Over at Grantland, here’s Jonah Keri on how Brian Cashman now runs the show in the Bronx:
Perhaps the biggest change in Cashman’s approach has been the way he values the team’s own prospects. Three years ago, he dealt Jose Tabata and three other young players to Pittsburgh for Damaso Marte and Xavier Nady. Two years ago, he forgot the cardinal rule: Never trade anything of value to bring Javier Vazquez to New York. But Cashman has grown increasingly stingy in his willingness to give up homegrown potential stars. He held on to Robinson Cano for years amid swirling trade speculation and concerns about his young second baseman’s unrefined approach, and got an MVP candidate for his patience. He’s resisted all overtures for phenom Jesus Montero, preferring to let the 22-year-old slugger swing for the fences in Yankee Stadium next year, not somewhere else. Though they might still get dealt at some point, Cashman’s refusal to sell too quickly on pitching prospects Manny Banuelos and Dellin Betances has resulted in both pitchers maturing into hot commodities with big value to both the Yankees and potential suitors. When the team does decide to part with a top prospect, it can only be if an excellent player offering multiple years of team control is available, the way Curtis Granderson was after the 2009 season.
And then, this:
But here’s the real $189 million question: Are prudence and austerity the right ways to run baseball’s marquee franchise? The Yankees have won just one World Series in the past 11 seasons. In 2010, they had a chance to trade for Cliff Lee, the best pitcher in baseball that year. As with all trade rumors, we can never exactly know what was discussed, and who may have turned down which offer. But the Yankees had Montero and other enticing prospects at their disposal to trade for Lee … and Lee went to the Rangers instead, who rode the lefty’s dominant performance in the ALDS and ALCS to the World Series that year, knocking off the Yanks in the process. When Lee spurned New York’s advances that offseason, the Yankees went bottom-fishing instead, taking flyers on Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia. Amazingly, both panned out. Still, there was a sense that last season’s team needed another front-line starter to make a title run. The Yankees never got that arm, watching the trade deadline pass without any major activity, then bowing out of the playoffs for a second straight year.
You can now make it three straight years that the Yankees could really use a strong no. 2 starter to slot in behind Sabathia. But the team’s lowball bid on Yu Darvish and lack of strong interest in C.J. Wilson and Mark Buehrle point to a GM who either didn’t want to spend a ton of money on free-agent pitchers this winter, didn’t like the names that were out there, or both.
Of all the lessons Cashman has learned in the past decade, none resonate more than this: The playoffs can be random, capricious, and cruel. He might still pursue a starting pitcher via trade, sign someone like Hiroki Kuroda as a solid tier-two option, or upgrade the roster in other ways. But if he doesn’t, he can look at a team built with true stars, not retreads, one with rare upside for a Yankees club with Montero poised to improve over a 162-game season. If the Yankees do nothing else this offseason, they’d be a strong bet to get back to the playoffs, where they’d have about as good a chance as anyone of going all the way.