One last word in defense of Brian Cashman

I’ve gone on record several times backing Yankee General Manager Brian Cashman up this winter. While I certainly don’t think he’s perfect (I’m still not satisfied with the reasoning behind not giving Joba Chamberlain another chance in the rotation), and it’s undoubtedly been an unexpectedly difficult offseason for Yankee fans, I still believe Cashman is the best man for the job and I think he’s done everything within his power to improve the Yankees. Reader and friend of the blog Wayne, who I agree with on a good majority of Yankee-related issues, has made no secret of his disdain for Brian Cashman, and once again took Cash to task in the comment section of the Eric Chavez-Ronnie Belliard post. I started to respond to Wayne in the comments, but the response began taking on a life of its own and felt like it merited its own post.

I appreciate Wayne’s fire as always, but I just can’t get too rankled about a couple of non-roster invites to spring training. There’s no harm in trying to see if either of these players has anything left to the point that they’d be more serviceable bench players than Ramiro Pena. It’s not like Cash signed Chavez to contend to be the starting third baseman. And Justin Maxwell‘s nothing to write home about, but he’s probably an upgrade over Greg Golson. Really, it’s not like our 24th and 25th men are going to make or break the season.

Regarding Wayne’s dissatisfaction with the lack of an apparent backup plan in the event that Cashman lost out on Cliff Lee, I’m willing to concede it’s possible he misplayed those negotiations, but given Lee’s apparent yearning to get back to Philly, I still don’t know that things would have gone any differently had Cash come out with a CC Sabathia-style 7-year, $140M opening salvo at the beginning of November. I mean, perhaps if Cash had done something like that, then Ruben Amaro Jr. doesn’t even think about trying to reacquire Lee. However, pretty much everything we heard from Lee’s camp was that they didn’t even want to field offers until the Winter Meetings. I have to imagine Cash at least made Lee aware of what the Yankees were willing to do financially back during that first trip to Arkansas on November 10, and I think it’s pretty clear that Lee’s stonewalling meant he’d give Philly as much time as it needed to put together a competitive offer. I suppose one could counter by saying the Yanks should’ve offered $180 million (and given how much heartburn we’ve all suffered as a result of the Lee spurning, this almost doesn’t seem so crazy) but it’s tough to blame the team for not wanting to give the richest contract in the history of the game to a 32-year-old pitcher who’d be near 40 by the time it ended. In the aftermath of what happened with Rafael Soriano, don’t you think ownership would’ve authorized Cash to go as high as it took to get Lee? That they stood firm tells me that at the end of the day, even the Yanks had a limit as to how far they were willing to go for a starting pitcher, even one as great as Lee is.

I am also willing to concede that perhaps Cash could’ve been a tad more aggressive at the outset of free agency, given the possibility that he’d miss Lee and the fact that Andy Pettitte appeared headed for retirement at the culmination of the 2010 ALCS. However, it’s not as if the market was dripping with talent. Arguably the best starter available was Hiroki Kuroda, who wound up re-upping with the Dodgers for one year, $12 million on November 15 in what appears to have been a substantially below-market deal. Kuroda was actually the 17th-most valuable pitcher in the NL last season (4.2 fWAR), putting up a season worth $16.9 million. In 2010-2011 offseason dollars, he could’ve conceivably held out for a contract near $20 million. Of course, no one thinks Hiroki Kuroda is a $20 million/year pitcher, but it probably would’ve taken at least $15 million a year to get Kuroda away from LA — and do you really want Brian Cashman to be giving a pitcher entering his age 36 season who has spent the last three years in the NL West $15 million a year?

The only other free agent pitchers even worth thinking about were Jake Westbrook, Jon Garland and Jorge de la Rosa, to whom I say no, no and hell no to, respectively. Had he made it to free agency I would’ve made a case for old friend t="_blank" href="http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/l/lillyte01.shtml?utm_source=direct&utm_medium=linker&utm_campaign=Linker">Ted Lilly — who I actually have a post scheduled about for tomorrow — but the Dodgers re-signed him before the season even ended. Cashman literally had no chance to even go after Lilly.

Even after seemingly every name brand free agent pitcher came off the board there was still one name available, a pitcher who was the 11th-most valuable righthander in the American League last season, but a name who infantile Yankee fans couldn’t stomach the idea that Cashman would even initiate talks with, despite the fact that his primary responsibility as GM of the Yankees is to make his team better. I can only imagine the anti-Cashman crew would’ve been apoplectic had Brian re-signed Carl Pavano, because, you know, adding a 3.2 fWAR pitcher to your rotation is terrible.

