Quick, off the top of your head, how many GMs have the New York Yankees
had since George Steinbrenner bought the team in 1973? Now, without
looking it up, how many can you name? O’k, time’s up! If you include
Bob Lemon’s five powerless months in 1979, 17 men have held or shared the GM duties over the past 34 years.
Possibly, more than any other owner in sports, Steinbrenner has
encapsulated the meaning of a win-now team. Three year or five
year-plans are for teams like the A’s or the Twins, but not the best
team money can buy. In fact only two of the 17 men who have worn the
title of GM in Steinbrenner’s tenure have ever lasted more than two
years. And one of them, Gene ‘Stick’ Michael, only exceeded the
two-year mark (1990-1995) because the Boss was suspended from baseball
for two and half years during Michael’s reign. The result, of course,
was the building of the latest Yankees’ dynasty. So, when Steinbrenner
hired Brian Cashman in 1998 you’d
have been hard pressed to find any Yankee diehard who would have
predicted that he’d still be the GM almost 10 years later. In fact, not
only is Cashman the longest tenured Yankee GM in the Steinbrenner era,
he is currently the 7th longest tenured GM in baseball.
Stability = Wins
If you don’t think stability matters, consider the success that the
six organizations have had who have had one GM for a longer continuous
period of time than the New York Yankees. Walt Jocketty (1995-
) is in charge of the reigning World Champion St. Louis Cardinals and
has seven postseason appearances, two NL pennants, and a World
Championship in his portfolio. John Schuerholz (1991- ) led
the Atlanta Braves to 14 consecutive division titles between 1991-2005,
and has five NL pennants and one World Championship during his 16 year
reign. Brian Sabean (1997- ) led the Giants to the NL pennant in 2002 and has four postseason appearances to his credit. Kevin Towers
(1998- ) won the NL pennant in his first year as GM and has led San
Diego to three postseason appearances while continually tearing down
and rebuilding the cost-conscious Padres. No one has done more with less than Terry Ryan (1992- ) in Minnesota where Ryan has led the Twins into the postseason four of the past five seasons. O’k, I take that back- Billy Beane
(1998- ) has done so much with less in Oakland that they came up with
a new baseball term for him, "Moneyball". Beane has led the A’s into
the playoffs five times in his nine years as GM. The lesson here,
stability not only counts, it wins. Of the seven longest tenured GMs in
baseball, five of them led their teams into the postseason last year.
While it’s no secret how important it is to have a steady hand at
the helm when building and maintaining a contender, and despite the Yankees’ unbelievable success
over the past decade, Brian Cashman is just starting to get his due.
How can a GM who was the first GM in major league history to win three
World Championships in his first three seasons, and has led his team
into the postseason in all nine of his years on the job be underrated,
especially in the media capitol of the world? Simple, it has only been
a little over a year since the Boss finally decided to do away with the
infamous "Tampa Mafia".
Tampa Mafia or Cashman?
Between 1998-2005 Steinbrenner’s main Tampa consiglieri, VPs Bill Emslie, Billy Connors and Damon Oppenheimer
had so much input that it was rather difficult to know what exactly
were Cashman’s decisions. For instance, while one might be able to
hoist some blame onto Cashman’s shoulders for the Kevin Brown
acquisition (which he supposedly supported), one cannot blame him for
the disasterous acquisition of Tony Womack which he was adamantly
opposed to. Sportswriter Phil Allard retells a humorous long-rumored
story of how the 2005 signing of Tony Womack was one of the final
straws in Cashman’s decision to leave the Yankees if he didn’t get more
authority. Allard writes,
"This was not Cashman’s move. he argued
against acquiring this human out-maker. In fact, Cashman was
dumbfounded when Damon Oppenheimer- who was objecting to Miguel Cairo’s
agent playing hardball- blurted out on a conference call: ‘**** for
that kind of money we could get Tony Womack’. One can only imagine the
silence that followed that phone call."
In Cashman’s first seven years on the job, an overly crowded
conference call was just one of the problems that made organizational
disorganization a common theme. One year former VP Lin Garrett was in
charge of Scouting, then VP Gordon Blakeley, next it was senior VP Mark
Newman, then VP Bill Emslie or was it VP Damon Oppenheimer? It was bad
enough that the Yankees probably had more VPs than the rest of the AL
East combined, to have them all changing hats every year caused mayhem
incarnate. The one thing that didn’t change in this period was the lack
of input provided to probably their best scout and the architect of
their 1990’s dynasty, Gene Michael (VP/Special Advisor to no one). Why
Steinbrenner would eschew the wisdom of his best baseball mind for so
long in favor of guys like Bill Emslie (a former minor league umpire
with no Scouting experience), and Billy Connors (a mediocre pitching
coach who had a 7.53 ERA in a pitching career that spanned all of 26
games) is still rather hard to understand.
