affects too much over this weekend. It's funny, baseball, the industry as a whole has probably been put on hold a little bit here the last week to 10 days with Shohei Otani and then obviously Giancarlo Stanton. Those situations took up a lot of teams' times and this should be an interesting meetings simply because it's been quiet. Now the chatter will really come on.

Q. You mentioned Stanton, the Yankees obviously were pretty good team last year, how much tougher does this division look for you guys just seeing that move alone?

KEVIN CASH: Yeah, it's a challenge. You can't sugarcoat it. I've already sat and thought about the lineup, I don't know how they will do it, but it doesn't really matter. When you're talking about the big righties and you complement them with Didi Gregorius, Brett Gardner, Greg Bird who we didn't see that much. They're going to be very balanced, very powerful, but we're going to have to kind of rely on our bread and butter and that's good pitching and play some good defense, catch the ball behind them.

Q. Aren't you going to say it was a good win or a bad loss?

KEVIN CASH: (Laughing) No. I'm ready to though, for sure.

Q. There's been a lot of speculation about the team, what you guys might do. As the field manager you have a little different perspective than the front office. What's your take ongoing into this offseason here?

KEVIN CASH: Well, you said it right, it's speculation for the most part. It's funny, we have been here or I've been coming to the Winter Meetings now for four years and I don't know if I've ever seen a transaction actually take place.

So I know there's a lot of chatter about our players, I think I view them as being very special to our current roster, and a big part of us having success at times last year and going forward. How that shakes out, I have no idea what will take place. But when have you good players, people are going to ask about them and I think that's what we're seeing leading into this Winter Meetings is a lot of names are coming up and because they're very respected throughout the industry.

Q. Eric made it sound like he had kind of several different scenarios and they hadn't really decided which direction they were going yet. Where does that put you as far as like your planning for what you want to do when you really don't know some of what your personnel might be?

KEVIN CASH: Maybe a little bit on hold, but nothing major. Look, right now we're in the middle of scheduling for Spring Training. Whatever the roster is, we know we're going to have roughly 55, 60 guys in camp competing for jobs and getting ready for the season. So it doesn't change too much.

We're still going to have our core group, our core thought processes to go into Spring Training with, and I don't think any of the chatter really affects too much over this weekend. It's funny, baseball, the industry as a whole has probably been put on hold a little bit here the last week to 10 days with Shohei Otani and then obviously Giancarlo Stanton. Those situations took up a lot of teams' times and this should be an interesting meetings simply because it's been quiet. Now the chatter will really come on.

Q. You mentioned Stanton, the Yankees obviously were pretty good team last year, how much tougher does this division look for you guys just seeing that move alone?

KEVIN CASH: Yeah, it's a challenge. You can't sugarcoat it. I've already sat and thought about the lineup, I don't know how they will do it, but it doesn't really matter. When you're talking about the big righties and you complement them with Didi Gregorius, Brett Gardner, Greg Bird who we didn't see that much. They're going to be very balanced, very powerful, but we're going to have to kind of rely on our bread and butter and that's good pitching and play some good defense, catch the ball behind them.

Video: Cash discusses Stanton, facing Yankees lineup

Q. Based on the fact that you had a pretty strong bullpen at the end of last year and you're losing a lot of those guys, do you have any early thoughts on, and I know there's speculation about Colome, but do you have any early thoughts about how you might put that thing together next year?

KEVIN CASH: I think we're going to have a bunch of guys from our farm system, namely in Triple-A, come in and compete. We're going to have some opportunities. We started a bunch of pitchers last year. We're not going to have nine starting pitchers, so we're really going to have to find ways to put them in successful situations in the bullpen, some leverage positions that can help us.

It was nice, after the deadline with our the veteran guys that we brought in, Neshek, Romo, Dan Jennings and Tommy Hunter had a tremendous year. Colome obviously had a tremendous year. But those additions really helped us late in ball games. I thought, I think we all learned and saw the value of that the last month and a half of the season.

