Kevin Cash, who led the cash-strapped Tampa Bay Rays to a second consecutive division title this past season, captured the American League Manager of the Year award yet again Tuesday.
Cash became the second man to win the manager of the year award in back-to-back years. The other was Hall of Famer Bobby Cox, who took National League honors while presiding over the Atlanta Braves in 2004 and 2005.
"That's wrong -- I shouldn't be," Cash said of being mentioned in the same sentence as Cox. "But saying that, it's incredibly humbling. When you think about grace in our game, Bobby Cox is right there, certainly as a manager, and then certainly at the top with the impact he had on people. To be able to share something really, really small with him is pretty special."
Cash received 19 of 30 first-place votes from the Baseball Writers' Association of America. Scott Servais of the Seattle Mariners (five), Charlie Montoyo of the Toronto Blue Jays (three), Dusty Baker of the Houston Astros (two) and Alex Cora of the Boston Red Sox (one) also received first-place votes.
Cash, in his seventh season as manager, led the Rays to the AL East title despite losing Blake Snell and Charlie Morton over the offseason and, later, Tyler Glasnow to Tommy John surgery. The Rays opened the season with the fifth-lowest payroll in the sport, but they held off the veteran-laden Red Sox, the young and dynamic Blue Jays and the big-spending New York Yankees, winning the AL East by eight games. The four teams with a lower payroll finished a combined 128 games below .500.
The Rays finished with the third-most wins (100) and the third-highest run-differential (plus-206) in the majors. Only one of their pitchers topped 150 innings, but their staff led the AL in ERA and a major league-record 14 different pitchers recorded saves for them. Only one of their position players, catcher Mike Zunino, was an All-Star when the initial rosters were unveiled, and yet the Rays averaged more runs per game than every team except the Astros.
The Rays were bolstered largely by their defense, which ranked third in outs above average, but more broadly by an efficient use of their roster that routinely placed matchups in their favor. It's a concept that manifests itself from the front office and trickles down to Cash, who, despite being roundly criticized for pulling Snell in Game 6 of the 2020 World Series, has developed into one of the game's sound tacticians.
Cash, 43, was a major league catcher from 2002 to 2010, then served as an advanced scout for the Blue Jays in 2012, and as Cleveland's bullpen coach from 2013 to 2014.
The Rays hired Cash to succeed Joe Maddon in December 2014, at that point making him the youngest manager in the sport. The Rays finished below .500 in their first three seasons under Cash, but they won 90 games in 2018, claimed a wild-card spot in 2019, fell two games shy of a championship in 2020 and set a franchise record for regular-season victories in 2021, ultimately losing to the Red Sox in the AL Championship Series.
Cash identified Glasnow's torn ulnar collateral ligament, which robbed him of the last three and a half months of what could have been a Cy Young season, as one of the biggest obstacles of this season. But he also noted the loss of dominant back-end reliever Nick Anderson for most of the year and the early season trade of shortstop Willy Adames, a popular clubhouse personality. The latter development, however, prompted the arrival of star prospect Wander Franco, who formed a dynamic tandem with Randy Arozarena, the 2021 AL Rookie of the Year.
"Sometimes the experience is invaluable," Cash said, "but there are times throughout the course of a season, and certainly ours, that maybe we didn't have the experience or the reps on our team, but we had the youth, we had the athleticism and ultimately the talent to perform really, really well."