As with any power sharing scheme, eventually one side usurped power.
In the fall of 2005, with both the Tampa and New York contingents
bickering, with Cashman’s contract ending, and with half the league
wanting to sign Cashman as their GM, Steinbrenner finally yielded a
morsel of power. Cashman re-signed for three years with the stipulation
that he would finally be given the authority he long sought. Before
re-signing Cashman actually wrote out a "Document of Philosophy"
explaining how he thought the chain of command should be. He re-signed
only after he received full agreement from the Boss that this document
would be adhered to. Had Steinbrenner finally gained some humility? Not
really. The reasons were two-fold. One, Steinbrenner hates to lose
anything, especially an employee so well thought of by the rest of his
peers. And two, the Boss’s health was clearly becoming an issue, and
son-in-law Steve Swindal (heir apparent) was beginning to take on more
responsibility. Swindal and Cashman have always had a strong bond.
Cashman’s Job Rating
When trying to assess Cashman’s GM record between 1998-2005, one must
take into account a few things. First, Cashman, just like his mentor
Gene Michael, has always believed in building from within. Most of the
Yankees’ expensive free-agent signings- Jason Giambi, Gary Sheffield,
Jaret Wright… were situations where Cashman acted as contract
negotiator only. Second, the lack of pitching depth in the minor
leagues was more a result of spotty scouting and decisions by
Steinbrenner’s groupies in Tampa to trade away young pitchers. Billy
Connors’ (Minor League Pitching Coordinator) infatuation with
reclamation projects like Aaron Small led to a lack of interest when it
came to signing young minor league free-agents. And third, Cashman has
always been a proponent of giving prospects a shot at the majors before
giving up on them. Robinson Cano, and Melky Cabrera would probably still be stuck in Triple-A if it weren’t for Cashman.
While it is difficult to assign credit or failure to many of the
Yankees’ moves from 1998-2005, Cashman’s stamp can definitively be seen
over the past two offseasons. If one were to rate him on this short
period of time, one would have to give him a round of applause. In
fact, I would argue that no GM did better this past offseason than Mr.
Cashman. Believe me, as a Mets’ fan, that’s not an easy statement for
me to make.
So, what has Mr. Cashman done in the past year and a half that allows me to assert such a bold claim. Let’s take a closer look:
1. He has rid the Yankees’ of a number of albatrosses and lowered payroll
2. He has rebuilt the pitching depth in the minor leagues
3. He has re-established internal stability
4. He has expanded the Yankees’ committment in the International Market
5. He is in the process of elongating the current Yankees’ dynasty
The Unmovable Contracts
This is a good place to start. The Yankees’ clubhouse has become
overcrowded with more than a few burdensome contracts in the past few
seasons. On the basis alone that Cashman was able to move three of
those ************ while receiving top prospects in return, I’d rate
the Yankees’ 2006 offseason a grand success.
If you ask most non-Yankee fans what the Bombers did this offseason,
they’d say they traded Randy Johnson and they’d stop right there. Well,
we won’t. Yes, the Yankees did deal Johnson, and what a great deal for
the Yankees it was. Over the past year Johnson had become more of a
"Big Albatross" than a "Big Unit" in the Yankees’ universe. Not only
did Cashman rid the Yankees of a broken down old version of a once
great pitcher, he shed $14-million from the payroll, and got a usable
major league middle reliever and three pretty good prospects to boot.
For Cashman 24-year old righthander Ross Ohlendorf
was the centerpiece to this deal. Ohlendorf, a 4th round pick in 2004
has had good success at every level he has pitched. An ivy league
graduate, he is a heady pitcher with steely composure. Last season he
pitched in Double-A where he was named to the all-star team. He should
begin this season at Triple-A Scranton Wilkes-Barre. Ohlendorf is a
sinkerballer with a low-nineties fastball and a plus-changeup. He
should be a top the Yankees call-up list if any injuries befall the
major league pitching staff.
Alberto Gonzalez is the other
interesting pick up in this deal. Gonzalez is a 24-year old slick
fielding shortstop who was acquired as a possible replacement for
utilityman Miguel Cairo next season. Look for Gonzalez to hone his
batting skills in Scranton and provide the Yankees with a solid
defensive presence off the bench in 2008.
