The first test for The Brothers Steinbrenner, as we all know by now, was the 2007-08 offseason, and they started out shakily at best. Despite their general manager’s desire to hold a firmer line with Alex Rodriguez and Jorge Posada, the new owners caved at the first signs of pressure and gave both of those players much bigger contracts than they needed to. After this, Cashman convinced them to give him more autonomy, and things have been pretty good ever since. Later that same off-season, ownership backed Cashman’s decision not to trade Phil Hughes, Ian Kennedy, Melky Cabrera, and Jeff Marquez for Johan Santana, and even though the Yankees finished in third place in the American League East in 2008, that decision has been vindicated and then some.
And, of course, in addition to signing C.C. Sabathia, the Yankees also added A.J. Burnett and, traded Wilson Betimit and Marquez for Nick Swisher in a move of pure ninjitsu, and, as a result of Cashman’s lobbying of Hal for more money in his budget, Mark Teixeira. The Yankees won the World Series, and everything was right with the world.
It was the 2009-10 offseason that, in many ways, vindicated Cashman’s 2007-08 plan. Phil Hughes had been an integral part of the 2009 bullpen, and was poised to emerge as a legitimate big league starter and potential top-of-the-rotation pitcher, Ian Kennedy was sent to Arizona to facilitate the trade for Curtis Granderson, and Melky Cabrera was, um, *cough* traded for Javier Vazquez *cough*. Neither of those moves, nor the trade for Nick Swisher, could have been accomplished as they were had the Yankees traded them to the Twins for Santana in 2008, who, by the way, had turned into an overpaid, injury prone, albatross in Queens.
2010 wasn’t as successful as 2009 by any means, but, keeping things in perspective, it wasn’t a failure by any means. The Yankees won the wild card with the 3rd best record in baseball despite an awful year from Burnett, an injury to Andy Pettitte, and a brutal schedule down the stretch. They swept the Twins, again, in the ALDS, and then took the red-hot Rangers to 6 games in the ALCS. In other words, they were right in the thick of competition at the end of the season, and came up 2 gcames short of the pennant mostly because their offense, the best in baseball during the regular season, just didn’t show up for the ALCS. It happens, unfortunately, and there’s really nothing anything anyone can do about it.
That brings us to the point where, to hear some tell it, the wheels fell off, the 2010-11 offseason. Cliff Lee, who just about everyone thought was destined to be a Yankee, took slightly less money to go back to the Philadelphia Phillies, leaving a gaping hole int he Yankees 2011 rotation and stunning a very large portion of New York fans and media, especially when no “Plan B” emerged. And then Cashman’s superiors decided to sign Rafael Soriano over the GM’s objections, and apparently it’s 2007 all over again. But is it really?
Whatever you think about the Soriano deal, it’s worth keeping it in perspective. The Yankees signed an elite relif pitcher for, potentially, $35 million and a first round draft pick. Is that too much for a non-closer? Yes, it probably is. Is it going to cripple the Yankees? No, it probably will not. Is it proof that ownership is going to ruin the franchise with impatience and by not listening to their baseball people? I don’t really think so. It would be one thing if Hal and Randy Levine decided to disregard Cashman’s opinion and meet the Royals reportedly high asking price for Zack Greinke after Lee signed with Philly, but they didn’t. Or if they rushed off to trade Jesus Montero for some second or third tier starter but, again, they didn’t. In the overwhelming majority of cases, Brian Cashman is making the baseball related decisions for the club, and the one exception is hardly a truly egregious one, in either the baseball or the financial sense.
From the outside looking in, I see an organization that’s pretty darn well run. Hal Steinbrenner seems like a pretty good owner with a solid head for what he’s doing. He’s willing to spend money to win, but he recognizes that he’s not the “baseball guy,” and he doesn’t want the team to return to where they were in the middle of the last decade. Cashman is, in my opinion, a fantastic general manager who’s built a successful major league team as well as one of the top farm systems in the game, despite lacking a high first round pick any time in the last decade or so. There seems to be a good relationship between ownership, the front office as represented by Cashman, and manager Joe Girardi. And for all the hemming and hawing this off-season, they’re one move away (say, Andy Pettitte deciding to pitch in 2011) from being the favorites to win the American League.
Long story short, there isn’t a front office in all of baseball I’d trade this one for.