Friday, 4 a.m.
There are a lot of things wrong with the Tampa Bay Rays that are not his fault. With Kevin Cash, the conversation starts there.
His team's pitching was subpar. The hitting wasn't very good. The defense was shaky. The baserunning was an adventure. The roster was bleeding. The bullpen was overused. The front office kept swinging and missing in the draft.
And now, as the Rays try to get better in almost every category, it is a fair question to ask.
If the Rays are last again, can Cash survive?
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Again, all things rotten are not of his making. He has a team with a low budget, which means he can't bring in a lot of free agents, and the minor leagues are in repair, which means there isn't much help coming from below. Throw in that the Rays don't replace managers willy-nilly, and the odds are in Cash's favor of returning.
Still, it isn't as if all managers who are replaced are the only things wrong with their franchises. A lot of bright, creative men pay the price for their team's failures. What's the old line? It's easier to replace one manager than 25 players?
If the Rays collapse, Cash would be the first manager to have three straight losing seasons since Lou Piniella. It wasn't Lou's fault, either; he was better served with a team that was a contender rather than one that was growing into one.
I've said this often: a baseball manager has less control over his game than the coaches/managers in the major sports. The reason? No free substitution. A football team can let Tom Brady pass 50 times in a game. It can let a back carry the ball 30 times. But in baseball, your best player gets roughly the same amount of at bats as your worst player.
In some ways, then, Cash is a victim of a front office that hasn't sufficiently filled the roster. That's as true for, say, the starting catcher as it is the shortstop.
And so it is with some sympathy that you look at the task in front of Cash. Yes, he has said he expects to be playing games in October. What would you expect him to say?
Can Cash work out a starting rotation that, up close, isn't as much of an asset as we have been led to believe? Can he keep a bullpen from getting taxed from overwork? Can he sort out the first base logjam? Can he get Matt Duffy healthy? Can he get the same year from Evan Longoria? From Brad Miller? Can he somehow get Steven Souza to cut down on his strikeouts? How about Corey Dickerson? Can he get anything from Wilson Ramos this year? Can Alex Colome be successful as a closer again? Can Chris Archer, 10 games under .500 last year, get close to even this year? Can Alex Cobb be healthy from his first start? Can his team stay healthy?
In other words, a lot of things have to work out just right for the Rays to win this season.
I know, I know. The Rays' good seasons (four playoffs in six years) aren't that far in the rear-view mirror. Those days — the days when Joe Maddon and Andrew Friedman set themselves up for rich contracts — are still the comparison around here.
But should they be?
This might surprise you, but Cash is the second-most successful manager the Rays have had with a .457 winning percentage. That's because the days before Maddon were so devoid of any games that mattered. Larry Rothschild won at a .411 clip. Piniella was at .404. Hal McRae was at.366. It was so ugly you are surprised that the outfielders weren't facing in the wrong direction.
The other day, owner Stu Sternberg took care to praise Cash once again. But who knows how that message changes as the year progresses?
If you have to point to one thing that has held this team back, it's the lack of success when it comes to drafting and developing. This team could not find a player with both hands. Granted, some of the failure has been that the Rays haven't been in great drafting position, but they haven't exactly mined for gold, have they?
And so, once again, the Rays will try to win with a shortstop from San Francisco and a second baseman from Seattle and an outfielder from St. Louis and another one from Washington. They'll try to compete in a very good AL East.
In the end, Cash will try to get them to October. If he can't, it probably won't be his fault.
Still, he will attempt to avoid paying the price.