Righthander Luis Vizcaino is an average reliever who adds depth to the major league bullpen for a year, and 24-year old Steven Jackson is a hard throwing righthander who provides the Yankees with yet another strong arm for the Scranton bullpen.
Just about everyone in baseball figured the Yankees wouldn’t pick up
Sheffield’s $13-million option and he would become a free-agent this
past fall. What chance did the Yankees have of getting any value
trading Sheffield if they did pick it up? With the Bobby Abreu
acquisition, there was no place for grumpy Gary. Who would give the
Yankees anything good knowing that Cashman would then have to trade the
malcontented slugger? The Tigers, that’s who. Cashman correctly
analyzed that there were enough teams willing to meet Sheff’s contract
demands, so he wisely activated the option, took him off the market and
negotiated a pretty sweet deal with the power hungry Tigers.
The prize of the deal was top-50 prospect, righthander Humberto Sanchez.
Armed with a heat seeker for a fastball and a deadly curve, the 23-year
old starter utterly decimated Double-A competition last year. While he
could continue to start, there are rumblings that he could be groomed
as Mariano Rivera’s replacement this season in Scranton.
Righthanded 23-year old Kevin Whelan
was a nice caveat to this deal. Drafted in the 4th round in 2005,
Whelan throws in the mid to high nineties. In his first full season in
the minors, he dominated High-A competition. Whelan will begin the year
at Double-A Trenton and could be Kevin Farnsworth replacement as the
top set-up man either next year or in 2009.
Getting 23-year old Anthony Claggett
tossed into this deal was a real sign that Cashman’s scouting
department is working overtime. Claggett, has a potential devastating
slider that gives him a shot at becoming a very useful middle reliever
in the majors one day. Claggett augments his slider with a
plus-fastball that allowed him to post an 0.91 ERA last season at
A-ball, Claggett gave up a total of 6 ER and struck out 58 men in 59
On the day before the Yankees had to decide whether or not to pick
up the $7-million option of the untradeable Jaret Wright or buy him out
for $3-million, Cashman picked up the option and traded him and
$3-million to the Baltimore Orioles for one of their better middle
relievers, righthander Chris Britton.
After a dominating and steady ascent through the minors, the 24-year
old Britton moved up to the big leagues early last year where he posted
3.35 ERA and a 1.17 WHIP in 53 IP for the Orioles. The overwieght
Britton is a Brian Bruney clone with a few less mph on his fastball,
but much better control. What makes this such a great deal is that if
the naive Orioles had just waited a day, almost assuredly Cashman and
the Yankees would have bought out Jaret Wright and the O’s could have
signed him as a free-agent and hung onto Britton. Instead Cashman paid
the same $3-million he would have payed anyway AND received a solid
reliever for his bullpen.
The Arms Buildup
After the 2005 season, with his newly attained authority, Cashman made
three very important decisions. First, he made it known to any GM
during trade discussions that top pitching prospect Philip Hughes
was untouchable. Second, Cashman brought Gene Michael back into the
loop. And third, he made a move to consolidate his power when he
replaced Scouting Coordinator of the day Bill Emslie with Billy Eppler
and moved the Yankees’ Pro-Scouting department back to New York from
Tampa. Replacing Emslie with the astute Eppler was the first move in
rebuilding the organizational pitching depth. Cashman recognized that
when rebuilding anything one must know what one has and what one needs.
More than anyone else, Eppler knew the true value of the Yankees’
inventory in the minors. The days of Emslie and Connors trying to
reclaim the potential of oldies-and-not-very-goodies were over. Guys
like Aaron Small and Scott Erickson would now have to buy a ticket like
every other New Yorker if they wanted to enter Yankee Stadium.
The redefining of the scope of responsibilities, would continue as a
hierarchy became clearer. Damon Oppenheimer’s responsibilities would
now be confined to what he does best, the running of the June draft.
Billy Connors would now just concentrate on coordinating the minor
league pitching programs. Bill Emslie would now take care of um, um…
shining George’s shoes?
In 2006, two of Cashman’s first moves were to sign young minor league free-agent pitchers Jose Veres (26-years old) and Darrell Rasner
(25-years old and former 2nd round pick of the Expos). Both were
immediately plugged in at Triple-A and both were able to fill in
effectively for the major league Yanks towards the end of the season
when injuries mounted. Cashman also jumped on a good scouting report
from Eppler to sign 24-year old minor league free-agent Brian Bruney
during the summer of 2006 after the D’backs released him. Bruney became
one of the Yankees best relievers during the pennant race. These were
the type of under the radar moves that the Yankees were unable to act
on during the Emslie, Oppenheimer/Connors’ era.
