At worst, Cashman was too self-deprecating in the press conference, but it was wiser to say he’d had a bad offseason than to get into the nuances of why it was actually a good offseason. Cashman can’t come out and explain that without sounding defensive or petulant. Fortunately, I can.
The 2009 Yankees were a fantastic team, but they had to overcome obvious weaknesses to win the World Series. First and foremost, the team needed pitching. It took a scheduling fluke to allow the team to start only three pitchers throughout October, and even then it was big gamble heading into the World Series. The team also needed to sign or replace aging free agents Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui. The Yankees therefore needed to address at least three key positions in the 2009 offseason, something that is never an easy proposition.
Despite this, Cashman filled those slots, and he filled them with players who were above-average (at the time). First, he traded for Curtis Granderson. Granderson may not have promised to produce as much offense as Johnny Damon — the player he was effectively replacing — but he was younger, better defensively, cheaper, and a proven offensive contributor in his own right. The move may not have been popular with the fans, but from an organizational perspective it was a no-brainer, particularly since the team was less and less convinced Austin Jackson would be able to produce at as high a level as it felt Granderson could.
After that, Cashman signed Nick Johnson to play DH. Johnson wasn’t the team’s first option, but Matsui had already signed with Anaheim and negotiations with Damon were proving fruitless. Rather than delay further, the Yankees made a move to sign a player with a history of getting on base at an incredible rate, something with outsized value in the Yankees’ lineup of heavy hitters. Johnson did have a history of injuries, but he’d come off a 133-game season in 2009, had no known injuries at the time of the signing, and wasn’t expected to play the field, something that should have helped reduce his risk of injury. Johnson was a higher-risk option at DH than other players, but he had the potential to be productive, for less money than the alternatives.
Finally, Cashman traded a bag of balls named Melky Cabrera, a high-upside prospect in Arodys Vizcaino and reliever Mike Dunn for Javier Vazquez. Yankee fans lose sight of how good Vazquez had been season after season in every uniform but pinstripes. Home Run Javy pitched more than 200 innings every single year from 2005 to 2009, and posted an ERA+ between 98 and 143 each year. He was coming off his best season ever, and had finished 4th in the NL Cy Young voting. Melky Cabrera sucks. You make that trade every day of the week and twice on Sundays. The Yankees were getting an average to above-average starter for a below-average center fielder and a prospect that might pan out, but might not. It had all the makings of a great deal.
The reality, therefore, is that Cashman had an excellent offseason heading into 2010. He needed to fill three core positions, and placed above-average players at each one for low cost, getting younger in the process. It was entirely possible, in fact probable, that the Yankees would not have been able to fill all three positions. Instead, Cashman filled them wisely.
Unfortunately, to the extent that Cashman was placing bets, two-thirds of those bets came up snake-eyes. After a disappointing start — magnified by a much-better-than-expected debut season by Austin Jackson — Granderson ended the season as arguably the second-most potent bat in the Yankee lineup, and as long as whatever adjustments Kevin Long made to Grandy’s swing vs. lefties continues, the trade should continue to pay dividends for the Yankees. In the end Curtis had a higher wOBA than Jackson (.346 versus .333) and demonstrated adaptability down the stretch.
The other two bets backfired tremendously, to varying degrees of predictability. Johnson’s injury was right out of the “should-have-seen-that-coming” department, while Vazquez’s total implosion was predictable only to the most cynical Yankee fans. Heading into the season Cashman probably assumed the worst case for Johnson was 115-125 games, while the worst case for Home Run Javy was something like 190 innings and a 4.50 ERA. On the first day of the season either of the two outcomes described in the preceding sentence would have been considered disappointments. Now, they would be welcomed improvements. That, however, is an output problem, not an input problem, certainly not reflective of a bad offseason.
There are no excuses to be made for the 2010 season. The Yankees won 95 games and came two wins shy of going to their second consecutive World Series. That kind of season is an unmitigated success that most fans (see: Rangers, Texas) rarely experience. To the extent that explanations for the Yankees’ failure must be provided the blame lays s
quarely with the execution. The team had a penchant for mass-slumping, and stopped pitching from September onwards. Brian Cashman is responsible for none of this. He made excellent moves this past offseason. Some of them were higher risk than others, but more than anything else the moves didn’t work out due to excessive bad luck.