It’s time to talk Brian Cashman. The Yankees are tied in the loss column for the best record in baseball, and the trade deadline just passed. Typically, I’m the guy who tells other people think long term, stay objective, don’t be rash and overreact to short term happenings either good or bad.
But the objective writer in me took a backseat to the fan(atic) in me yesterday. The Yankees and their fearless leader did not make any moves to improve their team by the MLB trade deadline despite having a legitimate shot to win this year’s World Series.
Nate Silver had an article on his website a few years back (Sorry, I tried to find it, but could not…) in which he analyzed years’ worth of teams either selling, buying or staying put at the deadline. And what he found was that staying put, i.e., not making any moves, was the worst thing a team can do. Teams that add players mid-season increase their chances of winning this season. Teams that subtract players and payroll increase their chances of winning in subsequent seasons. Teams that do nothing fall down the winning odds depth chart behind both the teams who just got better now and the teams who got better in the future. By doing nothing, you’re simultaneously decreasing your chances this season and in future seasons, falling behind all the other teams who made a decision to improve right now or improve for the long haul.
And for some teams who may have a 50/50 chance of getting into a one-game wild-card playoff that’s essentially a coin flip, that may be a very tough decision. Whether or not to trade away future value to increase your World Series odds by a percentage point or two is a tough call. But if you know that a move would both lock down your division and increase your chances in a short playoff series, then you have to go for it – it’s a no brainer, quite frankly.
But Brian Cashman went the route of doing nothing. Meanwhile, possible playoff opponents like the Rays, the Twins, the Indians, and the Athletics all chose to get better – and they did. The Astros chose to get much better – and they did. As a result, what was a pretty good opportunity for a 2019 ring was wasted yesterday, in my mind because of inaction due to incompetence. And the sub-par performance of the Yankees’ GM has been a two-decade-long issue, whether you realize it or not.
So after my fanaticism wore off yesterday, and my objectivity and optimism returned, my hope today is this: This is the end of Brian Cashman’s tenure as GM. If the Yankees want to win a World Series at any point in the foreseeable future, he needs to go.
“But the rings from way back, but the 90 something wins per year, but the re-build of the current roster, but, but, but…”
Here’s the bottom line:
Cashman became the Yankees’ GM on February 2nd, 1998. He inherited a roster built by Gene Michael and Bob Watson that included (in no particular order): Jorge Posada, Tino Martinez, Derek Jeter, Bernie Williams, Paul O’Neill, Tim Raines, Andy Pettitte, David Wells, David Cone, Mariano Rivera, Mike Stanton, Jeff Nelson, Chad Curtis, Daryl Strawberry, Ramiro Mendoza, Scott Brosius, Chili Davis, Ricky Ledee and Shane Spencer. All of those players were contributors to the championship in 1998, and many were contributors to the championships of ’99 and ’00 as well.
I’m not giving credit to Cashman for those rings. Those rings should go to Howie Spira who got George Steinbrenner suspended and out of the way so Michael and Watson could build a dynasty.
Want to know what Cashman contributed to those championship-winning teams?
Chuck Knoblauch, Hideki Irabu and El Duque Hernandez. Eric Milton was lost in the Knoblauch trade who went on to be one of the better pitchers in the American League for a three-season stretch. Knoblauch was a contributor for sure, so you’d make the deal again if you were the Yankees, but it wasn’t exactly a heist – Minnesota would make that trade again too. Irabu was acquired for Ruben Rivera which was a good trade but I don’t think anyone would argue the Yankees would not have won without Irabu. And El Duque was purchased. Everybody knew he was good. Not everybody had the cash for him.
Roger Clemens was added in ’99 and was a major contributor, as his tenure as a Yankee was much better than most people would like to admit. But he was acquired from Toronto as a salary dump. Sorry, I’m not giving too much credit there.
David Justice was added in ‘00, which was obviously big. He was a key contributor in both the regular season and postseason for a team that won a title. But the Yankees gave up Jake Westbrook in the Justice deal. Would the Yankees do the trade again? Of course. But so would Cleveland as Westbrook went on to become an All-Star and one of the better pitchers in the AL from ’03 to ’07.
Why is that significant? Because from ’03 to ’07 the Yankees had an offensive powerhouse that was literally one of the best offensive teams in MLB history, that gave them a legitimate chance to win every season. They did not, in part because the pitching staff assembled by Cashman to push them over the top consisted of the wondrous acquisitions of Jeff Weaver, Javier Vasquez, Kevin Brown, Jose Contreras, Jaret Wright, and Kei Igawa.
Eric Milton and Jake Westbrook sure would have been nice to have during those years.
Ted Lilly would have been nice to have too. For those of you who read “Moneyball” (actually read the book – not watched the movie) you’ll recall, as part of a three-team deal, Oakland received cash and Ted Lilly and the Yankees received Weaver. Lilly went on to be an above-average MLB pitcher for the next 11 seasons. Weaver was an absolute disaster for the Yankees, my apologies to actual disasters. And this deal was brokered, in part, by Billy Beane and Dave Dombrowski knowing that the Yankees would be dumb enough to overpay for a starting pitcher (Weaver) even though they already had a good one (Lilly) who was better.
“But a GM should get credit for putting a 90 plus win team on the field year after year, right?”
