The front office has done its job. Over the past five months the group, led by GM Brian Cashman, has retooled a championship team. That is no small task, especially in New York. The fans here expect a championship every year. There’s no use making excuses, either. Save those for the small market teams. In New York, a front office is expected to not only anticipate every possible scenario, but have a plan to deal with it and still deliver that championship. In other words, the front office has to work in a volatile atmosphere where they can’t possibly succeed every year. That’s part of what makes this team interesting.
As we’ve all come to learn during our years of fandom, the media environment in New York is unlike anywhere else in the country. Even as newspapers try to save costs by cutting sports coverage, nine beat reporters continue to travel with the team, including eight print journalists. Each newspaper features at least one columnist, and then there are the various TV and radio personalities. They’re all vying for attention, which oftentimes means riling up the fan base by any means possible. This only makes the front office’s job tougher.
The two aforementioned elements work together, creating a chemical reaction of sorts. If the team makes a mistake or goes on a losing streak the media outlets pounce. This riles up the fan base — the rabid fanatics who, again, expect a championship every season. The front office then has a choice. It can succumb to the pressure from all ends and make a move, or it can stand pat and explain, calmly and rationally, that to do something now could damage the future. Meaning, in other words, that a move now might not only fail for the current season, but could hurt the team’s chances of winning a championship in future seasons. Unfortunately, if either approach means losing now then the front office might not be around much longer.
This balancing act constitutes the toughest part of the front office’s job. The mandate to win now means bringing in solid veterans, which often means trading away prospects. Yet without an influx of young talent a team will also find a hard time winning. The front office has done what it can to walk that balance beam, but with such a small margin for error it’s inevitable that they’ll screw up. To what degree they screw up determines their futures with the organization. This current front office seems to have some semblance of balance, though a few unpopular moves this off-season could lead to agitated fans if the team gets off to a slow start.
What will Brian Cashman and company do if something goes awry? What’s the plan if Nick Johnson hits the disabled list? What’s the plan if Curtis Granderson continues to struggle against left-handed pitching? What’s the plan if Phil Hughes flops in the rotation? The other half of each question is of whether the plan is adequate compensation. Again, the front office can have a plan in mind, but if the plan doesn’t add up to at least a playoff appearance then the organization will face a deflated and angry fan base that doesn’t take well to explanations.
Over the past five days I’ve seen a lot of negativity toward the front office for the decision to start Joba Chamberlain in the bullpen. Yet this is just part of the aforementioned balancing act. Once the team acquired Javy Vazquez it was clear that only one of Joba or Hughes would make the rotation. The Yankees chose Hughes, moving Chamberlain to the bullpen. Could the team have optioned Chamberlain in order to keep him stretched out? Sure. But they also want the best seven arms in the bullpen. To option Joba would be to go north with a lesser reliever. It appears that the team just wasn’t prepared to do that this year. As Brian Cashman said on Michael Kay’s radio show, the decision fell on the win-now side of the ledger.
The front office will inevitably face many decisions that will cause a divide among the fan base. The Chamberlain incident presents a prime example. One side of the fan base, wanting to get the most value out of Joba while continuing his development, wants to see him in the rotation, whether in the bigs or in AAA. The other wants to win now, and views Chamberlain as an elite option out of the bullpen. The front office shouldn’t, and probably doesn’t, make its biggest decisions based on fan opinion. But it knows that fan opinion, if low enough, can cost its members their jobs. In other words, it’s all about winning now, which also means planning for the future. It’s a delicate balancing act, and this front office has shown that it won’t scrap one in favor of the other.