2006 also marked the first time Cashman would have the unquestionable
final say in the June amateur draft. Continuing in his quest to rebuild
the organizational pitching depth as quickly as possible, Cashman
authorized $7-million in signing bonuses as the Yankees drafted 14
pitchers with their first 18 picks (including 6′ 9" top high schooler Dellin Betances and first-round picks Ian Kennedy and Joba Chamberlain– photo on right). In all the Yankees drafted 26 pitchers. In July, Cashman signed one of the top pitchers from the Dominican Republic, Hario Heredia, during the international amateur free-agent signing period.
If you add the signing of Andy Pettite and Japanese free-agent pitcher Kei Igawa to the drafted pitchers (26), the meaningful minor league free-agent pitchers (3), the traded for pitchers (7), and the international amateur signing (1), Cashman has added 38 new arms to the Yankees’ organization since last spring. That’s 8 new pitchers on the Yankees’ 40-man roster, 12 new pitchers who will pitch at Double-A or above, 1 top-high schooler, 2 first-round draft picks, and 1 gem from the Dominican Republic.
By 2010 when Mike Mussina, Carl Pavano, Kyle Farnsworth, Mike Myers,
Luis Vizcaino and possibly George Steinbrenner are gone, it is not a
stretch of the imagination that the Yankees could have a pitching staff
brimming with prospects from their own farm system.
The Calm Within The Storm
One of the hardest tasks for a Yankees’ GM has always been to withstand the great pressure from the Boss and his brass to trade their best prospects in search of the missing link. As the trade deadline approached over the last two seasons, fans as usual
were barraged with articles of possible all-star additions as the
Yankees made their traditional World Series push. The name that
appeared most in these articles was Philip Hughes. While there
was much debate within the organization as to whether to trade their
top prospect, especially after he had suffered an arm injury the year before, the one voice that stayed constant in this matter was
that of Brian Cashman. The organization’s leading proponent of
‘building from within’, Cashman resisted all attempts by other teams that wanted to pry Hughes away. His patience payed off when he out-waited veteran GM Pat Gillick all summer and was finally able to obtain Bobby Abreu from the Phillies without having to part with Hughes or any other top-pitching prospect.
Cashman has continually shown this type of strong hand through all the Yankee
bluster over the past two failed postseasons. After the latest defeat
in Detroit, while journalists like Bill Madden
(Daily News), WFAN’s Mike and the Mad Dog and most of the New York
media were predicting the guillotine for the heads of Alex Rodriguez
and Joe Torre, Cashman deftly calmed the waters until the storm passed.
Assuaging the always media-conscious Boss was a grand feat that should
not be overlooked. Convincing Steinbrenner to keep Torre and lay off
A-Rod not only maintained the internal stability of the clubhouse, it
kept the Yankees from taking two steps backwards. There was no way the
Yankees could have gotten equal value for the best third-baseman in the
AL, and firing a skipper who has the full respect and support of his
players would have caused a collective clubhouse depression.
Make no mistake, Cashman does not make decisions based on loyalty
alone as the Bernie Williams situation proves. If trading A-Rod and
firing Torre would have actually improved the Yankees, they’d be gone.
The attitude that George Steinbrenner has cultivated within the
Yankees’ culture might best be described by this quote from legendary
British football (soccer) manager Bill Shankly, "Some
people believe sport is a matter of life and death. I’m very
disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more
important than that." The poise Cashman has shown in the
midst of this type of atmosphere could be his greatest strength. In a
land where he is in charge of giant egos, where those under him have
all held important roles within the organization, many of whom were
once his boss, he has provided a voice of clarity and confidence. While
Joe Torre has been given much credit for being the salve in the
clubhouse, it is time to give Cashman credit for being the calm within
the storm of the front office.
There really is no stone Cashman won’t turn. In the next week or two, Cashman will become the Marco Polo
of baseball as he leads a small contingent behind the Great Wall. The
Yankees will become the first MLB team to venture into China. The
purpose of the visit, to strike an agreement with the government of the
world’s largest population to train and develop prospects for a future
in the Major Leagues. Cashman has recently stated that he hopes to have
players from China playing in their lower minor leagues by 2010.