In most cases, yes, but not this one. The offensive juggernaut of the aughts was comprised of players that were inherited from the previous regime (Jeter, Posada) acquired in salary dumps from other teams (A-Rod, Bobby Abreu) or simply purchased (Hideki Matsui, Gary Sheffield, Jason Giambi). Robinson Cano was the only big hitter to be drafted by the current regime during that stretch.
“Let’s move on to Cashman’s 2009 ring. Let’s give some credit here, right?”
Here’s where I’ll give credit: Nick Swisher was a heist. They got him from Chicago (who was not dumping salary) for absolutely nothing. Swisher produced over 3 WAR per year for four seasons as a Yankee and batted to a 124 OPS+ clip (100 is league average) over that span. That was a great move.
But we all know that it was the purchases of C.C. Sabathia, Mark Teixeira and to a lesser extent, A.J. Burnett that got Cashman that ring. He finally decided to just buy his way out of the hole he dug with the crappy decisions of the previous decade or so. So, if you show me a GM in 2008, who had access to spend in the neighborhood of close to a half a billion dollars on three players, but thought that Sabathia, Teixeira, and Burnett just weren’t that good – I’ll give Cashman credit for ’09. But my guess is you can’t and I won’t.
So let’s get to the common theme here: Brian Cashman has had access to financial resources to which no other GM can even come close to having. From 1999 to 2012, he spent more money on players than every single team, every single year – in many cases by obnoxiously large margins. In 2013, due in part to the Dodgers ownership group pulling out their checkbook and in part to Hal Steinbrenner wanting to save money, Cashman has slumped, spending most of his seasons between 2nd and 5th place on the biggest payroll list.
And again, not counting the dynasty he inherited, the Yankees have one championship to show for the billions upon billions of money he’s spent on rosters in 19 years. In many cases, hundreds of millions more than teams with rings.
And I’m not referring to the Red Sox or the Cardinals – teams who were both smart and had money. I’m talking about this:
Since 2001, the Yankees have won as many championships as the highly respected, always well run organizations of the Diamondbacks, Marlins, White Sox, Phillies, Royals, and Angels. I’ll pause while you re-read that. The Angels, Diamondbacks, Marlins, White Sox, Phillies, and the fucking Kansas City Royals have as many championships as the Yankees do over the past 19 years.
OK, but let’s flash forward to today. “Doesn’t he deserve some credit for this current re-build?”
No. I’m not giving credit to someone for re-building a building that he destroyed in the first place. And because of current events, even this re-build is probably over. The Yankees are well behind where Jeff Luhnow and Astros currently are as an organization, and the organizations run by the Epsteins, Friedmans and Beanes of the world are still out there. What’s worse news for the Yankees is that other MLB teams have caught on and are hiring the disciples of the above (and if not their disciples, people with similar characteristics) and will be much better, much sooner.
Except for the Angels. They hired a disciple of Cashman to run their team and what a shit show that’s been.
And don’t come at me with Gleyber Torres or DJ LeMahieu. Cashman wanted Kyle Schwarber for Chapman and Epstein said no. And if you can name another GM who had $24 million to give to a backup utility infielder, let me know, then I’ll give him credit for the DJ sign, but not until then.
Yes, of course, there have been some good moves that have contributed to the Yankees run of the past few years. The trades for Gregorius, Hicks and Voit have been larcenies and all three have been big contributors for the Yankees. But every GM will have a few moves that work out over the course of two decades, just by the law of averages.
But they haven’t led to a ring, and it’s not going to unless a change is made. Yesterday’s inaction likely cost them the 2019 season and the manner in which other teams are advancing is disconcerting, to say the least. Notice I haven’t mentioned that the Yankees are still in the same division as the Red Sox – a team with cash, who are run by the guy who convinced Cashman to take Jeff Weaver 17 years ago.
And to circle all the way back to current events, the team’s concern is starting pitching. So I don’t have to log on to Baseball Reference to see what was going on two decades ago, because I can tell you from recent memory:
Gerrit Cole was available for Clint Frazier 18 months ago. They likely could have received a pitcher like Syndergaard for Miguel Andujar this past offseason. Corbin, Ryu, Lynn, and Morton were all available for cash this past offseason. Deivi Garcia and Frazier are highly regarded prospects (hell Frazier isn’t a prospect – we know he can hit in the show) that other teams would love to have. Mike Ford and Kyle Higashioka have destroyed AAA pitching in Scranton – I’m sure other teams’ GMs have noticed even if Cashman has not.
And yet the Yankees are hinging their World Series hopes on Tanaka, Paxton, Happ, German and CC. Better than what most teams have for sure, but we know that staff isn’t shutting down Houston, Boston, Minnesota, Tampa or Oakland.
So apparently the plan is to hope that Severino, Betances, Sanchez, Voit, LeMahieu, Stanton, and Gardner all return soon and all play to their highest levels. If that happens, they’ll have a chance in a short series because that is a loaded baseball team. But they’d still be underdogs to the Astros and Dodgers even if by some minor miracle, that did happen.
So in essence, it’s a shitty plan after two decade’s worth of shitty plans and it’s time for the designer of the shitty plans to go. The ability to suffer the Steinbrenner family’s bullshit for two decades is the only thing that has prevented him from being unemployed already (seriously, read “The Game” by Jon Pessah) but even they must see it’s time for a change. Things are not good and they’re getting worse.
Unless you’re an Astros fan. Things are pretty damn good if you’re an Astros fan.
Did I miss something? Let me know.
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