The winter of 2005-2006 proved to be a definitive one for the Yankees organization. After reaching the World Series in 2003, the team lost in the ALCS in 2004 and then, after getting off to an 11-19 start in 2005 lost in the ALDS, despite adding two expensive pitchers over the off-season. General Manager Brian Cashman’s contract expired after the loss to the Angels, and it was unclear whether he’d return. As he told an audience earlier this month, the team had been doing things George Steinbrenner’s way since the World Series loss in 2001.
Cashman got his autonomy after the 2005 season, and in the fourth year, after yet another new contract, he finally built a championship ballclub. While he had the advantage of baseball’s fattest checkbook, he also had to deal with aging players on long-term deals, a barren farm system, and a fan base that wants to win now at all costs. That’s not an easy balancing act, even when you can throw money at some problems.
So what has Cashman done with his authority? Here are the 12 pitchers and 13 position players who had the most playing time in 2005:
C: Jorge Posada
1B: Tino Martinez
2B: Robinson Cano
SS: Derek Jeter
3B: Alex Rodriguez
LF: Hideki Matsui
CF: Bernie Williams
RF: Gary Sheffield
DH: Jason Giambi
BENCH: Tony Womack
BENCH: Ruben Sierra
BENCH: John Flaherty
BENCH: Bubba Crosby
BENCH: Matt Lawton
SP: Randy Johnson
SP: Mike Mussina
SP: Chien-Ming Wang
SP: Carl Pavano
SP: Kevin Brown
SP: Jaret Wright
SP: Aaron Small
SP: Shawn Chacon
SP/RP: Al Leiter
RP: Mariano Rivera
RP: Tom Gordon
RP: Tanyon Sturtze
How did this group turn into the 2009 champions?
November 15: Re-signed Hideki Matsui
November 16: Traded Ben Julianel for Ron Villone
December 1: Signed Kelly Stinnett
December 5: Signed Kyle Farnsworth
December 8: Traded Tony Womack for a couple of scrubs
December 12: Signed Jose Veras
December 16: Signed Mike Myers
January 3: Signed Johnny Damon and Bernie Williams
January 4: Signed Octavio Dotel
January 6: Signed Miguel Cairo
February 10: Claimed Darrell Rasner off waivers
Four moves on three dates stick out here. First is the signing of Kyle Farnsworth. The Yankees reportedly made a run for B.J. Ryan, the top reliever on the market that off-season, but he ended up signing with Toronto to close. They moved on to Farnsworth, a questionable move at the time that didn’t work out at all. Farnsworth couldn’t even find his every other year magic in the Bronx. The other bullpen signings seemed to be low-risk enough. Mike Myers was the biggest otherwise, and the Yankees ended up cutting him a year and a half into the deal. They did also sign Octavio Dotel, who had undergone Tommy John surgery that past June.
The big move of the winter was to replace Bernie Williams with Johnny Damon. The Yankees got Damon at a price they considered fair, four years at $52 million, the same contract Hideki Matsui a little over a month earlier (January 3 was just the announcement date; the Yankees had agreed with Damon in December). Bernie Williams came back on a one-year, $1.5 million deal with $1.5 million in incentives. It upgraded the team in center field while providing depth. An outfield of Matsui, Damon, and Gary Sheffielded sounded good for 2006.
Cashman stayed away from the starting pitching market, which featured Kevin Millwood, A.J. Burnett, and Jarrod Washburn. They had Randy Johnson, Mike Mussina, and Chien-Ming Wang in the rotation, plus they expected Carl Pavano to return. With the 2006 payroll already above $200 million, there just wasn’t money, I guess, for yet another expensive starting pitcher.
April 15: Signed Carlos Pena to a minor league deal
May 18: Signed Terrence Long
May 21: Signed Eribiel Durazo
May 24: Bought Nick Green from the Tampa Bay Devil Rays
July 1: Signed Brian Bruney as a free agent
July 5: Selected Aaron Guiel off waivers
July 14: Signed Sidney Ponson
July 26: Traded for Sal Fasano
July 30: Traded for Bobby Abreu
July 31: Traded for Craig Wilson
The 2006 Yankees dealt with injuries to both their starting corner outfielders, and again had pitching issues. Cashman used band-aids in most cases, but jumped on an opportunity to upgrade right field on the cheap with Bobby Abreu. Otherwise these were just standard roster-filling moves. A shame that Sidney Ponson made a few starts that year. Little did we know…
November 10: Traded Gary Sheffield to the Tigers
November 12: Traded Jaret Wright to the Orioles
November 27: Signed Mike Mussina to a two-year, $22 million contract
December 7: Selected Josh Phelps in the Rule 5 draft
December 8: Signed Andy Pettitte
December 19: Signed Kei Igawa
December 22: Signed Juan Miranda
January 8: Signed Doug Mientkiewicz
January 9: Traded Randy Johnson back to the Diamondbacks
The off-season began with Cashman trading two guys who otherwise would have been free agents. The Yankees could have declined Gary Sheffield’s option, making him a free agent, but instead picked it up and traded him to the Tigers. None of the prospects they received in return worked out, though Whelan and Sanchez are still in the system. Getting anything, even the mostly useless Chris Britton, for Jaret Wright was a positive. The Yankees otherwise would have used the opt-out clause, triggered by time spent on the DL, in Wright’s contract.
