Admiration for Brian Cashman’s body of work is not universal in Yankeeland. He’s made a number of questionable and even downright bad moves in the past, and a number of fans have let those moves define him. While Ben, Mike, and I generally support Cashman, we also appreciate the dissenters out there. Sometimes the glasses get a bit too rosy and we need to step back for a moment. Regarding this winter, however, it’s tough to say anything negative about Cashman’s performance.
Exiting a sub-par (for them) 2008 season, the Yankees needed two things: a front-line starting pitcher and a bat. Pitching was an obvious need. The team trotted out Sidney Ponson and Darrell Rasner for far too many starts in 2008. No one wanted to see that happen again. The team didn’t hit too well in 2008 either, and with the productive bats of Bobby Abreu and Jason Giambi headed elsewhere there was certainly a need for another middle of the lineup bat.
The bat came quickly. In mid-November Cashman acquired Nick Swisher and reliever Kanekoa Texeira from the White Sox for Wilson Betemit, Jhonny Nunez, and Jeff Marquez. There’s almost nothing bad to say about this trade in itself. Swisher is a classic buy low case, and the Yanks weren’t going to get much use out of the parts they traded. However, losing both Giambi and Abreu while adding just Swisher didn’t seem like enough. Many fans thought that the team needed another impact bat, though Brian Cashman insistent that Swisher was good enough to handle first base every day.
Fast forward to the Winter Meetings. The Yanks had offered CC Sabathia six years and $140 million at the outset of free agency, and the Winter Meetings would certainly be a time when they tried to get that signed and sealed. This is where Cashman excelled. He laid out exactly how much the Yankees wanted CC. He not only gave the typical Yanks pitch, but went so much further for Sabathia. I mean, the man flew — commercial — from Las Vegas to San Francisco so he could pitch CC’s wife. That’s dedication. Before Cashman headed back to Vegas he had told CC everything he needed to hear and had an agreement in place.
A few days later the Yanks outbid the Atlanta Braves for A.J. Burnett. So shortly after Cashman makes an almost-universally heralded move in signing CC, he made a highly questionable move in inking Burnett to a five-year deal. He’s a guy with a long injury history and who has pitched over 200 innings only in his two contract seasons. A number of fans panned Cashman for the move, and it’s tough to argue with them. Yeah, Burnett might have lived and learned, but he’s still a considerable health risk. Yet his upside is unquestionable. If healthy he could be a second ace on the Yanks staff.
The final blow came just days before Christmas, when the Yankees moved in on Mark Teixeira. All indications were that he was headed to Boston — one Boston blog even said they had an agreement in principle. After a morning of constantly refreshing Jon Heyman’s blog, I finally saw the news: the Yanks had signed Teixeira. As we later learned, not only did the dollars entice the first baseman, but so did the Yankees tactics. They laid low, surveyed the scene, kept in contact with the client, and when the critical moment came to pass they swooped in and got him.
While Burnett and Swisher were nice pickups, they’re not on the level of CC Sabathia and Mark Teixeira. That’s not only in terms of baseball skills, but in terms of the effort put forth by the Yanks to acquire them. They played both situations perfectly. With Sabathia they made their intentions known early and sat back while the pitcher pondered his situation. Other than a few benign quips from Yanks brass about CC’s offer not being on the table forever, the Yanks stayed quiet about the hefty lefty until they met with him at the Winter Meetings. Once there they alleviated his concerns about coming east and got the deal done. Ditto Teixeira. While Boston negotiated through the media, whether intentionally or not, the Yankees stayed back and pounced at the exact right moment. In the end, they were rewarded with the bat and the arm they needed heading into the winter.
Is that too rosy a depiction of the winter? I don’t think so. It’s just praise where praise is due. The Yankees front office, led by Brian Cashman, achieved their goals this off-season. Yes, money played a big part in it, but money was going to be an issue with both Teixeira and Sabathia anyway. We’ve seen teams turn down the money for a better situation (though Greg Maddux situations aren’t common), and the Yanks employed an effective strategy to ensure that their high bids would win them the prize. That is certainly praise-worthy.