Erik Neander, Kevin Cash believe they can win a championship with Rays

PORT CHARLOTTE — Erik Neander and Kevin Cash on Tuesday preferred to discuss their players or just about any subject besides the long-term extensions both recently signed to stay with the Rays for potentially the rest of the 2020s.

But, arguably, those were the most impactful words that were said for the future of the franchise during a nearly 30-minute, spring-opening media session.

Both Neander, the baseball operations president, and Cash, the manager, are considered by peers and analysts to be among the best in their fields.

Either could have valued the chance to let his contract lapse and move to a higher-profile, bigger-market team that operates without the budget constraints Tampa Bay faces.

Neither, apparently, had any interest, confident they can not only continue their remarkable run of success with the Rays, but attain even more.

“This is home for me and my family — we love it here,” said Neander, 40, who joined the Rays as an intern in 2007. “I love the people I work for, love the people I work with. We’ve been able to win here. We’ve demonstrated that and truly, truly believe that we can win a championship here. ….

“That made it pretty, pretty easy for me. And I appreciate the interest in them making it easy for me.”

Cash, heading into his 10th season, tried to get off easier, following Neader’s answer with a simple, “What he said.” After a pause, the 46-year-old Tampa native thanked principal owner Stuart Sternberg and his wife, Lisa; other members of the ownership group; team presidents Brian Auld and Matt Silverman; and Neander; before sharing his boss’ optimism about the future.

“I definitely agree — it’s about who we’re getting to work with on a daily basis, whether it’s staff, big-league staff, player development, and obviously our players,” Cash said. “We’ve got a special group of players that are here, we’ve got a special group that are coming, just a lot to be optimistic about and very thankful for.”

In announcing the extensions Thursday via a social media post, the Rays didn’t reveal any terms. The Tampa Bay Times reported the deals run at least past the planned 2028 move into a new stadium.

Joking begrudgingly about saying nice things about each other, Cash and Neander expressed why they like working together, which started when Cash was hired in 2015.

“I couldn’t ask for a better partner, so to speak, a better leader of our club,” Neander said. “It’s been a blast. But I think you always worry when you’re at one place for a while — and Kevin being the longest-tenured manager in baseball (with his current team) and I’ve been here since 2007, so it’s all I’ve really known as an adult, or semi-adult. You can get stale, you can get complacent.

“None of that happens working with people like Kevin. You’re always getting better, you’re learning, you’re experiencing things. The energy that he had in 2015, his first year, I’d argue it’s even stronger now than it was then. It’s just a privilege to work with somebody like that.”

Cash, again, fully agreed.

“I feel the same,” he said. “I can’t speak to other organizations, but I can’t imagine another organization having it better or having somebody better to work with on a daily basis.”

Despite swapping several veterans, including top starter Tyler Glasnow, for younger players during the offseason, Neander and Cash feel good about their chances to remain competitive and reach the playoffs for a sixth straight year — and even end their seven-game postseason losing streak.

A lineup that includes All-Stars Randy Arozarena and Yandy Diaz, healthy-again veteran Brandon Lowe and young rising talents such as Josh Lowe, Isaac Paredes and Jose Siri gives them confidence, as does a strong bullpen led by Pete Fairbanks and a rotation they feel will be better than outsiders think.

“We are returning quite a bit of talent,” Neander said. “It’s not like this is a team that was starting from scratch across the board. I think even to the players that are focused on most in terms of not being here, you look at our wins and losses last year in those games (without them), and I think we played at roughly a 100-win clip in those games, too.

“So there is a talent base that exists. And then, when you think about some of the young, ascending players that we have, some of the arms like Taj (Bradley) and (Ryan) Pepiot, I believe very much so that we are in a position where it might look a little different but the expected competitiveness of this club is going to be very similar to where it’s been the last three, four, five, six years now.

“And ideally, we’ll be in a position to have an opportunity to make our playoff recipe a little more effective.”

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