For Cashman, it’s best to be lucky and good

On Tanking
ALDS Notes: Posada, Valdes, A-Rod, Dickerson

Yankees GM Brian Cashman has never shied away from assessing his own performance. When he produces a failure, he admits it. We saw him do just that during the off-season, when he said that he wasn’t able to answer the team’s needs as well as Boston did. Instead of landing the one sure thing he pieced together a high-risk group of pitchers who weren’t even guaranteed Opening Day roster spots. As it turns out, luck made all the difference.

The old cliche goes, it’s better to be lucky than good. But luck runs out for everyone, and only those who are good have something to fall back on. Fortunately for the Yankees franchise, Brian Cashman is good. That makes his lucky breaks that much better. The 2011 Yankees — AL East Champions and holders of the best record in the American League — benefitted from the good that built the core of the team, and the luck that held it together.

The evidences of Cashman’s luck surround the team. They start with the pitching staff, which got 311 innings and a 3.82 ERA out of Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia. When they signed minor league deals last off-season they felt like stopgaps. Surely the Yankees would pull off a trade and bring in top-flight reinforcements. Such a trade never materialized, but it didn’t exactly hurt the Yankees’ standing. Even as Garcia and Colon faded a bit down the stretch, the Yankees still persisted.

While Garcia and Colon stand out, other minor Cashman moves paid off enormously. Luis Ayala also signed a minor league deal in the off-season. If it weren’t for Pedro Feliciano’s injury, he might not have even made the Opening Day roster. By season’s end he threw 56 innings to a 2.09 ERA, soaking up innings when Girardi didn’t want to, or couldn’t, go to his top guys. His 20 games finished was second most on the team.

Cory Wade turned into a brilliant signing, not only because of his performance but because of what might have been. The Yankees snapped him up in mid-June, when he opted out of his minor league deal with the Rays. Had the Rays promoted him, the Yankees would never have realized his 2.04 ERA. Wade got them out of numerous jams this season, and made Rafael Soriano‘s absence a little easier to bear. Most importantly, he added a third reliable setup man to the bullpen, which allowed Girardi to better spread the workload.

On the other side of the ball, Cashman was more good than lucky. The first indicator of that: signing Russell Martin. After April he rarely impressed with the bat, but it didn’t take long to realize that Cashman signed him for other reasons. As Baseball Prospectus’s Mike Fast showed, Martin saves plenty of runs with his glovework behind the plate. Cashman also brought in Andruw Jones to fill the fourth outfielder role, after Jones showed signs of life, especially against lefties, in 2010. He even got a little lucky in that department: who thought Eric Chavez would have even 175 PA this year?

Those moves aren’t the only way Cashman is good, of course. It might seem, at times, that he succeeds because of others. There’s the core he inherited from Gene Michael. There’s the enormous Steinbrenner wallet that allowed him to sign CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, and Mark Teixeira in a single off-season. He acquired A-Rod because he had the money to do so, and then re-signed him for the same reason. While those might seem like moves that anyone with a pocket book could have made, it conveniently ignores one point. Not everyone has that pocket book.

That pocket book is not a perpetual blessing. It comes with certain strings attached, the foremost being the mandate to win every year. That mandate requires a balancing act. Sign too many free agents and you have no first round picks to rebuild the farm. Even with the first round picks, you’re on the board after all the blue chippers are long gone. Since taking the reins in 2006, Cashman has walked that line with precision. He’s made mistakes here and there, as any human being would. But for the most part he’s balanced the need for high-priced free agents with the need to bring in young talent.

Then we get to trades, where Cashman has fared very well. Two key players on the 2011 team, Curtis Granderson and Nick Swisher, came over in recent trades. Swisher was a complete heist, wherein Cashman took advantage of his opponents’ weakness. The Granderson acquisition was no man’s definition of a heist, but it was still a useful trade. They had to give up plenty — a top prospect in Austin Jackson and a useful pitcher in Ian Kennedy — to get him. But an outfielder was on the priority list for the 2010 off-season, and Granderson fit the bill.

At the same time, trading isn’t only about the transactions made. It’s also about the ones avoided. A recent report circulated that the Yankees and Twins had worked out a deal for Francisco Liriano this season. The Yankees ended up nixing it, which worked out pretty well for them. That’s just one known example. While every GM will lose on some trades, Cashman has, for the most part, managed to stay away from the big losses that can cripple teams — even teams with $200 million payrolls.

No GM is perfect. Brian Cashman has made his share of blunders. But on the whole he’s done a good job of balancing the Yankees’ need to win now with their need to win in the future. He’s made shrewd trades and acquisitions to build up the core of his team, and has gotten lucky on a few gambles. This is usually the part where the author compares him to his peers, but that doesn’t quite work with Cashman. He plays a different game than other GMs. He can afford to make certain mistakes that others can’t, but he still has to deliver a winner year in and year out. It’s easy to get lost in that jungle. But Cashman delivers. It will be reassuring, when the season ends, to hear that he’ll be back for three more years.

