Thinking About Brian Cashman

During one of the various discussions that took place on this site yesterday, commenter MJ made an important observation about Brian Cashman that I would like to highlight. The comment is taken out of its original context, so some of it may not be entirely relevant, but the general gist of it is clear:

First of all, no one proclaims him a genius. He’s a good, competent GM that has done a very good job since getting complete control over baseball operations in November 2005.
Second, considering the farm system he inherited was completely barren because he didn’t have control over the scouting/drafting process, it’s no surprise that the Yanks had to go the free agent route for a number of years until their system could start producing enough players to plug into holes or used for trades.
Third, you dismiss the players I listed as “nice moves” but completely ignore the fact that Wells was the team’s best starter in 1998 and that Clemens was the team’s best pitcher from ‘99-’03.
Like every GM, Cashman has made his share of mistakes but unlike every GM, he has a mandate to win every single year or else people think he’s a failure.
You can’t have it both ways — you can’t expect him to win every year but then be upset that he spends money or that he goes after the game’s best players. If you want Cashman to be a pure development GM that spends less money, you have to ease up on the belief that it’s only “win or else” around here.

I think MJ makes a number of strong points. Firstly, he notes that Cashman has done a very nice job with both the minor league talent and major league club since gaining full control in late 2005. Furthermore, while a lot of his work prior to that point was aided by the team put in place by Stick Michael and Bob Watson, he did supplement a number of important pieces to the 1998-2000 championship clubs. Finally, and most importantly, it is unfair to dismiss Cashman’s accomplishments as being a function of the Yankee payroll without acknowledging the pressures that come attached to that payroll.

Is Brian Cashman a perfect general manager? Certainly not. Like most GM’s, he has made plenty of mistakes in his career. Yet, on balance, he seems to do well in most of the trades that he is involved in, and rarely do you look at a deal and ask “what was Cashman thinking?” His record in free agency is a bit spottier, but has been better since 2005 and has helped the club win 4 titles during his tenure. He also seems to understand the value of having a good farm system, and has shown during this offseason that he understands that sometimes, you need to identify which prospects are not vital to you and can be expended to obtain a piece that can help in the immediate future. Finally, he seems to use a synthesis of the new and old ways of thinking about the sport, as scouting types and stat gurus both have a place at the table. In all, the Yankees could do a lot worse, and I would place him among the top 10 GM’s in the sport.

0 thoughts on “Thinking About Brian Cashman

  1. Moshe, you and MJ have critiqued Cashman about the same as I would. Some have tried to defend him, to one extent or an other. Others have this ridiculous criticism of anything he does.
    I guess that’s life in the New York sports world.

  2. I don’t try to evaluate Cashman before he gained complete authority over baseball operations because it is nearly impossible from the outside to determine for the preceding era who was responsible for what decision. So, for example, when someone reports that it was Randy Levine who wanted to ship out Vazquez for Johnson, we really cannot know. (Why would ANYONE listen to Levine on a baseball matter???)

    Since he was given control (except when Hal inserted himself into the A-Rod negotiaitons and managed to give him that awful contract), Cashman has used his resources effectively. This is no small thing — we’ve seen that owners and GMs can spend large sums stupidly (Barry Zito, anyone?)– but it also does not require great ingenuity. He used minor league talent prudently this off-season to replace older players with younger ones and correctly recognized the risks that would be posed by trying to compete with Boston and Tampa with two unproven starters in the rotation.

    I am not yet sold on the farm operation. I did not understand the budget limits placed on the 2009 draft class, especially after the weak performance in 2008. And that was a bad draft performance by any measure. You might give him a pass on Cole, though I said at the time the Yankees should have been more proactive in courting the kid even before the last minute negotiations. But then Biddle and Bleich — not impressive choices. We still have a farm system in which the best outfield prospect, and possibly the only one with a real shot at starting in the majors for a good team, was just drafted in 2009.

    I have no idea whether this places Cashman in the top ten or not, since I do not keep close tabs on most other GMs. Cashman and Epstein are probably close (give the edge any year to the one whose owner is more willing to open the check book), and both are light years ahead of Minaya.