So something that we're going to look forward to putting together. Kyle Snyder is going to be here tomorrow. We're going to continue to discuss, I'm really going to lean on him quite a bit because he saw a lot of those guys in Durham and saw how they performed in non-starting roles and the dual/multiple-inning roles out of the relievers and the guys that went up and down. So we're going to have lot of discussions here going forward.

Q. To follow-up, based on the way bullpen or starting pitching is going and the rule, everybody seems to be kind of onboard on this twice-through-the-lineup thing. Is there going to be more of a premium on the guys who you pick for middle relief and want to get two or three innings in that middle part of the order?

KEVIN CASH: Without a doubt. Everybody looks or talks about the 8th and 9th innings, we have said it for a long time now, there are a lot of games that are won in the 5th through the 7th. And I don't know if you put a higher premium -- the last three outs of the game have always been shown to be tough to come by and get. But the three outs are three outs, and we got to find guys that are very capable of consistency of having success in those middle innings.

Q. Since you brought up Kyle, can you talk about the how much conversation you've had with the staff members this off-season and how much input he had?

KEVIN CASH: Quite a bit. Obviously we had a busy off-season as far as staff. I personally am really excited about the group that we brought in. I feel we're really going to compliment each other. Very energetic group. Kyle has the knowledge of a lot of the pitchers in this system. Then Matt Quataro coming over from or coming back to the organization, he's going to work with the catchers. So I think that combination of Kyle, Q and then obviously Stan Borowski our bullpen coach, will have just a lot of a wealth of information to provide for our pitchers and help get the most out of a very young group.

Q. In which way is knowledge of the pitching staff important for somebody like Kyle coming in, as opposed to just simply being an experienced pitching coach?

KEVIN CASH: Well, a lot of our -- we're going to rely on our youth. If you look, Chris Archer and Jake Odorizzi, most of our guys have kind of come through Kyle in the minor league system. Now he knows them very well. He knows the guys that came up and had success last year for us, Jose Alvardo, Jake Faria, Ryne Stanek, some of those younger guys. I don't think Kyle, I don't want to speak for him, but his challenges are going to be getting to know the rest of the league now. He's got such a good hold on the personalities, the mindsets, the mechanics of our own pitchers, now he's got to go complement that with the information and advancing our opposing teams. And he'll get up to speed really quick.

Q. You have a couple new managers in your division. You were in that same boat three years ago replacing Joe Maddon. How did you handle that? How do you go about, I don't know if "pressure" is necessarily the word, but fairly big shoes to fill?

KEVIN CASH: I don't really think the pressure ever changes. We go out as a team to win a ball game, that pressure is stays pretty consistent. I would like to know what that pressure is in the postseason; both those guys have experienced it from different levels - Alex being with Houston, he's had a pretty wild postseason and then off-season.

So what I can appreciate is how there's a lot of information probably being thrown at them right now. At times it's overwhelming, but knowing both those guys, they're going to handle it and be very, very successful.

Q. What's your impression of what the uncertainty over the ballpark has done from a baseball operations standpoint, maybe affecting revenue and attracting free agents, things like that?

KEVIN CASH: I wasn't ready for that question. (Laughter.)

I've been told really not to talk too much about the stadium, but you know what, I don't think too much. I think that we have got good fans. We hear some of the challenges, some of the whispers, some of the yells, what needs to be improved upon and I'm confident that in time we will get it done.

Q. Do you think you have to sell pitchers on the -- you're going to be aggressive employing the starters, people have done it a lot in the postseason. It hasn't been kind of as much in the regular season. How do you, you said you're going to do it. How do you see that getting worked out?