On Tanking
ALDS Notes: Posada, Valdes, A-Rod, Dickerson
  • JimIsBored (Jim S)

    Love the way he handles himself and the press as well. Perfect fit for NY. Don’t want him anywhere else.

  • Mark

    And he can abseil.

  • Jorge

    GM 4 Life, Brian Cashman.

  • Jose M. Vazquez..

    Second the motion by Jorge.

  • Sweet Dick Willie

    He acquired A-Rod because he had the money to do so, and then re-signed him for the same reason.

    I was always under the impression that it was Hank/Levine who “negotiated” (in the George Costanza vein) that horrendous contract.

    If indeed is was Cashman, well then I think you have to list that as one of his blunders.

    • B-Rando

      At the time, were the Yankees ready to let Alex Rodriguez walk away? Absolutely not. It was a period of great uncertainty for the team, and Alex was one of the sure things.

      Would he have gotten the same contract elsewhere? Probably not. However, it would still be a ridiculous contract upwards of 8 years at around 20-25 mil per.

      We all knew the contract was never going to be lived up to, but at the point in time where it was handed out, it was more of a necessity than a choice.

  • JobaWockeeZ

    Cashman should stay. He might not be wonderkid AA or Friedman but he’s good in his own right. And he’ll do something half of the commenters here will never do. Acknowledge he has failed. From Igawa to rash decisions of prospects or admitting the Red Sox beat him, whatever. He’ll admit it and learn from them instead of posting a one million word comment.

    • BK2ATL

      In order to be Friedman, your team would have to suck for a long time in order to rack up so many high draft picks (Evan Longoria, David Price, BJ Upton, Jeff Niemann, Josh Hamilton, Delmon Young, Carl Crawford, Reid Brignac, Wade Davis). Then when they mature and hit free agency, you let them go and get more 1st round picks. You have to remember that they were always getting the best available players at the top of each round of every draft for many years.

      Yes, they have done a much better job of spotting and developing their prospects, but that was the only way that they could compete, esp. in the AL East. Look at the game’s attendance last night, as an example. They don’t have the money to compete in free agency or international free agency.

      You could call it smart or whatever, but it was a necessary to invest in scouting and development, more than finished products. Then having a manager who is willing to put those kids on the field and have the patience to let them succeed or fail.

      Look at what Washington and Pittsburgh are doing in recent years.

      I’m glad we have Cashman who can balance the deep pockets, with the need to develop from within, as well as spot peripheral pieces from the scrap heaps who can be effective in the Bronx in the right situations.

  • BK2ATL

    He really deserves GM of the year.

    Any team that finishes 1st in the AL East with AJ Burnett, Bartolo Colon, and Fredy Garcia as main cogs in their rotation, deserves a lot of consideration.

    The Russell Martin coup over Boston, who were favorites to land him. Andruw Jones and Eric Chavez solidified the bench. And Ayala and Wade were true finds.

    The farm system is loaded and ready to contribute significantly. Nova and Nunez were regular contributors in 2011. Montero, Noesi, Laird and possibly Banuelos will be ready in 2012.

    Plus, he didn’t trade away the farm for Cliff Lee last year, nor Ubaldo Jimenez or Heath Bell/Mike Adams this year. This year we were so set that Cash didn’t even make a trade deadline deal like last year.

    He’s gotta get credit sometime, esp. if Theo gets so much.

    • BJ

      I don’t think Martin would have signed in Boston. Didn’t you hear how he feels about them? :P Haha.

      • BK2ATL

        That was after the process. I read several times that Boston was the leading candidate for him, but once again, tried to go ultra-cheap. Of course, I think I read the Yankees gave him a fair-market offer, which was maybe $1-2 million more than Boston. he jumped at it and the rest is history.

        Now I wonder if he puts in some winter time with Kevin Long and gets that bat back to All-Star level.

  • Dave B

    I was recently asked who I would rather have, Cashman or Epstein. This is a no-brainer, especially after the Yankees season! There is no comparison in my opinion just on number of championships alone. Cashman hands down — the NY and Boston markets are similar (I guess) but wading through the ownership issues and pressures of carrying on the championship tradition makes it obvious. Cashman is not perfect, but he is leaving his successor (at some point) a strong organization from the top down not unlike Gene Michael.

  • Guest

    Not sure if this post was written before the Deadspin story of Cash’s alleged infidelity broke, but it contains a lot of lines that are kind of hilarious in the context of a philandering Cash:

    “He’s made mistakes here and there, as any human being would.”

    “No GM is perfect.”

    “has gotten lucky on a few gambles.”

    “But Cashman delivers.”

    • ED

      lol…also, ew.

  • bobtaco

    I hope this doesn’t mess things up for Cashman re-signing, (bad timing obviously), but did everyone see Deadspin today?

    • bobtaco

      It looks like he wasn’t just getting lucky with the roster construction…

    • BK2ATL

      I doubt it, but he might go year to year since divorce is probably in the cards.