I admit, I was a tad disappointed that the Yankees seemingly missed out on Jeff Francis — who seemed like he would’ve been a nice fit in the back end of the rotation, but (rightly) felt he’d have more of an opportunity in Kansas City — and Justin Duchscherer, who might have been an even more enticing upgrade if management hadn’t just gotten burned by Nick Johnson — who I still believe was a highly worthwhile gamble last winter, but ask a member of the anti-Cash crew and they’ll claim they knew Johnson was going to get injured all along.

Ultimately, I just don’t quite understand what the anti-Cashman contingent expects him to do. This has been perhaps the most unprecedented offseason in baseball history with regards to players leaving money on the table, from Lee, to Gil Meche to Pettitte. Cashman can’t force these players to come to New York. I think we Yankee fans need to take a step back sometimes and realize that just because a given baseball player is awesome or seems to make perfect sense to try to add to the roster, it does not mean that they automatically have to/want to come play for the Yankees. Brian Cashman does not have a mind-control device. It does not work that way.

For whatever Cashman’s faults may be as a team-builder, I don’t see how anyone can get on his ability to field a potent offense. No team in MLB has a higher wOBA (.351) over the last 10 seasons than the Yankees. Cash knows the Yankees’ bread-and-butter is patience and power, and those traits have been duly (and dually) reflected in the team’s stat ledger: Highest OBP in baseball since 2001 (.354), and second-highest slugging (.452, .001 points behind Boston’s .453).

Now on the flip side, Cashman’s White Whale to a certain extent has probably been pitching evaluation. Jeff Weaver, Kevin Brown, Jaret Wright, Carl Pavano, just to name a few (of course, it’s not entirely clear how responsible Cash was for a number of these disappointments) of the pitchers that have been acquired on Cash’s watch and have not lived up to expectations. However, since gaining full autonomy after the 2005 season, the Yankees went on to have one of their strongest drafts ever in 2006, and come 2009, the Yankees won their 27th championship with a rotation anchored by Cashman free agents Sabathia and A.J. Burnett, and a lights-out set-up man in Phil Hughes, the pitcher Cash refused to trade to the Twins for Johan Santana.

And ultimately, this is where I really get lost when it comes to Cashman-bashing. The team he assembled in 2009 wins it all, but somehow it doesn’t count because Cashman did his “checkbook GM” thing and bought all the best players. Fast-forward two years later, and Cashman is still trying to purchase the best players money can buy, but their disinterest in coming to New York and/or deciding to retire — despite the Yankees having the highest offer — means Cash is a lousy GM and should have had a backup plan that somehow included the best free agent pitchers still being on the market after the Yankees missed out on Lee. If you want to believe that Cashman blew the Lee negotiations and should’ve been signing Kuroda, Garland and/or Westbrook in November while waiting on Lee, then I don’t know what to tell you. I’m sure Lee would’ve felt really wanted if the Yankees went out and started filling out their rotation because they weren’t 100% convinced they could get him.

I feel bad for the Yankee fans who think the team has a lousy GM; I really do. Can you imagine if your favorite team were run by Dayton Moore? Or Ed Wade? Or Kenny Williams? Or Omar Minaya? What’s so bad about exercising a little restraint when Brian Cashman asks us to “be patient?” He cannot pull a rabbit out of a hat. People are upset that he’s signing retreads like Freddy Garcia and Bartolo Colon to minor league deals, but who else is out there? These guys cost pennies on the dollar, and can be cut the moment they don’t work out. Someone’s gotta account for approximately 400 innings out of the back-end of the rotation. It’s not as if Felix Hernandez or Jon Lester are available.

The Yankees have, for the first time in a long time, some very interesting possibilities down on the farm right now — possibilities that could turn into legitimate Major Leaguers, or perhaps help acquire one if the right deal presented itself. But right now, that’s all they are — possibilities. For all the glowing reports we hear about a given Killer B, or how stacked the rotations are going to be at Trenton and Scranton, at the end of the day they’re still all lottery tickets. That’s what Brian Cashman is talking about when he’s asking the fans to exercise patience. There are 29 other teams in Major League Baseball; no one is handing Cashman an experienced, valuable starting pitcher for free. The organization rightly needs to see what it has on its hands, and in the cases of the pitchers with the highest upside — Manny Banuelos, Dellin Betances and Andrew Brackman — that’s likely going to take at least another year.

In any event, I’m sick of having to defend Brian Cashman. I wasn’t intending this response to end up being a referendum on his offseason, but I guess that’s what wound up happening, and it feels pretty good. This will also hopefully be the last time I am driven to defend Cash. I’m excited for spring training, excited as hell to see what the season holds for the Yankees, and excited to know that — based on the information available to us — Brian Cashman has done everything he can to make the Yankees as good as possible.