With Matsui, Damon, and now Abreu set in the outfield, and with the infield reasonably in order, Cashman focused on pitching. The team lost the bid on Daisuke Matsuzaka, but brought back Andy Pettitte. They also saw Cashman’s one big pitching blunder in this period, Kei Igawa. At least they figured out early that he was a sunk cost. Other than them, there weren’t many names on the market. The injury prone Gil Meche went to Kansas City (where he had a few healthy, effective seasons), and a greatly overrated Barry Zito signed a horribly expensive contract with San Fran. Cash stayed away, and for good reason.
May 6: Signed Roger Clemens
July 21: Traded for Jose Molina
July 31: Traded for Wilson Betemit
The activity in 2007 had more to do with promotions from within than signings from outside, though the biggest move was an enormous deal. Desperate for pitching help, the Yankees signed Roger Clemens to a ridiculous contract. I guess they didn’t need the money that much. Clemens wasn’t a disaster, but he also didn’t come close to expectations. He was a decent starter, however, during a summer when the team needed a powerhouse offense to carry it to a Wild Card berth.
Thin on pitching, Cashman promoted Phil Hughes in April, only to see injuries keep him out until August. With the bullpen a shambles, and with Scott Proctor headed to L.A., Cashman promoted Joba Chamberlain to set up Mariano Rivera. When Mike Mussina pitched the worst stretch of his career, Cashman promoted Ian Kennedy, who worked through a successful September.
November 13: Signed Jorge Posada
November 19: Signed Mariano Rivera
December 3: Signed Jose Molina
December 4: Traded for Jon Albaladejo
December 12: Signed Andy Pettitte
December 13: Signed Alex Rodriguez
December 21: Signed LaTroy Hawkins
January 4: Signed Billy Traber
January 31: Signed Morgan Ensberg
February 1: Signed Alfredo Aceves (and ManBam!)
The 2007-2008 off-season will be remember not only for what the Yankees did — re-signing their high-priced veterans — but for what they didn’t do: trade for Johan Santana. Again the starting pitching market was bare, led by Carlos Silva and Hiroki Kuroda, and the Yankees weren’t biting. Santana made sense for the immediate future. It would cost them Phil Hughes and more, but it would give them the AL’s two winningest pitchers atop their rotation in Santana and Wang. With Mussina next in line, the Yankees could have added another fringe starter or two and headed into the season with a good rotation.
They refrained, though, noting their reluctance to pay for players in both prospects and big dollars. That meant starting the season with both Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy in the rotation. I’m sure that wasn’t an easy decision. No one thought it was a wise idea to just hand two rotation spots to two rookies, but were there any better options? It was clear that the Yankees didn’t want to lose their veterans, and perhaps they would have acted differently had A-Rod signed elsewhere. But given the empty 2007-2008 market and the fruitful 2008-2009 one, Cashman would take his chances the next year.
June 19: Signed Sidney Ponson
July 26: Traded for Damaso Marte and Xavier Nady
July 30: Traded Kyle Farnsworth for Ivan Rodriguez
July 31: Traded for Jhonny Nunez
Despite a failed pitching experiment plus the injury to Chien-Ming Wang and the presences of both Darrell Rasner and Sidney Ponson in the rotation, the Yankees were just a game back of the Wild Card in late July. Cashman pulled off the trade for Marte and Nady, but it just wasn’t enough. The offense continued to falter, and once Joba Chamberlain hit the DL in early August it was all but over. The Yanks had failed to make the playoffs for the first time in 13 seasons. Despite this, Hal Steinbrenner expressed his desire to retain Cashman.
November 12: Signed Damaso Marte
November 13: Traded for Nick Swisher
December 10: Signed CC Sabathia
December 13: Signed A.J. Burnett
December 23: Signed Mark Teixeira
January 26: Signed Andy Pettitte
Jackpot. Cashman waited for this off-season, and he used his checkbook to land the market’s top three free agents. The Yankees instantly had an ace, a No. 2, and a real first baseman. Not only that, they were players they really liked. Adding Pettitte capped what projected to be an excellent rotation. It was the dream off-season.
June 30: Traded for Eric Hinske
July 31: Traded for Jerry Hairston
August 7: Bought Chad Gaudin
The Yankees had enough pitching depth to absorb the loss of Chien-Ming Wang, and rejiggered the bullpen as they went along. The one weakness, the bench, Cashman addressed mid-season, bringing in Hinske for some pop and Hairston for versatility. Those are the types of move a championship team makes mid-season: complementary moves that give an extra edge to an already excellent team.
December 8: Traded for Curtis Granderson
December 9: Signed Andy Pettitte
December 18: Signed Nick Johnson
December 22: Traded for Javier Vazquez
Goodbye Johnny Damon, Hideki Matsui, and Chien-Ming Wang. Hello Granderson, Johnson, and Vazquez. These moves set up the Yankees well for 2010 without sacrificing too much of the future. Curtis Granderson is the only player signed for more than one year, and he remains affordable for the next few. Granderson and Vazquez cost prospects, but that’s going to happen. They did trade two of their top five, which does sting, but it’s part of a balance in trying to win now while keeping an eye on the future. Keep some, trade some. The Yankees have made those decisions this off-season.
I left off most of the minor moves, mainly because they’re not that important. Taking a minor league flier on a player costs little and brings no negative consequence if it doesn’t work out. These are the more prominent moves, ones that affected the major league club. So how did Cashman do? There’s open debate on some of them (the Nady trade, the Clemens signing), but I don’t think any of the moves actively hurt. Except, of course, the Igawa signing. But, as you can see, Cashman has signed just four free agent pitchers since the 2005-2006 off-seasons: Sabathia, Burnett, Pettitte, and Igawa. No one bats 1.000.
Couldn’t have done this without Baseball Reference.