Defending Brian Cashman’s offseason moves

The Yankees held their end-of-season press conference yesterday. From Cliff Lee to Derek Jeter, most of the conference’s subject matter was to be expected. One thing surprised me, though. Brian Cashman confessed that he felt he had a poor offseason heading into 2010. The results of Cashman’s efforts may have been subpar, but let me state it clearly: Brian Cashman and the Yankees had an excellent offseason between 2009 and 2010. Cashman is confusing inputs with outputs.

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.

8 thoughts on “Defending Brian Cashman’s offseason moves

  1. Thank you, MJR. To me, this is the most annoying time of year. It is impossible to listen to WFAN (or any other outlet for that matter) without hearing how Cashman's moves cost the Yankees a World Series (I am looking at you Craig Carton). Bottom line is that our General Manager put together a team that, for all its faults, won 95 games in the toughest division in sports. They then ran into a buzzsaw in the ALCS, which is simply the nature of the playoff system. The best teams makes the playoffs, but the hottest team wins them. Another well thought out offseason by Cashman, regardless of how things turned out.

  2. It is just ridiculous to suggest that Cashman's moves were responsible for the postseason loss. First, Granderson was one of the few players who hit in the ALCS. Second, the team got production from the DH spot and never intended to use Vazquez much in any playoff rotation. As a 4th or 5th starter he would have figured to get at most 1 start through the first two series. Those moves were meant to help in the regular season, they backfired, were still good moves, and had no bearing on the playoffs, and helped slightly, if anything.

  3. This is my first time reading this blog and I have to say I am impressed. While I agree with you that Cashman cannot be blamed for the Nick Johnson or Javier Vazquez moves, and that it is ridiculous to solely blame Cashman for the playoff loss, I do think you left out two key no-moves by Cashman:1. Letting Johnny Damon go in favor of Brett Gardner. It is finally time somebody says it, Gardner was exposed in the second half of the season (.233,.366,.332) and totally overwhelmed in the postseason (.185, .258, .185, yes that's right he didn't even collect ONE extra base-hit. Johnny Damon is a proven postseason commodity who slotted perfectly into the number 2 hole in the order. Had Cashman signed Damon to play LF he would have been able to slot into the DH when Johnson went down and eventually moved back to LF when Gardner become exposed. Bottom line, a playoff/second-half batting order without Brett Gardner and with Johnny Damon would have been astronomically better.2. The Dan Haren Trade.When you have an opportunity to bring in an All-Star starting pitcher who is 30 years old without giving up your best prospect (Montero) and while giving up an overweight bullpen bum (Joba) you do it! Haren went on to pitch to a 2.87 ERA with a 1.16 WHIP in 14 starts for the Angels (not to mention total dominance of the Texas Rangers, 1.64 ERA, .190 BAA). Having Danny Haren as the number 2 doesn't mean the Yankees would have beaten Texas, but it certainly would have given them a better chance of doing so and we wouldn't have seen AJ Burnett in game 4. Also important to note, the having Haren would alleviate the blow if Andy does retire. So, in conclusion, I agree that most of Cashman's moves this off-season and season were faultless. But, the two no-moves above are the ones that ultimately crippled his team come the second half and playoff time

  4. Hey Phil,Thanks for stopping by! You bring up some interesting points. My two cents:1) Though Gardner fell off a cliff after the HBP in June, if you check out the post I just put up this morning, you'll see that it's pretty tough to quibble with what Gardner contributed this season. I agree; his vanishing act in the postseason was disappointing, but it's not like anyone on the team hit a lick in the ALCS outside of Cano and Granderson.Would Damon been an improvement? I'm not so sure. Oddly enough, he actually hit better at spacious Comerica Park (.291/.359/.435) than he did on the road (.249/.351/.364), but Gardner's season line (.277/.383/.379, .358 wOBA) is still superior to Damon's year (.271/.355/.401, .340 wOBA), except Damon hit for slightly more power. Gardner was also infinitely more valuable in the field, and posted a 4.8 yWAR (the average of bWAR and fWAR) to Damon's 1.8 yWAR).Given Damon being a liability in the field, and the Yankees pitching staff's woes in the second half, the Yankees might not even make the playoffs with Gardner's run-saving glove. I'm typically an offense-heavy guy, but in Gardner's case I think his glove was a huge asset to the team this year, and he outplayed Damon on both sides of the ball. Even if Damon did wind up back with the team, it would've taken a lot more than Johnny D to get the feckless Yankee lineup going in the ALCS.2) I think we all would've been elated had Cashman been able to trade Joba for Dan Haren, but aside from being a rumor, did it ever come out that Joba was indeed the centerpiece of a deal and that Arizona flatly turned it down? I honestly don't recall, but I'm pretty sure if Chamberlain for Haren was indeed an option the Yankees would've pulled the trigger.Haren would've been quite the upgrade over the Moseley/Vazquez starts we were forced to endure, and unlike your potential Damon acquisition, probably would have made a difference in the ALCS. Slotting Haren into the postseason rotation would've almost certainly pushed Hughes back to Game 4, and if the Yankees are able to win Game 2 we're possibly looking at a completely different series outcome.Obviously we have no way of knowing how other of these potential deals may have worked out, but that's an astute point you've made with regards to Haren. We just don't know whether there was actually a deal to be had there, although considering the D-Backs settled for Joe Saunders of all people, maybe Joba could've gotten it done.

  5. Blast, a couple of typos made their way into my comment.It should be "Would Damon have been an improvement?"Also, I meant to write "the Yankees might not even make the playoffs without Gardner's run-saving glove."In the last paragraph, "other" should be "either."I blame it all on my awful, awful keyboard.

  6. Larry has addressed the same points I was going to. I happen to believe that Johnny Damon's line would have been better in Yankee Stadium, but his defense would have been worse than Gardner's, for a much greater cost, and it is not certain he would have hit more. What I love about Brett Gardner is that he is better than average for league minimum. That kind of affordability is important on the Yankees, and the production is fine from a left fielder. My understanding was always that the Yankees were not really in the Dan Harren conversation. He would have been a fantastic pick up, but apart from Montero I didn't see the Yanks having the pieces. I imagine that the Brian Cashman would have driven Joba to 'Zona himself if it meant collecting Haren straight up for Joba.

  7. One other point to consider is that the Yankees were definitely interested in Johhny Damon prior to the start of the 2010 season. His departure was mostly resultant of his own doing. If he had lowered his price tag, he would have probably been the guy patrolling LF all year. The Tigers sure as hell weren't paying the $13M the Yanks were. Given how much cheaper Gardner was relative to his overall production, it's hard to doubt that move.

  8. yeah and how did Viscaino and Dunn do? worth Boone Logan? Then Vasquez a dog.He couldn't land Lee…shoulda landed Damon…Berkman was a dog…Granderson a dog most of the season……Kearns? dog….Winn? dog. Huffman dog Moeller dog..Gaudin? dog Chan Ho? big dog.You say "Brian Cashman is responsible for none of this. He made excellent moves this past offseason." where? Thames? Okay he's the kennel keeper.