“Not a big fan of Cash any more, but I do have to give him credit for this year. The Yanks had a strong bench, great bullpen, above average starting pitching. Ironically, in the end, it was the Yanks’ hitting that led to the Yanks elimination.”
— Comment from Banterer Dimelo
The task of presenting an even-handed critique of the man we affectionately call “Cash Money” is surprisingly difficult. On one hand, there’s a record of success — six World Series appearances, four titles — only surpassed by George Weiss (no relation) and Ed Barrow. But there’s the counterargument that it’s easy to be successful when you work for a billion dollar enterprise and can show up, put pictures on a corkboard, affix a few stacks of bills to a sharp object and pick your target.
That perception is not reality.
Consider the pressure cooker. The expectation to win the World Series every year. That standard is set at the Steinbrenner level and trickles down to the fiber of each individual working in the organization. The work conditions, to put it diplomatically, are less than ideal. Forget the Steinbrenner factor for a second. Add Randy Levine, Lonn Trost, and the Tampa Brain Trust, and you have difficult politics to negotiate. This dynamic begat the most common criticism levied against Cashman: that he hasn’t built a team from scratch; that he wasn’t the one making the personnel decisions.
There is evidence to support that theory. Cashman was the beneficiary of the work done by Stick Michael and Bob Watson. Draft picks like Bernie Williams, Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera, and Jorge Posada had either blossomed or were maturing. Acquisitions like Paul O’Neill and Tino Martinez were already in place. Yes, he inherited a great team. It was made an all-time team when the Yankees traded Brian Buchanan, Eric Milton, Cristian Guzman, Danny Mota and cash to the Minnesota Twins for Chuck Knoblauch. Scott Brosius was picked up off the scrap heap to solidify third base. Those two moves alone proved to be a resounding introduction for the GM lauded as a Boy Wonder long before Theo Epstein.
But looking at Jason Giambi, Randy Johnson, Raul Mondesi, David Wells Part 2, Carl Pavano, Jaret Wright. Do those moves have Cashman’s stamp?
The tension led to Cashman having a Howard Beale moment at the end of the 2005 season. He considered leaving. Eventually, the gentlemen on the rung above Cashman decided to give him more autonomy, and he signed the extension that carried him through the 2008 season.
That winter, he signed CC Sabathia, AJ Burnett, Mark Teixeira and Nick Swisher to boost a team that had missed the playoffs for the first time since the 1994 strike. The 2009 World Championship team was all Cashman. Critics say he bought the title. But many youngsters on that team — Robinson Cano, Chien-Ming Wang pre-injury, Joba Chamberlain, and Phil Hughes — were able to have an impact because Cashman refused to trade them when presented the opportunities in previous years. Either Wang, or Cano, or both, were on the block for Randy Johnson and Johan Santana. Hughes was dangled as a chip as well. That season was the fruit of Cashman’s efforts to build the farm system.
In recent years, the Yankees have had depth. Instead of Tony Womack or Clay Bellinger, there was Jerry Hairston Jr., and Eric Chavez. Instead of John Vander Wal, there was a homegrown Brett Gardner, and Andruw Jones.
Perhaps the greatest difference in Cashman in the last six years of his tenure is his demeanor. There is a confidence that Cashman openly displays. He speaks to the media more directly and is more of a mouthpiece than he used to be. In some cases, the hard demeanor has backfired. The PR gaffes regarding the management of Bernie Williams’ exit, his silence during the Joe Torre negotiations following the 2007 playoff exit, the Joba Rules and everything that has occurred on that front, the Derek Jeter negotiations taking place in the media, and the Jorge Posada drama this past season all reflect negatively on Cashman. He whiffed on Cliff Lee not long after Lee whiffed the Yankees as a Texas Ranger.
And there are still moments when stories surface that Cashman’s authority has been overridden: The most glaring examples are 2007, when Hank Steinbrenner negotiated directly with Alex Rodriguez when A-Rod opted out of his contract; and last winter when Cashman said publicly he did not want to sign Rafael Soriano, and then lo and behold, Soriano was a Yankee and the heir apparent to Rivera, begrudgingly pitching the eighth inning a season after leading the AL in saves.
The three-year extension made official on Tuesday is the second since that “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore” manifesto. If you believe Wally Matthews, the Yankees are meandering. They have no direction. A few recent moves would indicate otherwise: Sabathia is re-signed; Swisher’s option was picked up; Andrew Brackman has gone the way of the parrot in the Monty Python skit. Rafael Soriano’s option, according to reports, is likely to be exercised. Looks like the first priority is shoring up what you have before filling in the gaps.
Priorities are being set. Now that Cashman is settling back in, he can begin establishing the direction, which he has said is pitching. Twenty-nine other teams are doing the exact same thing.
We have seen Brian Cashman grow from Boy Wonder to steely-eyed fortysomething. The winter following Cashman’s last extension featured the biggest spending spree ever. What he spends — or doesn’t spend — could define the remainder of his career in New York.
Only Barrow, who lasted 24 seasons, had a longer tenure than Cashman. When faced with the question, “Who else could do this job?” Weighing all the factors, given what he’s endured, and how well he understands the central nervous system of the New York Yankees, it may be that Brian Cashman is the best person for the job. He is, at least, for three more years.