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 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.