12 thoughts on “One last word in defense of Brian Cashman

  1. Bpdelia

    Yup. As I've posted elsewhere I actually believe this has been a pretty damn good offseason. A solid B.

    We needed a LOOGY. We got the most durable LOOGY in the game. Yes the contract is a bit much but he fills a need and is remarkably durable and consistent.

    We needed a 4th OF and we GREATLY upgraded that spot with a lefty masher who CAN play all 3 OF positions. ANd play the corners as an above average defender. Plus a guy who will contribute when he is forced into short periods of extended playing time.

    We vastly ugraded the bullpen by adding a super elite reliever (yes the contract sucks but lets just focus on the player) that allowed us to slot Joba and RObertson into the 6th and 7th innings and now allows Joe G. to do his matchup binder thing to his hearts content.

    We have a stacked system with 2 legit ace prospects, one prospect with legit ace stuff at AAA and realistically at least 5 back of the rotation SP prospects.

    We retain probably the best hitting prospect in MLB.

    We vastly upgraded C defense and our DH spot with one move (the signing of Martin) which has the added benefit of allowing Montero to start the season in AAA and not become THE story of the pre and early season.

    I would've liked Kuroda but aside from him it is what it is.

    This offseason should be a lesson that guys like Sabathia hitting the FA market is INSANELY rare and that going forward teams are going to have to DEVELOP their aces. We have 3 guys with 1-3 rotation potential. Brackman can help this year, Bettances and Banuelos are concievably ready to pitch in MLB by June/July of next season.

    Nothing more can be done. THis is a team that won 95 games last year and can (despite sketchy CAIRO projections) reasonably expect bounce backs from their 3 and 4 hitters who had down years (sorry players with the skill of AROD almost always remain productive hitters into their late 30's look up guys like Bonds, F Robinson, Ted WIlliams, Ruth etc etc because that's the class of player Arod is).

    Right now we are a 89-92 win team. It's very likely we can acquire a #3 or #4 sp at some point to add 2 wins to that.

    Not to mention YOU CAN'T win every year.

    People bitch about "this teams window is now." You all have been saying htat for 10 years. And if you all had your way that would be in fact true.

    However if you're patient, hold the B's and MOntero and Sanchez et al we can extend that window out indefinately.

    Calm the F down. I still remember the late 80s and 90s and the attitude many Cashman bashers have is the attitude that put us in THAT situation.

    IS he perfect? No, I too and upset about the Joba in the pen rationale (sorry makes no sense he's the best #4 on the roster right now.)

    But Freddy Garcia IS an upgrade on last years #5's (Mosely et al) and COlon MAY be able to give us 70 ish leaguye avg innings with a contract we can dump at the first signs of trouble.

    THings are fine. Every other team has ? marks as well. Even the sox have a pen that I still don't trust, a lineup filled with injry and age issues and a rotation that behind lester is also questionable. Bucholz will regress to his FIP type #s. He's very good but not a sgood as last year. Beckett could in fact be done and is a ocnstant injury risk, Dice K could in fact be done and is a constant injury risk, Lackey is an injury risk and is on the decline.

    ANd the sox now have zero SP depth at the upper levels.

    Patience and commons sense please Yankee fans

  2. What have you done lately? That's the metric in big business and professional sports is certainly a big business. Prior to the 2010 season Cashman signed Nick Johnson, Javier Vasquez and Randy Winn. He traded three useful players for Curtis Granderson. The first three moves were busts and to be fair, it's too early to rate the Granderson trade since he had an up and down season. What's frustrating is that Cash had earlier experience with both Johnson and Vasquez yet chose to ignore this and bring them back. The best projection for future performance is still what a player has done in the past.

    This offseason, Cashman has signed a group of tomato cans. Will there be an unexpected performer in here somewhere? Let's hope so. I don't fault him for losing Lee at all and the rest of the free agent crop was thin to say the least.

    With all that in mind, the Yanks had better get back to the World Series this year or the heat will get dialed up under Cashman's seat.

  3. Unfortunately, Bpdelia, common sense is not something most Yankee fans have. They get too caught up in the one big thing that didn't happen or didn't work out (Lee) and fail to see the big picture and the attempt to counter that by improving the team overall (Soriano, Feliciano, Jones, and to a certain degree, Maxwell and Belliard).

    I've said it before and I'll say it again, any Yankee fan that thinks Cash doesn't do, or isn't doing a good job is a moron. He spends money when it's worthwhile to do so (2008-2009 offseason) and holds when nothing looks attractive (this year).

