In Philadelphia, the Cashman vultures are circling

For some reason or another, a small but vocal crew of baseball fans led by this man do not like Brian Cashman with a vengeance.

Some critics think he’s overrated and that the talent-evaluators working for him deserve more credit; others see postseason berths in every year of his ten-year reign as GM as indicative of the fact that he’s not good enough. He can’t build a bullpen; he can’t build a bench. You know the drill.

Well, outside of New York, the Cashman vultures are gearing up for what many, rightly, consider to be the steal of the century. When Brian Cashman, who many not seem to like the new Yankees organizational power structure all that much, leaves New York, Philadelphia will be ready to with open arms. Or at least the fans in Philly will be waiting.

Nothing is more indicative of this philosophy and outside view of Brian Cashman better than this post from The Good Phight. Take a look:

But what I find ironic about Cashman and how he’s perceived is that the same bloated payrolls that critics once alleged made it impossible for him to get burned by his mistakes now largely obscure the best work he’s done. Following the Yankees’ 2003 World Series loss to Florida and shocking ALCS defeat at the hands of Boston a year later, Cashman saw an aging roster and a largely depleted farm system. Cashman made a few additions of the type Big Stein had demanded since the ’70s, bringing in the likes of Randy Johnson and, um, Carl Pavano–but his focus was on rebuilding a farm system that Baseball America had ranked 27th in early 2004 and 24th before the 2005 season. A year later, that ranking had jumped to 17th, and an assessment by Baseball Prospectus a year after that put the Yankees at 4th of the 30 MLB teams. BP’s Kevin Goldstein wrote in December, “After years of sitting near the bottom of the organizational rankings due to some drafts that border on reprehensible, the Yankees have begun to place more focus and priority on the draft, and the results have come quickly. Their bounty of young pitching is the envy of baseball…”

That is, in essence, the praise that I have for Brian Cashman, and I would probably go one step further and give him a pass on the Carl Pavano deal. At the time, Pavano was a highly sought-after commodity. The Mets, Red Sox and Tigers were all showing various degrees of interest, and the Yanks got him at something of a bargain rate. Who knew that he would utterly break down and make fewer than 20 starts over three years? That was a great signing then; it just looks terrible in hindsight.

But the Good Phight’s point is one that is often overlooked, and it certainly relates to what Tommy said earlier. For much of the early 2000s, the Yankees were puttering along with no farm system. A series of poor drafts and few big-ticket international signings had left the system depleted, and the George Steinbrenner win-now-before-I-forget-it attitude led the Yanks to acquire pieces, such as Raul Mondesi, that never should have been in New York.

When Cashman made his power play, he and his people really turned things around. The Yankees are still big spenders; they can sign that big free agent — A-Rod, anyone? — when they have to, but they’ve built up an organization that is in the top five of all Minor League systems. They’ve got the chips to use when the time and returns are right, and they’re developing a core group of kids who are well on their way to becoming the next set of homegrown Yankee greats.

I believe that losing Cashman would not be a good move for the Yankee organization. Through thick and thin, Cashman has sustained Yankee success. He did it while facing constant pressure from a Boss who meddled too much in baseball affairs, and he did it by building up the farm when the Boss finally backed off. I’d hate to see the Steinbrenner brothers push him out, and Hank and Hal would be wise to heed a fan base and ownership in Philadelphia who could use a GM with Cashman’s ability to construct a top-notch Big League club while building up the farm for the future.

How the Yanks should build a franchise

We’ve got quite the lengthy discussion going on in the comments to my post on Joba Chamberlain, but one in particular deserves some recognition. Written by Tommy, the Phillies fan who serves as one of the co-authors of RAB’s offshoot at Breaking Balls (which you should all read), the comment talks about player development and spending with the Yanks’ seemingly unlimited budget:

I think the key question here is how the Yankees ought to leverage their clear superiority in the “ability to spend” category. There are more or less two ways to acquire talent that cost nothing but cold, hard cash up front:

1. Free agency
2. Scouting and player development

Because of the way the rights to young players are distributed (especially under the new CBA), the Yankees enjoy a massive advantage in scouting and player development. They can dole out huge bonuses to foreign players, whether they pan out or not. Smaller market teams regularly fail to sign top international free agents because the ownership is unwilling to spend a few million dollars on a prospect who may never reach the majors. But, in terms of average expected value, these types of deals tend to be favorable.

But the Yankees comparative advantage widens even further when you consider the Rule 4 draft. There, the unrealistic slotting system is supposed to dictate the bonuses received by players taken at each spot in the draft, thus leveling the economic playing field. In reality, players with signability concerns drop to the second half of the first round, where teams like the Tigers and Yankees scoop them up. Phil Hughes at 23rd overall, when he was the best high school pitcher in the draft? Exactly.

