ST. PETERSBURG – One of the most successful relationships in sports just extended.
No, not that one in which the entire planet experienced Super Bowl Sunday.
This has to do with winning and the reality of keeping two architects of recent success together. On February 8, the Tampa Bay Rays, through their social media platforms, announced contract extensions for field manager Kevin Cash and Erik Neander, the organization’s president of baseball operations.
Though no time length was announced, several outlets reported the deal will keep both in the Rays’ orbit until a proposed stadium is built. The earliest that could happen would be 2028, so Cash, pushing buttons from the field level, and Neander, directing the revolving door that is player personnel, continue in their high-level positions.
Since Neander was named to his present position in September 2021 and Cash signed to manage the club on Dec. 5, 2014, their platform guided the Rays to consecutive post-season appearances from 2019 through the 2023 playoff season.
The beginnings for the 46-year-old Cash were tenuous. His first three seasons as skipper were all under .500 but fortunes turned in 2018. That season, the Rays were 90-72 and then qualified for post-season play in each of the next five seasons.
In nine seasons as skipper, Cash has a mark of 739-617 and a .545 winning percentage for 1,356 games.
Despite a combined post-season mark of 7-14 and being unable to advance out of the first round in those five years, Cash had his fingerprints on recent triumphs. Managing the Rays to first-place finishes in each of the 2020 and 2021 seasons, Cash was named the American League manager of the year for those seasons.
Neander’s tale is more interesting and compelling.
With his love and knowledge of the game tucked neatly, Neander played the role of the proverbial “walk-on,” and fell into an opportunity. Wandering the daunting landscape of the baseball winter meetings in 2007, he picked up anything “baseball,” including making contact with the Rays and providing transportation for club officials.
Impressed by the organization, Neander, who will be 41 on May 25, was brought on full-time in October 2007 to help assist in the emerging dynamics of analytics. Climbing the Rays’ corporate ladder, he gained the attention of Andrew Friedman (just before Friedman left for the Dodgers) and was named president of baseball operations in 2014. From there, as they say, “the rest is history.”
By the late 2010s, Neander’s name was pushed by other clubs, including the New York Mets. Yet, he remained steadfast and loyal to continue to build a successful franchise in Tampa Bay
The Cash-Neander partnership is one of a few in baseball. At this point, perhaps the benchmark of a field manager and general manager as a successful pair could be manager Torey Lovullo and GM Mike Hazen of the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Together for a decade, first in Boston and now in Arizona, the pair brought their baseball knowledge, communication skills, and acumen to the desert at the start of the 2017 season. Quickly, the Diamondbacks captured the then one-game Wild Card post-season victory over Colorado but lost in three straight to the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Still, Lovullo gained the trust and confidence of his players through strong communication skills and Hazen quickly tweaked the franchise. That success was regenerated in 2023 and a trip to the World Series.
While the Rays could likely experience a similar scenario, the fact that Cash and Neander now will forge into the foreseeable future portends the franchise’s recent success rate could accelerate.
ELSEWHERE … pitchers and catchers report to the Rays’ Port Charlotte camp on Tuesday, Feb. 13 and first workouts are slated for Wednesday, Feb. 14 beginning at 9:30 a.m. … the first full-squad workout is Monday Feb. 19 and the Grapefruit League opener is Saturday, Feb. 24 at Port Charlotte against Atlanta … The Rays will host an open house with their FanFest on February Feb 17 at Tropicana Field, 1 p. m. to 5 p.m. It’s free, but fans who wish to attend must download a ticket that will be scanned.