    It just sucks for him that he's in a lose-lose situation as GM of the biggest team in professional sports. Like Larry said, when they win it's because he just "buys" everybody and when they lose it's because he "didn't do anything." I know I wouldn't want that job.

  4. In my own experience, I find that the Yankee fans who hate Cashman are the same people that hate AJ Burnett and think his career is over.
    The most important thing the Yankees can do right now is find the next core four, and they're doing that by strengthening their farm system. Let's face it, the yankees have a lot of old players, and the best way to replace them is via the farm. ARod, Jeter, Mo, Posada… these guys are old, and the next injury to any one of these guys could be a career ender. If the Yankees can find pitching via their farm, it'll make it so much easier to replace the position players… Cash is implementing the right strategy – Nick Johnson and Javy Vazquez are both gone – they were 1 yr deals! Johnson cost them PENNIES and he certainly didn't cost them the ALCS – neither did Javy; see 2009, when they went the distance with 3 starters!
    Cashman isn't good enough for you? Go buy Mets tickets – they can certainly use the money!

  5. And the recent crop of Mets GMs have ALWAYS made the right moves to keep that team on top!

  6. Cashman is one of the best GM's in baseball, but alot of his moves this off-season has me puzzled.
    I know it's been stated here, day in & day out, but what is Eric Chavez or Ronnie Belliard going to bring to the field when you have a player like Willy Aybar available. Freddy Garcia or Bartolo Colon when you have Francis, Duchscherer, or Chris Young available. I know they all have their injury issues, but it's the same risk with Colon & Garcia. I know the SP market was thin, but what is he thinking???

  7. Craig K

    Larry – this is probably one of your best posts since the blog started.

    It's funny how the haters say Cashman didn't have a "Plan B"/"doesn't really know what he's doing"…what if his plan all along was to make sure his bullpen was fucking loaded?? Everyone overlooks this because we are the NY Yankees and are "supposed" to have full rights to Cliff Lee or any premier player. Fuck all that noise.

    Middle relief are generally the WORST players on a pitching staff, and it's a huge advantage to have a big stake in the MR pool…considering how slim it is.

    Case in point: Soriano, Robertson, Joba, your boy Romulo Sanchez…lefties in Logan, Feliciano, Marte (remember when our only lefty was Mike Myers?!?!) and Yanks.com has Brackman listed as well on the Depth Chart, which is obviously going to change before April anddd oh yea, Mariano Rivera…hopefully these haters know about that guy

    The Yankees are going to be competitive, as they have been during Cashman's entire time as GM. You're not supposed to win every year, or else the sport would be broken.

    There is nothing like enjoying my squad play the longest season in pro sports (win or lose) because Baseball is the best.

    This got me really fuckin pumped for some goddamn baseball…

    I might be most excited to see what my boy Robinson Cano is capable of…28 is a really nice age for a Baseball player…

  8. Dangerous Dean

    As a Texas Ranger fan for 30+ years, I haven't tasted much playoff success. So I was torn when Texas offered 6 years worth of treasure to Lee. Like Larry mentioned here, I thought that was WAY too long for a pitcher at his age with his injury problems.

    Thus I sympathize with Cashman on this. It wasn't his fault that Lee wanted to go to Philly any more than it was John Daniels' fault Lee didn't come to Texas.

    I do wonder though, how much that well-publicized spitting-on-Lee's-wife during the playoffs incident had to do with Lee not coming to NY. It might be that it meant nothing, which is what Lee said on the record. And some observers pointed out that if it was a factor, Lee likely would have come to Texas as Philly isn't known as a paradise with enlightened fans.

    Still, I wonder if we will ever know exactly what that incident meant to Lee.

  9. Wayne

    RE: The Captain, Bpdelia, and some other fan posts

    Using words like “moron” to allegedly buttress your argument shows a lack of class and an extreme lack of mental dexterity. And those things tend to come back and bite you in the butt. Want proof?

    On the same day “The Captain” wrote that, yankees.com had a video that began as follows: “By their own standards, the Yankees had an average off season.” So, even the Yankees themselves don’t think they had a good off season. So, are the Yankees morons because they don’t agree with you, Captain?

    People can disagree with you, me, and everyone else on this site without being morons, or fags, or Mets fans, or whatever other disparaging remark comes to mind. Healthy disagreement is fun; cleaver sarcasm is amusing, but outright verbal abuse is completely indefensible and unnecessary, and it discourages healthy discourse. Stop it!