      He’ll be our GM if he wants it. I think after this season, he’s earned everyone’s respect. I’m sure the emergence of Nova, Montero, Betances and Brackman have also earned him plenty of leeway in decisions, rather than the quick-trigger fix of the Steinbrenners.

      Gonna be interesting to see if he really goes after Yu Darvish, rather than the huge contract and draft pick sacrificed on CJ Wilson. Watching how Cashman’s been operating in recent years, I’m thinking his decision would be Darvish. It’s just money, and less than what Wilson will command.

      • bobtaco

        I think I would go Darvish… and wouldn’t it be great if he actually lived up to the hype DiceK got. CJ Wilson just seems like AJ 2.0

      • BJ

        I’d be deathly afraid that Darvish would just be Dice-K 2.0 (a barely serviceable ML starter), or worse: Igawa 2.0 (a not even serviceable starter). Japanese imports make me too wary. The list of Japanese pitchers that have made the jump and then struggled is much longer than the list of ones that have jumped and performed as hyped.

        • bobtaco

          He’s half Iranian. He’s a big guy. He could still fail, but it’s false to call him a “Japanese” pitcher. He’s different than the other ones.

          • BJ

            It’s not his heritage that I have an issue with. I have no idea what his heritage is, nor do I care. It’s the drastic differences between Japanese and American baseball that have derailed every failed starter that has left NPB to play here. Different pitching schedules, smaller strike zone, different training regimen (long-toss is strongly frowned upon here); hell, even the BALL is different, smaller and harder than in MLB. As I said, there are AFAIK far more failure stories than successes when importing pitchers from the Japanese league.

        • BK2ATL

          I doubt Darvish will be Igawa or even Dice-K. I don’t expect him to be an ace, but if he does, great for us. I’d certainly sign him with lesser on-field expectations, and let him find his comfort zone, rather than thrusting him into the #2 spot.

          The marketing $$$ alone would intrigue the brass. He’d be a draw to market vacated by Wang and Matsui. And I think he’d be grounded by CC, Jeter and Rivera, who could mentor him on how to navigate NYC and the expectations and media. That’s something Dice-K never had.

          I also think he’d be a better option than whoever else, other than CC and Wilson, on the FA market. He’s a better long-term option than Colon or Garcia, both of whom no one believes can repeat their 2011 performances. The talent is there with Darvish, as noted by many MLB scouts and observers. I wouldn’t break the bank on him, but a posting fee of $30 million, plus a 4 yr deal worth $40-50 million would be the range I’d try to work within.

          CJ Wilson will get $80 million and up, probably over 5 years. He will also cost a 1st round draft pick. Is he really that good? Some though Lackey was an ace. Some thought Burnett was an ace. Wilson???

          I’d take a shot at Darvish, stick him in as the #3 or #4 starter and take it from there. A 2012 rotation of CC, Nova, Darvish, Hughes and Burnett would be competitive in the AL East.

          I’d be okay as well if they decided to get him instead, but selfishly, I have Banuelos penciled in as my 2nd LH starter in 2013.

          Do you have issues with Japanese imports like Honda, Nissan and Toyota as well??? Hahahaha!!!

  • BJ

    Just a small note, but I think it should be mentioned that prior to last night, Ayala’s ERA was an even more impressive 1.64. An overall high quality year for him.

    • BK2ATL

      He certainly exceeded expectations for me. I did a double take when he got a spot out of spring training. He certainly should be commended.

      I think last night was a blip. The team had pretty much mailed it in and was trying to get out of there without injury. Both Ayala and Wade had stepped up tremendously for us all year.

  • Jesus Freak

    Here’s to smoking the Lucky Pipe.

  • Ed

    What was the Liriano trade supposed to be? I hadn’t heard any of that, just the rumors in spring training.

  • Pants Lendelton
  • Rainbow Connection

    I wonder if his poor, poor helpless wife taking at least 50% of his money will affect things?

    • Brian S.

      At least he’s not leaving her with cancer.

  • Januz

    I think Cashman is an excellent GM, and he has succeeded in a place that might be the most difficult in sports to succeed in, because of the level of expectations. If he comes back, there are several huge questions that have to be answered.
    1: Will the Draft Budget be increased? I know the Major League and Draft Budgets are different, but they are getting a couple of big contracts off the books: Posada’s & Igawa’s. Can they shift some of that savings into the Draft & IFA?If they can it will help with competiting against Tampa, Toronto & most of all Boston in those two areas.
    2: Do CC & Soriano opt out, and if so, does he resign them, and if not does he risk arbitration?
    3: Do they sign a major free agent like Wilson or Darvish?
    The answers to those questions plus the degree of power that he will amass going forward, are what I will watch for.

  • Tom

    I think the Ubaldo non-trade was also huge. (though this is more of a projection at this point)

    It may cost the Yankees a bit short term but I think in the end it was good that he held firm and didn’t overpay (if the various rumors on the packages were true)

  • Brian

    It’s one of those deals where I certainly won’t miss Cashman if he leaves, but if he resigns neither I nor anyone else can complain about it.

    This team makes the playoffs every year, period.