An eye toward the future while retaining the presentBy
Earlier today, Brian Cashman and Randy Levine, center, helped lead the groundbreaking ceremony for Heritage Field. Last night, the two spoke about the Yanks’ organization. (Photo courtesy of the Yankees)
As the Yankee farm system plays host to numerous young stars, the team believes Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera will be back in the Bronx next year. That’s the message team president Randy Levine and general manager Brian Cashman delivered at a Times Talk last night.
Speaking to a packed house of fans and reporters, Cashman and Levine expounded on the past, present and future of the Yankees as Times reporter Michael S. Schmidt and later the audience bombarded the two team officials with questions. Levine, though, generated the biggest reaction when he issued his statement on Jeter’s and Rivera’s futures. “We don’t negotiate in public, but I would find it highly, highly unlikely if both of them were not back with the Yankees,” he said. “”Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera are the Yankees.”
Cashman, meanwhile, refused to comment as directly on the situation. He declined to respond to an audience member who asked about how A-Rod‘s deal could impact Jeter, and although he said that Jeter “still feels confident” at short and is viewed by the team as a short stop, he chose instead to highlight the team’s minor league stars. The GM spoke glowingly of Jesus Montero, Slade Heathcott, Austin Romine, the newly resurgent Dellin Betances and Andrew Brackman as the crown jewels of the system.
The talent, said the GM, stems from the recognition in the mid-2000s that the team just couldn’t spend away its problems. In 2005, the Yanks began to invest in the draft, but Cashman recognized the limitations of that strategy. “I hope,” he said, “we never pick in the top ten of the draft.”
Young and old were the themes throughout the talk, and as Cashman discussed a decade bookended by World Series Championships, he wistfully spoke of a future many of us would prefer to ignore. One day, Mariano Rivera, the Yanks’ “Energizer bunny,” will hang it up. “It’s going to be hell replacing him. He has been the most meaningful Yankee during this stretch,” Cashman said.
With this public approach, Cashman and Levine are playing an interesting game with the near-term future of the organization. As Jeter’s and, to a lesser extent, Mariano’s free agencies loom, all parties have been mum, but the Yanks have quietly and not-so-quietly expressed the belief that they will “take care” of their superstars. As I wrote last September, this statement creates a conundrum. Even as the team says it isn’t negotiating publicly, it has handed significant leverage to a short stop suffering through one of the worst first halves of his career. That four-year, $100-million deal many think may be coming to Jeter after the season ends strikes me as a bad investment.
Still, the Yankee brass have a clear plan. They might be willing to pay for nostalgia, but they know that the future rests with the younger players. As Randy Levine reiterated the team’s approach toward reinvesting revenue in the on-field product, it seemed clear that club officials are eying another decade or two of Yankee dominance.
Beyond the talk of the future, the discussion hit on the issues a Yankee fan would assume they would. After the jump, a rundown.
On Kei Igawa: An audience member asked Cashman if Kei Igawa would have another crack at the Majors, and the GM hedged his bets. He noted that Igawa “wants to be” a Major League pitcher and then spoke at length about the team’s new conservative approach toward Japanese scouting. “There are huge adjustments for players from Japan to U.S.” Cashman said, noting that pitchers, in particular, are susceptible to the changes in the game.
On those who want to be Yankees: In discussing the renewed focus on the draft, Cashman explained how not every free agent who wants to be a Yankee can be. Carlos Delgado wanted to sign with the Yanks prior to 2005, but the team already had Jason Giambi. Delgado went on to play with the Marlins and Mets where he hit 137 home runs with an OPS+ of 130 before injuries forced him out of the game. I always wanted Delgado as a 1B/DH platoon, but the Yanks were locked into Giambi’s deal.
On relief pitcher use: As the Yankees have tried to fashion a relief corps out of various pitchers, I’ve always wondered why the team isn’t more willing to use its best reliever in a high leverage situation. Sometimes, that’s the 7th inning with a threat brewing; sometimes, that’s the 9th. Cashman told an audience member that the team prefers using Mariano as a 9th inning closer because some hurlers can’t withstand the heat of the final three outs. “Stats don’t show that pressure,” he said.
On baseball as a business: Throughout the talk, both Cashman and Levine repeated the fact that baseball is a business. The Yanks don’t mind the empty Legends Suite seats because those customers are inside conducting business. Everything sells, and the Yankees, said Levine, have evolved to become an “entertainment and sports company around a baseball team.” It’s the logical progression of the game even if it robs baseball of its purity as the so-called national pastime.