Brian Cashman’s behavior in recent weeks has some wondering if he’s auditioning for a role in a remake of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. How else to explain Cashman’s decision to throw dirt on the signing of Rafael Soriano at his Yankee Stadium press conference? It’s one thing to be honest in answering reporters questions; it’s quite another to submarine one of your newest players, a pitcher who will be extremely important to Yankee fortunes in the late innings.
And then, as if we needed more evidence of Cashman cracking under the stress, we learn that earlier this winter he actually offered Carl Pavano a one-year contract worth $10 million. After misappropriating nearly $40 million of Yankee funds on Pavano, a man who clearly had little interest in actually working (or playing) for his money, Cashman apparently felt obligated to pad Pavano’s wallet again. Either Cashman knows nothing about pitching, as his critics have maintained for years, or he knows nothing about the lack of character of certain players. Can you imagine the reaction of the New York media, not to mention Yankee fans, to the news of Carl Pavano returning to the Bronx? That would have gone over about as well as the news of Pete Rose opening up an OTB parlor next to the Hall of Fame.
So what exactly is going on with Cashman? Is he, as some conspiracy theorists maintain, greasing the skids for his own departure at the end of 2011, when his contract expires? I guess that’s as good an explanation as any, but it does little to assuage Yankee fans who are concerned about what happens over the next ten months. The Yankees still have work to do. They will need to address the issue of starting pitching at some point. They will have to decide whether to surrender Jesus Montero in any deal for a frontline starter. And they will have to make the decision of whether to trade Joba Chamberlain now, move him back to the rotation, or let him settle into an inglorious role as a sixth- or seventh-inning relief pitcher. These decisions cannot wait for Cashman’s successor; they need to be settled before or during the upcoming season.
Given some of the statements coming from Cashman of late, I’m not sure if any of these issues will be resolved properly. If that’s the case, then perhaps it will soon be time to start thinking about who will be Cashman’s successor…
If there’s a positive development to come out of this strange postseason, it’s this: the inability to reel in Cliff Lee has forced the organization to address other, less publicized needs, like the catching, the bullpen, and the bench. The Yankees have had plenty of money to spend on these areas, which has resulted in the net gain of Russell Martin, Rafael Soriano and Pedro Feliciano, and now Andruw Jones.
As I wrote in this space a month ago, the addition of Jones, 33, made so much sense that I thought it would never happen, and yet it did! Jones put up an OPS of .931 against left-handers last season; similar numbers should play nicely on a team that is overloaded with southpaw swinging outfielders. On any given day, Jones can spell Brett Gardner in left, Curtis Granderson in center field, or even Jorge Posada at DH. With Jones batting seventh or eighth against left-handers, the Yankees should have good balance toward the bottom of their batting order.
Defensively, Jones is not nearly the all-world center fielder he was with the Braves, but still has enough speed and arm to spell Granderson, while spending more significant amounts of time in the corners. Jones is far from the defensive liability that Marcus Thames was; as long as the Yankees don’t ask him to play the field every day, he should hold up fine in the outer pasture.
I also like Jones’ degree of postseason experience. He has played in 17 postseason series (all dating back to his days with the Braves), where he has accumulated ten home runs in 238 at-bats and reached base 36 per cent of the time. Clearly, the postseason has not fazed Jones, an important consideration for a Yankee team that has missed the playoffs only once since 1995.
For those keeping score, Jones is the first native of Curacao to play for the Yankees since Hensley “Bam Bam” Meulens in 1993. At one time a top-notch prospect in the Yankee system, Meulens never found the plate discipline that he needed to become the star the franchise had once envisioned. (He also didn’t have a position; he was too stiff to play third base, and lacked the athleticism needed to play the outfield.) But Bam Bam has found success in his second baseball life, as the batting coach of the defending champion San Francisco Giants. Giants players rave about Meulens, who coaxed a career season out of Aubrey Huff and oversaw the hitting of Rookie of the Year Buster Posey. Bam Bam’s next big project will be finding a way to fine-tune the swing of Pablo Sandoval, while also keeping him separated from the buffet table.
Bruce Markusen writes “Cooperstown Confidential” for The Hardball Times.