Tampa Bay Rays manager Kevin Cash spoke with the media at the 2019 Baseball Winter Meetings, on Monday.
Cash covered a lot of ground in his 18-minute presser, most notably discussing the future of the opener strategy, Brendan McKay getting more reps in the batter’s box, as well as the trade of outfielder Tommy Pham. You can see the interview in its entirety below, while a few key points follow.
On the subject of the potential for a five-man rotation, including Ryan Yarbrough and Yonny Chirinos, Cash noted:
We certainly won’t rule anything out on Dec. 10. They have done so well. They’ve challenged a lot of the thoughts. And they’ve benefited from it. They’ve also probably earned some opportunity to go out there and take the ball. We will just see what’s best for the makeup of our club and how we’re going to win the most games. … I think Yonny and Yarbs both have to be in that conversation,” Cash said. “They’ve done special things for one- and two-year players, pitchers. They’ve been pretty remarkable for us.— Kevin Cash
On giving McKay more at-bats, Cash was adamant owed him that opportunity:
I think we owe it to Brendan, let’s let him hit. There was a reason he was the best collegiate hitter in baseball the year he was drafted, and the little bit he has hit doesn’t prove anything good or bad. Let’s get him go get some reps and get ABs, and if we need him on the mound in the big leagues, we know we’ve got a really good big-league pitcher.— Kevin Cash
On what has become a sore subject for many, Cash touched on the deal which netted outfielder Hunter Renfroe:
We’re going to miss Tommy Pham. There’s no denying that. When we acquired Tommy (at the trade deadline in 2018), that was right about the time stuff started to change. We started to have a little bit more of a presence in the lineup and the box. Tommy was a big part of that.— Kevin Cash
With the loss of Pham in mind, the Rays are looking at a variety of possibilities for improving their outfield mix. Erik Neander and Co. have had internal discussions about exploring the possibility of signing Japanese free-agent outfielders Shogo Akiyama and Yoshitomo Tsutsugo.
You look at our 40-man roster and the number of pure outfielders on it, and there aren’t that many. I think, certainly, where we stand today, that’s a unit or a position group that we would almost certainly need to increase our numbers and ideally we do that in a way that also increases the quality of that group.— Erik Neander
Akiyama, 31, has been one of the top players in Japan in the past few seasons. Over the past three seasons, the outfielder slashed .303 BA/.392 OBP/.471 SLG/.863 OPS with the Seibu Lions, and hit 69 home runs. He also swiped 78 bases, however, he is recovering from a broken foot suffered in the WBSC Premier 12 tournament in November. His return to baseball activity remains unknown. According to MLB Trade Rumors, Akiyama came in at No. 45 of their top 50 free agents and is projected to earn a two-year, $6-Million guarantee wherever he may land.
Tsutsugo, 28, has eclipsed the 20-home run mark in seven consecutive seasons and combined for 139 homers across the past four seasons. Still, he didn’t crack MLB Trade Rumors before the offseason.
According to Joel Sherman (New York Post), Tampa Bay remains interested in a reunion with Avisail Garcia.
Another revelation coming out of San Diego, the Rays have shown interest in right-handed reliever Dellin Betances, who is looking to sign a short-term pillow deal. Betances is likely to sign a one-year deal to boost his value after a lost 2019 campaign.
Prior to last season, Betances had been nearly unstoppable in the backend of the Yankees bullpen, dominating opposing hitters across six seasons (2013-2018). Over his career, the right-hander posted a 40.1% strikeout rate and a 2.31 FIP across 381 innings of work.
According to MLB Trade Rumors, Betances is No. 43 of their top 50 free agents and was predicted to sign a one year, $7-Million deal with, you guessed it…Tampa Bay.
Juan Toribio (MLB.com) also indicated that the Rays could be seeking backstop help from the north side of Chicago, of all places.
Aside from outfield help, the Rays will remain active in trying to find an upgrade at catcher. Mike Zunino and Michael Perez are the two projected catchers, and Neander said that the club feels confident in the pairing, but that it will continue to explore the free-agent and trade markets. The Cubs have reportedly made Willson Contreras available, which would be an interesting option for the Rays.
“We’re not going to force something,” Neander said. “We expect [Zunino] to bounce back some offensively. We expect better from (Perez) than what he contributed last year and for those reasons we were excited going into last year with those two.
“At the same time, we are trying to be really good and if we can get better there either by an established Major League player or by increasing the competition for (Perez’s) spot, those are two ways to do it and I think we’ll be open to whatever direction that takes on.”— Juan Toribio
Contreras is projected to make about $5-Million through arbitration next season and he will remain under team control through 2022.