KEVIN CASH: It has been done in the postseason now the last two years, really. It's funny, you and have I talked about this, 2015 we did it and it didn't go over too well. So, yeah, there's going to have to be constant selling, I think, on that. The biggest issue is every starting pitcher whether they're in high school, college and get to pro ball, they are taught and built with the mindset to go deep in the ball game. That's their game, their day to pitch, save the bullpen and get as far as they can go. That's all fine and dandy, but at the end of the day it's about winning games. And if we feel that we can get a better matchup earlier in the ball game, why wouldn't we use it?

It will be constant communication on my part, on Kyle's part, with our pitchers, but I think that we're all seeing that that's the trend of the way the game is going.

Q. The flip side of that is you were a catcher and you were nursing these guys to get them deep into the games. Has it been a hard sell on you?

KEVIN CASH: There were some hiccups along the way. I think that, like, that's a good point, your goal as a catcher is for that starting pitcher to have success, and for him to have success he basically meant seven innings and two runs or less, whatever it was, and getting really deep, fulfilling his 110, 115 pitches. I think with all the information out there right now it's pretty telling that we can find other ways to reallocate those quality pitches, rather than the back-end pitches.

Q. When did you kind of buy into that?

KEVIN CASH: When I was hired and Matt told me, "This is what we're going to do." (Laughter.)

Q. To go back on Aaron and Cora, what's the biggest challenge in the dugout that first year? What do you remember as the greatest challenge in game?

KEVIN CASH: Well, everybody talks about it gets fast, there's no doubt about it. It definitely at times can get fast, especially with all the moving parts now. There's even your very powerful lineups are for playing matchups. You want to do your best to get out in front of those as quick as possible. You never want to ambush a guy to come off the bench and pitch. You don't ever want to be caught not being prepared in the bullpen for the opposing manager. But those guys have been around this game a long time.

I was fortunate enough to get to play with Alex Cora, and everything I've read -- he was managing as a player. That's very, very true. He always had just a great way about him. Communicating and his game knowledge was second to none.

Q. Going back to the bullpen, in 2015 you were kind of caught because of injuries. You had a lot of younger guys, so you had to go to the shorter approach. This year kind of planning for it, with the versatility of the roster that the Rays always have, can you see longer periods of an eight-man pen? Have you guys discussed that in any way?

KEVIN CASH: Yeah, all those are going to kind be on the table. Like we talked earlier, we're discussing it right now, we do need to find a little bit more information as far as our roster, how the bullpen is going to shake out. But I think there's going to be opportunities where if we're really versatile with that utility role that a guy that can play infield and outfield, it might allow to us carry an extra reliever at times throughout the season.

We'll always adjust depending on the state of the game and what our situation is as far as health is in the bullpen and our rotation. But you want to be able to have that flexibility because the last thing we ever want to do is put guys in jeopardy of overusing them too much.

Q. Three years ago when offense was really down, a lot of people were talking about how speed was going to become a big important part of the game again, and that hasn't really happened. What do you see going forward, and related it to that, how ready is Mallex Smith to play every day?

KEVIN CASH: I think that speed is a big part of the game and I think that power is kind of whatever everybody's paying for, and we had a pretty powerful lineup this past year. That's tough to repeat. The power, with that comes inconsistencies. Speed doesn't really go away.

Speaking of Mallex Smith, he came on the scene and really ignited us when he came up from Durham. Very athletic, very talented player, that energized us with a lot of his abilities. I'm really looking forward for him coming into Spring Training, hopefully having a healthy Spring Training; he didn't last year, and just kind of taking the reins off and see what he can do, whether it's bunting, stealing. We want to get a really good impression of Mallex, and we know how talented of a player he is.

Q. If he doesn't have a starting role, say, replacing a Kiermaier (inaudible), if he were to be traded is that type of a speculative move or is there room for two speed guys in the outfield right now or not?

KEVIN CASH: No, I think there's definitely room. I think we have discussed this off-season about doing everything we can to catch the baseball. We want to put the best defense out there as possible, and you look at obviously KK, Steven Souza, elite defenders. And then last year we had Peter Bourjos, who we consider elite, and then Mallex is in that same fold of speed. We want as much speed as possible.

