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Kevin Cash on speculation he'll join Guardians: 'Very happy' with Rays

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Tampa Bay Rays manager Kevin Cash tried to end speculation about replacing his friend Terry Francona as the manager of the Cleveland Guardians.

"I'm very happy here," Cash said Monday at the season wrap-up news conference. "I'm under contract here and looking forward to next year, for sure."

The 64-year-old Francona recently stepped down as Cleveland manager. He has been slowed by major health issues in recent years. Cash played for Francona with the Boston Red Sox and was a member of his coaching staff in Cleveland before becoming Tampa Bay's manager in 2015.

In his nine seasons with the Rays, Cash has led them to one AL pennant, a pair of AL East titles and a current run of five consecutive playoff trips. His 739 wins with the team are 15 behind franchise leader Joe Maddon.

The injury-depleted Rays won 99 games this season to earn an AL wild card, but were swept by the Texas Rangers in the opening postseason round last week.

Still, Tampa Bay president of baseball operations Erik Neander called Cash's performance in 2023 "the best job that's he ever done here."

The Rays were without key players for part of the season due to injuries, including ace Shane McClanahan and starting pitchers Drew Rasmussen, Jeffrey Springs and Shane Baz (out all season). First baseman Yandy Díaz, second baseman Brandon Lowe, outfielders Luke Raley. Jose Siri and Randy Arozarena were impacted by injuries down the stretch.

Shortstop Wander Franco was placed on administrative leave indefinitely by Major League Baseball in August while authorities in the Dominican Republic investigate the All-Star for an alleged relationship with a minor. He sat out the final six weeks of the regular season and playoffs.

"The most important job a manager has, in our opinion, is to keep players every single day coming to the ballpark caring about competing that day, winning and doing it for one another," Neander said, "and in no season was that tested more than it was this one."

The Rays and local government officials announced last month they're working on a prospective new ballpark for the team in St. Petersburg, with a possible opening in 2028.

Meanwhile, Franco's playing status remains in question for 2024. It is not known when MLB will make a ruling.

"We're always preparing for multiple different things," Tampa Bay general manager Peter Bendix said. "That's going to be true in that situation."

Franco has a salary of $2 million next season as part of a $182 million, 11-year contract that started in 2022. He will be paid and receive service time while on administrative leave under an agreement with the players' association.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.