Brian Cashman’s Front Office Deserves Credit for a Good 2013 Season So Far

I love Mike Axisa. However, I strongly disagree with his impassioned rant after last night’s 18-inning loss:

The Yankees didn’t just lose Thursday afternoon/night’s 18-inning marathon with the Athletics because they couldn’t buy a hit after the first inning. They also lost because they half-assed their way through an offseason in which they deemed it acceptable to downgrade all over the field despite a) winning the division by the skin of their teeth last year, and b) knowing it was very likely going to be Mariano Rivera‘s final season. Real nice going away present. That surfboard the A’s gave him today was more respectful.

The Yankees lost on Thursday because they’re desperate. Desperate to hold onto the last glimmer of success from the dynasty years and afraid (unable?) to adapt and move forward with a new chapter in franchise history. Now they’re left with this laughable relic of a roster that is caught between being not truly good enough to contend and not bad enough to completely tear down and rebuild. It’s a very dangerous place to be, just ask the Phillies.

No doubt, the Yankee front office made some incredibly stupid moves during the winter. Signing Ichiro was the dumbest among them, and the Vernon Wells move wasn’t much better. Kevin Youkilis has been terrible, and Travis Hafner has been barely above replacement level. Catcher and pretty much every spot off the bench have been huge drags on the team. I’m not much happier with the state of the long term roster than Axisa is.

But one big glaring fact still stands out: despite being swept by the best team in the majors over the past 365 days in their home ballpark, the New York Yankees are 2nd in the AL East, yet again baseball’s toughest division, with a 37-29 record. Oakland and Boston have had significantly better seasons, and Texas and Detroit are each a couple of wins up on the Yankees while playing in much easier divisions.

Seriously, if I told you on April 1st that on June 14th, the Yankees would be 37-29 and tied for the 2nd Wild Card, would anyone not take that record over the unknown? Especially if I told you that Derek Jeter and Curtis Granderson would be set back, Francisco Cervelli would miss most of the season, and Mark Teixeira would have a late return? The sweep sucks, but come on.

Its really weird seeing this as Yankee fans, but here’s where the Yankee reality is for 2013: The Yankees have a below average offense for the first time in forever, and one of the best pitching staffs in the American League. Where does that get you? A team that is on pace for 91 wins, and contending for the playoffs. Is it really all that hard to see the 2013 Yankees winning the World Series? How about now? Now? Maybe now?

Yeah, the roster could have been better. The Yankees made head-smacking decisions to cheap out on a fairly healthy supply of effective role players that are playing well at positions the team badly needs right now. I’d love love love to have Eric Chavez and Russell Martin right now. But Brian Cashman did not decide to make those moves. He did, however, build one hell of a pitching staff, including sending money toward Hiroki Kuroda, despite a limited free agent market.

And one quick aside: It sounds simple, but running a big market team isn’t all that easy. The Dodgers and Blue Jays spent a ton of money this offseason, but made some bad decisions. The Red Sox are only succeeding because of the Dodgers’ bad decisions. Barring a pity retirement or three, the Angels could be downright terrible for the next 5 years without any payroll flexibility. And the Phillies team disintegrated. Plus, you know, the Mets. The point isn’t that big money is a disadvantage, but that Brian Cashman has a much better record than his big money peers.

If this Yankee team can start getting injured players healthy and playing at least a little better than their replacements, this could be a team giving one last playoff run to Mariano Rivera. And this is coming from a guy who was ready to sell everyone at the deadline a few months ago. An 18-inning loss stings, especially when Vernon Wells, Kevin Youkilis, and Travis Hafner were so terrible in the middle of it, but it doesn’t change the fact that the Yankees have won more than they have lost this season.

E.J. Fagan been blogging about Yankee baseball since 2006. He lives and works in Washington, DC.