On the surface maybe you don't see the tradeoff with 30 home runs, but when you're saving runs, there is a pretty substantial tradeoff. That's what Kevin Kiermaier has become a superstar for.

Q. We all saw Bauers last year in Spring Training, got all excited watching him hit, you guys don't have a first baseman, what's been some of the dialogue about him in this off-season?

KEVIN CASH: About Jake?

Q. Yeah.

KEVIN CASH: Just excitement. Come in, you look at what Jake Bauers and Willy Adames did in Triple-A at a very young age, I personally kind of like the fact that they got off to slow starts, and then you look at where their season ended up and really impressive. So from all reports talking to Jared, talking to Mitch, they really matured throughout the year.

Both guys like to play a lot, they want to come up to bat in that big spot and we're going to -- they're going to get to play a lot in Spring Training, and both of them did last year, but this year I think that we'll even be a little bit more aggressive with their playing time.

Q. You got to know them a little bit, too.

KEVIN CASH: Solid guys. Solid guys. That might be the, we don't talk about it enough but it's pretty exciting hearing about our young core players and the mentality that they bring to the ballpark every day. Especially that group that won in Durham. It's the same group that had a lot of success in Montgomery, they won in Port Charlotte, these guys are successful, they're very talented, and they're learning how to win together. We'll take that anytime at the Big League level.

Q. Would that be maybe the other side to what you guys do, if you guys do trade some of the veterans that you have in this core? Eric was talking about it the other day, too.

KEVIN CASH: Yeah, I think we have a really nice core of young pitchers. We talked about it at the end of the year. I think those two guys would fit into that young core of position players. Now some of those guys have already arrived at the Big League level. Jake and Willy both I think headline that group. We'll see how it shakes out with the roster come Spring Training time. You never know, last year we were making moves and signing guys, I believe, 15th of February, we were adding players.

Q. As a manager, you have to do what your bosses tell you but it seems like your goal is to win as many games as you can. So would that be tough to see if they do trade some of those guys over the next couple weeks?
KEVIN CASH: Sure, yeah, there's no doubt. I think any manager would tell you that. But like you said, our job is to win games. We're confident that we can win games with the players that are in this organization. Obviously over three years you build relationships and you don't want to see certain guys go.

Q. A lot is made out of building a team up the middle and you got Wilson Ramos for a full year right now, Hechavarria for a whole year and Kiermaier hopefully for a whole year at center. Can you speak to how important that trio is ready and healthy all year?

KEVIN CASH: It's got a chance to be a really special group. Then you take the second base situation, how that shakes out between Matt Duffy's health, Brad Miller rebounding a little bit, Daniel Robertson did a tremendous job there up the middle. We know what KK is. He's special. Hech, we saw him for two months, and I don't know if there was a better defensive short stop that I've ever seen on a nightly basis.

Then Wilson Ramos, it was really excited the way he finished. Had some ups and downs early on. Really pushed himself to come back fast and I think the game sped up a little bit coming back from an injury. He got in that comfort zone there with about three weeks to play, and we saw how big of an impact he can be in our lineup. So up-the-middle defense is special and we feel that we're very strong.

Q. You mentioned Stanek earlier. What do you see as his role?

KEVIN CASH: Still maturing but a guy that we like an awful lot. You look at the bullpens throughout baseball, really in the American League East, it's power, power, power coming out of them. You talk to our hitters and opposing hitters, when you have those elite fast balls like Jose Alvarado and Ryne Stanek have that just sit at the upper 90s, your margin of error, in theory, it should be that much greater. We just got to get them over the plate a little bit more, and get him to kind of buy into one of his off-speed pitches that he can put guys away with.

Ryne, he came up and showed some signs of life, and then he struggled. I think he's going to be better for it coming into Spring Training. This is a guy that was starting pitcher. He learned the bullpen role. He learned how to bounce back, he didn't lose his velocity and now it's just kind of honing all that in.