    Bpdelia wrote “YOU CAN'T win every year.” Technically true, but you don’t win 27 titles in less than 100 years by taking that attitude. The Yankees, in fact, have had numerous bac-to-back championships (as many as five in a row and four in five years), and they accomplished that by adopting the philosophy that we should win every year. You won’t do that, of course, but that philosophy is the reason we’ve won 27 titles.

    Several Yankee fans (as well as Larry, who I greatly respect) named other mediocre GMs and basically said something like ‘Hey, imagine how you’d feel if so-in-so was your GM. Well, that argument is just silly and, in some respects, it’s a confirmation that Cashman hasn’t done that great a job the last couple of years because you’re not comparing him to the better GMs in baseball, like the Red Sox’s GM or the Phillies’ GM.

  10. Wayne

    Hey, Larry,

    Well, at the very least, you should thank me for instigating the most lively debate I’ve seen on this site.

    Now, on to be business of disagreeing with some of the things you wrote in defense of Cashman.

    On the pitching front, you’re right, we should have signed Francis. So, why didn’t Cashman get that deal done?

    You’re also right that Justin Duchscerer was worth taking a gamble on. So, why didn’t Cashman get that deal done?

    You’re also right that Joba should be given another chance in the rotation, and you’re right in questioning Cashman’s dubious reasons for not giving him another chance. So, there’s another negative we agree on in terms of something Cashman hasn’t done or won’t committed to for 2011.

    You’re also right that Pavano was worth the gamble on a one year deal, given our current options in the four and five spots. He’s certainly represented a huge upgrade on Mitre, and he would have pitched his butt off (unlike the first time we had him) if he was pitching on a one year deal.

    So, contrary to what you wrote, “Brian Cashman has (NOT) done everything he can to make the Yankees as good as possible” in 2011. You, yourself, listed numerous options (you favored) that he could have done, but didn’t do.

    I also disagree with you about de la Rossa; he’s significantly better than Mitre. I also slightly (but only slightly) disagree with you about Garland: he’s more reliable than Mitre, which is hardly high praise, of course. And Kuroda was never an option in my mind.

    You also left out several pitching options that were available via trade, such as Greinke. Yes, the pressure cooker argument is something to be concerned about, but we were still talking about a former Cy Young winner. I wouldn’t have traded for him if we could have signed Lee, but we basically had to take the gamble after we lost out of Lee. At the very least, we can safely assume he’d be significantly better than Nova or Mitre.

    You also didn’t mention Shaun Marcum, who pitched very well in the AL East the last three seasons. He definitely would have been an upgrade over Nova and Mitre.

    In short, Larry, contrary to your own insistence, there were a lot of pitching options available to Cashman, none of which he pulled off.

    You also praise Cashman for the CC and AJ signings, but I go back to what I originally said: either of us could have done those deals with the Yankees’ substantial checkbook. The Boss (RIP) and his sons deserve virtually all of the credit for making those deals happen, as well as the Tex signing. As for not trading Hughes for Santana, I personally don’t know one Yankees fan who wanted to trade Hughes for Santana; I know I was 100% against it, as were all of the Yankee fans I talk to.

    Concerning your comment that “No team in MLB has a higher wOBA (.351) over the last 10 seasons,” your statement is true, but Cashman deserves very little if any credit for that. Those stats were built on 1) players that came up through the farm (like Cano, Jeter, Posada, and Bernie), who Cashman didn’t bring in; and 2) players like A-Rod and Tex, who the Yankees bought with George’s money and urging. The one noticeable exception is Nick Swisher, and I acknowledged in another post that that was Cashman’s best deal to-date.

    The problem is you (and now Matt Warden) haven’t addressed the central point: Cashman hasn’t pulled off one truly significant trade since the Swisher trade. And I’m giving him a pass (for now) on the Grandy trade until we see how Jackson does this year and next, but that trade has the potential to be one of the worst Yankee trades in the past 25 years.

  11. Mornin' Wayne.

    As always, we certainly appreciate the feedback.

    As to your point that Cash hasn't made a significant trade since Swisher, that seems a bit unfair to me (especially as "significant" seems to be fairly subjective). Hindsight is always 20/20 — not to mention the fact that in order to complete a trade, one needs acceptance from another party. It's not easy to make a trade that totally pans out for one side and looks incredible in retrospect as was the case with Swish.

    In terms of free agents, some of them certainly haven't panned out (Vazquez, Johnson) but that doesn't mean they weren't reasonable at the time.

  12. […] in this week’s New York Magazine until now, and wanted to offer my own two cents, being that I’ve written more words this winter on Brian Cashman than I ever thought I’d need to as well as the fact that though I find myself disagreeing […]

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