Since 2005, he has not only expanded the
Yankees’ international search for gold but also the budget for young
talent. While the Yankees have had one of the best international
divisions among baseball organizations for quite some time, and though
they have had great success in developing the likes of Alfonso Soriano,
Wily Mo Pena, Chien-Ming Wang, Robinson Cano and Melky Cabrera in
recent years, their signing bonus budget has not reflected that
success. Cashman has increased the emphasis on the signing of youthful
prospects rather than just spending for players who are close to major
league ready. In 2006 during the International Amateur free-agent
signing period Cashman authorized over $4-million dollars in signing
bonuses for 8 Latin American free-agents all under the age of 22-years
old. So, as the Yankees continue their search for the next Hideki
Matsui or Orlando Hernadez and bring in guys like Kei Igawa, they are
signing international teenagers at a much higher rate than ever before.
For the past two seasons Cashman has scored big in the teenage
market by signing possibly the two best Latin American
hitting-prospects in baseball. In 2005, he signed then 17-year old
Venezuelan outfielder Jose Tabata, and this past July he authorized a $2-million bonus to sign then 16-year old Venezuelan catcher Jesus Montero. Adding Cuban defector, 24-year old first baseman Juan Miranda
was another nice move. Besides Montero and Miranda, the Yankees signed
seven international amateur free agents this past July, including the
aformentioned Hario Heredia.
Extending The Empire
Between 1921-1964 no team in the history of baseball dominated the game
like the New York Yankees. In that 44-year period, the Yankees were in
29 World Series and won 20 of them. Since 1995, the Yankees have begun
a new dynasty. They have been in the postseason every year since then
(12 times). They have been in 6 World Series and won 4 of them. Anyone
who thinks this latest mini-dynasty is coming to an end, think again!
While it is impossible to plan for a 44-year dynasty, Cashman and the
Yankees are combining their enormous funds with excellent scouting and
the wisdom of patience. In 2010, most of their current mega-deals will
be over. Only Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez (who can opt out of contract after 2007) and newly signed Kei Igawa are presently under contract
through 2010. While Jason Giambi, Johnny Damon, Hideki Matsui, Jorge
Posada, Bobby Abreu, Mike Mussina, Mariano Rivera, and Andy Pettite
will be long gone by then, the Yankees are in great position to still
dominate. And that domination could easily last until 2015 and beyond
with the next herd of prospects on the way combined with the available
cash that will be in the budget for free-agents. While it is always
dicey to project the potential of prospects so far in advance, just for
fun I’m going to take a crack at it. How does this 2010 roster look to
Yankee fans who like the ‘build from within’ philosophy:
1B- Eric Duncan (Keep an eye on Juan Miranda though)
2B- Robinson Cano
SS- Derek Jeter
3B- Alex Rodriguez
LF- Melky Cabrera
CF- Austin Jackson or Free Agent
RF- Jose Tabata (photo on right)
DH- Free Agent
Util- Alberto Gonzalez
1- Philip Hughes
2- Chien-Ming Wang
3- Tyler Clippard or Free Agent
4- Ian Kennedy (photo on right)
5- Kei Igawa (W/Dellin Betances starting in 2011)
CL- Humberto Sanchez
SUP- Kevin Whelan (photo on right)
SUP- Joba Chamberlain
Midd- J. Brent Cox
Midd- Chris Britton
Long- Ross Ohlendorf
Lefty- Free Agent
*Other Pitching Prospects On The Way
Obviously, in the next few years there will be some trades,
free-agent additions, and injuries, but the most important point to
realize is that Cashman is putting the Yankees in a position where they
won’t have to rely on other teams to garner their talent. He is
building a minor league system that is filling up with quality and
quantity. If a Joba Chamberlain’s elbow gives out, there’s a Hario Heredia, or an Anthony Claggett right next to him. If the
Yankees see a good trade prospect, they have the numbers to deal from
instead of everyone and their mother just asking about Philip Hughes.
If the Yankees need to plug in one or two areas they can still buy the
best free-agent to do so, but they will have the leverage so they’re no
longer held hostage by agents like Scott Boras who love to peddle their
middling talent to the Yankees for contracts that last way too long.
The days of Jaret Wrights and Carl Pavanos donning pinstripes appear
to be over. The Yankees are approaching the next decade with even more
firepower than they possessed in the mid-nineties. And with Cashman at
the helm, I wouldn’t bet against this latest Yankee dynasty dominating
the majors for a long time to come. If Steinbrenner was smart, the next
long-term contract he would issue would be to Brian Cashman.
The color BLUE represents players who probably will, should be, or could be on the Yankees’ roster in 2010.
The color RED represents a position that might need to be filled by a free-agent in 2010.
Carl The Cabbie