Tampa Bay Rays manager Kevin Cash addressed the media on a variety of subjects Monday, the first official day of the Winter Meetings.
— Tampa Bay Rays (@RaysBaseball) December 10, 2018
Here are some highlights from the media session:
The first six questions, unsurprisingly, involved the opener strategy, which the Rays pioneered in 2018. Cash reiterated that the strategy will again be utilized in 2019, and its usage will adjust based on who he has at his disposal.
Part of the reason Cash is sticking with the opener plan is that it worked on the field, and helped Tampa Bay notch its first winning season since 2013. It also helped acclimate some of the younger hurlers to the big leagues.
We watched guys develop and it allowed them an easier path to develop at the big league level which we all know is very challenging, Cash said. When you first introduce your career to the big leagues for us to be able to have young pitchers and put them in different roles, maybe be protective of them a little bit more than that traditional starter, we really saw the benefits of that.
Cash indicated his preference would be to have three starters and two openers, which, ideally, would find the team adding a veteran this off-season — someone who “can really log some innings,” said Cash.
(The opener strategy) puts a lot of pressure on Blake (Snell), It puts pressure on Tyler (Glasnow), their workload. We don’t want those guys to feel that they’ve got to do more than what they’re capable of. And I know Blake (had a) tremendous year. I don’t want him going into a game thinking I’ve got to pitch seven, eight innings so tomorrow’s day works out well.
On the subject of pitching, Cash spoke about Brent Honeywell’s rehab, which is progressing. Even though Honeywell would like to be ready to go by the end of Spring Training, the skipper said a late-May, early-June return to game action would be more reasonable. Ultimately they’ll wait until Honeywell is 100% and be smart about his rehab.
We know how special Brent is, and how valuable and what we view in our organization. But if we’re going to do Brent right, we have to let him go through the rehab process, not rush him. Knowing his personality, he’s going to want to make a club out of spring training. That’s not going to happen. We’ve got to do it right. Our medical staff is second to none. And I know Brent understands that. But he’s a motivated player, and he wants to be a part of something that we all view as pretty special right now.
We’ll do everything we can to calm him down, let him go through the process to make sure he’s a hundred percent healthy and get him through his rehabs and get him to affiliate, get some innings, and hopefully, he is helping us.
What we’ve talked about is some time May, June. But that’s not set in stone. We adjusted really well given the player. We have a bunch of players coming back from Tommy John and they all have different — they all have some good weeks to the rehab and they all have some slowdown weeks. Everybody is different.
Cash was asked about what Jake Bauers needs to do to make the next step after his bout with late-season struggles. Cash countered, saying that Bauers has always dealt with some struggles during his initial promotions, but always rebounded.
You know, I think Jake, of all of our young players that came up, Jake was as talked about as anybody, rightfully so. I think just experience and maturity, he was the youngest guy in the league. He’s been the youngest at every level he’s performed at. And he figured it out. He’s always struggled and started to stabilize himself a little bit and then he gets hot and he puts together some pretty good numbers offensively.
I think that’s what we saw this year at the big league level. He struggled, he probably didn’t have the right time to figure it. It was the right time for Jake to go home and gather his thoughts. But he was a little bit of an anomaly when you watch his at-bats, his swing looked the same, everything looked the same. He wasn’t getting his hits.
And I’m confident, Jake has hit everywhere, he’s going to hit. Defensively, our defense got a heck of a lot better when he was out there. And the confidence that he gave our infielders and the things that he can do around the bag were really impressive. I hope Jake is enjoying himself, letting his mind take a break and come in fresh this Spring training and ready to compete.
Even though the team had “some concern” of injury, Cash said OF Tommy Pham wanted to go play winter ball and was “motivated and driven” to want to make his swing better.
Tommy is a very driven player, very motivated. He was just outstanding for us when he came over. And at the end of the year we sat down and talked and he said he wanted to go play winter ball to work on his swing. And I said, How much more do you need to work? You hit .350 the last two months for us, hit all the home runs. When he was healthy, we had a different lineup because he was in it.
So there was some concern. But he felt there was more tinkering that needed to be done. He plays all out. I asked him, please don’t run into any walls on the Dominican baseball fields. Be careful. We called his manager and asked the same thing. But he’s motivated and driven to get his swing where he wants it. And I think that speaks volumes to a guy that has had the last two or three years of success that he still wants to get better.
You can watch the press conference in its entirety at the Twitter link above.
— Per Marc Topkin (Tampa Bay Times), the Rays continue to have a dialog with free-agent right-hander Charlie Morton. Chaim Bloom and company have also maintained a “running dialogue,” and discussed some parameters, with free-agent DH Nelson Cruz. Cruz’s agent, Bryce Dixon, said the slugger is very much interested and called it “a perfect fit,” although Cruz has 3-4 other teams interested. Because of it, the Rays are looking at other options besides a DH-only bat.