Q. Then the prospect of having Schultz is probably pretty exciting for you, too?

KEVIN CASH: He is. We probably don't talk about him enough because at the end of Spring Training, he might have been the most exciting pitcher that wasn't on our club. He did everything within his power to make the club, and it came down to a really difficult decision, and I think we all know we had every intention at some point throughout that year that we were going to rely on him, use him heavily, and we were going to bet a lot of money that he was going to have success. Unfortunately, between the groin, the knee, those little injuries, it just kind of - I don't want to say a lost year because he got his velo back up there with Durham in the playoffs - but we're looking forward to seeing where he's at coming into the spring, knowing that's very talented with the fastball, curveball combination.

Q. I know you're very early in your managerial career but I'm wondering if you have any thoughts during your time in professional baseball how you've observed the role of a Big League manager, how that's evolved.

KEVIN CASH: Yeah, I mean, I give the same boring answer and it really goes back to it Terry Francona, how he was as a manager, watching him with the Red Sox teams that he managed. A lot of superstars, how he was able to build relationships with all of them, individual relationships, the team relationship, and balance that with the front office and the media. At times it seemed like the decision-making, the field decision-making was secondary, even though it never was to him. And then I was so fortunate to get to see him go over to Cleveland, with a very young team, and kind of adjust on the fly and what he's done over there, with the help of some really good staff members and good players.

But it's ever evolving, it's ever adjusting and he's kind of been the role model to keeping up with the way the game has adjusted.

Q. How much is that evolution part of it, just the sort of change in the shape and size and specialization of a coaching staff?

KEVIN CASH: Yeah, you are seeing more of a specialization. That's a good word. You're trying to find those specific coaches that can handle specific duties. Obviously the pitching coach and hitting coach, we all know what their duties are. But you're trying to find the rest of the staff to fill out and complement each other, and then gain the input of everybody throughout the organization. That's kind of what we have done with Rocco Baldelli this year. Rocco coached first base, as everybody knows. We're bringing him into the dugout to kind of use his skill set in a different way. He does a great job communicating with our front office, our player development, and we're going to try to come up with those continuous innovative ideas that will add to the way we practice, the way we train, the way we travel, just different thoughts. And then obviously once the game starts, he'll assist Charlie and I with a lot of decision-making.

Q. As you look at your division last two years, you've seen the Yankees go from a team that missed the playoffs and to what they are today. What's that like for you as a guy who has to face them?

KEVIN CASH: It's a challenge, but it's a fun challenge. I heard somebody say, baseball's good when the American League East and the Yankees are playing well. I'll say the American League East, I could care less if the Yankees are playing well. But it's a challenge that we embrace. You say that with the Red Sox, the Orioles and the Blue Jays, they have got a bunch of superstars and we have talked about it for a couple years now, we need to go and find ways to win in Yankee Stadium. It seems like we play really well, they made it a little more challenging now with their newest acquisition, but we seem to go in there and really bring a lot of energy, and I think that that's what American League East baseball is about.

Q. How do you or a pitching coach go about telling your pitchers how to try to get through that lineup three times?

KEVIN CASH: To be determined. I don't know. It was a challenge before, it's only going to get tougher now. Before you got here we were talking about the balance of it, and obviously you got the three righties, and you talk about Gardner, Gregorius and Bird, it's going to be very challenging. They're going to really, really pose some difficulties on pitching staffs.

Q. What will you tell a first-year manager about managing that maybe he might not realize that you learned in your first year?

KEVIN CASH: They asked me that, something like that.

Q. Sorry.

KEVIN CASH: That's all right. I'm sure with the two guys you're referring to, it's probably nothing to those two guys. They have much more baseball experience than probably -- me and Alex Cora, we were teammates. He was managing as a player. Both him and I were bench players and my little experience with him that one year, I learned a ton from him. And then his experience this past year with the bench coach role, he's going to be just fine.

Tampa Bay Rays