And by signing free agents or trading away these youngsters, the Yankees either forfeit the draft picks or forfeit the potentially high upside of scouting/player development types.

The danger of evaluating prospects is that occasionally it’s a good idea to trade a few, because individually they don’t have a ton of average expected value. But if you make a habit of it, as the Yankees did consistently after the 2001 season, you will significantly worsen your team while spending steadily more money.

By getting away from that trend, they have completely turned around their entire farm system.

Tommy basically nails the issue. The Yankees need to strike the right balance among player development through above-slot signings (as they’ve done), free agency pick-ups to fill in the holes and trades at the right time. The Yankees shouldn’t trade their top prospects for low impact pieces that they can find within their own farm system.

Of course, another piece to this puzzle is knowing when to trade which prospects. Here at RAB, we’ve advocated against trading Phil Hughes because his potential is sky high. At the same time, that makes him valuable as a trading chip, but just imagine if the Yankees had traded another sky-high prospect 15 years ago named Andy Pettitte when other teams came knocking? At some point, the Yanks will have to trade prospects we all like, but I’m sure they’ll get the right pieces in exchange.

For now, though, the Yanks have the luxury of money and depth on their side, and that should be a lethal combination for years to come.

Cashman: Yankee organization has a new power structure

As a follow up on my post from Friday about the shifting organizational structure in the Yankees Front Office, Yanks GM Brian Cashman has confirmed what we’ve known for a while. The Steinbrenner brothers are taking a more active role in running the team, and Cashman’s autonomy, granted to him by George in 2005, is waning.

Speaking at a Boston fundraising on Saturday, Cashman gave the media some insight into his current role in the organization. MLB.com’s PeteAbe has the word from Cash:

“The dynamics are changing with us. When I signed up with this current three-year deal, and this is the last year of it, it was with full authority to run the entire program. George had given me that. But things have changed in this third year now with the emergence of Hal and Hank Steinbrenner and that started this winter,” he said, “I’m learning as I go along, too. But it is different. But one thing is that I’ve been with this family, the Steinbrenner family, for well over 20 years. So I’m focused fully on doing everything I possibly can to assist them in their emergence now as decision makers.”

Meanwhile, an article on MLB.com has a bit more from Cash and his relationship with the Steinbrenners. “Everybody has their own style,” Cashman said. “And Hank has obviously taken charge on behalf of his father, along with his brother, Hal. They have different styles. Hal is more quiet and Hank is very available, but my job is to continue to line up the structure of the organization that can find the amateur talent.”

On Friday, I wrote about how the new relationships affect the Santana deal. Today, we can extend that look to the entire organization. Right now, Hank talks a lot — maybe too much — and Hal is the quiet, behind-the-scenes guys. While Brian Cashman knows and understand that he doesn’t have the same unilateral power that he had during the waning days of George Steinbrenner‘s reign, he stills has a very influential position of power within the Yankee organization.

From his comments, it’s clear that he is the de facto leader of any sort of transitional organizational team in place ensuring that the Yankees continue down the solid path they’ve built up of developing young players and making smart free agent signings to fill in the holes. While George got away from that plan earlier this decade, the younger Steinbrenners are seemingly much more willing to let this plan unfold.

Sure, they may be in on Santana, but right now, Hank has listened to Cashman and Hal, the two anti-trade forces in the organization. Because of that, Phil Hughes, Ian Kennedy and Melky Cabrera are both still on the Yankees and slated for pinstripes in 2008. While some of Hank’s more outspoken critics may not like what Cashman is saying, the Yanks haven’t made any off-season mistakes yet this year, and I’m willing to believe that the Steinbrenners are letting Cashman do his job. He did say after all that his job is to “assist them in their emergence now as decision makers.”

Make as much of that as you will, but in the end, that’s the General Manager’s job. Every signing, every contract, every trade in baseball will always have the seal of the team’s owner’s approval. The Yankees — even with Cashman’s so-called autonomy — were no different the last few years, and they will be no different going forward. The difference instead lies in the mental health and acuity of the men at the top, and the younger Steinbrenners seem prepared to build up a fiscally strong and talented Yankee team with the help of a top-notch General Manager. I can’t argue with that one.

In defense of Brian Cashman

The Yanks’ loss tonight sure was disheartening. They failed to hit; their star set-up kid — and remember, he’s just a kid — couldn’t deal with a swarm of bugs and was a little wild; the back end of their weak bullpen failed to get outs in key situations.

For a small but vocal minority of Yankee fans, the fault for this team lies with Brian Cashman. The Yankees GM hasn’t been able to field a World Champion team since 2000, and even then, that team was largely the product of his predecessors Bob Watson and Gene Michael. So Cashman, because his teams are continually flawed, despite a payroll that has finally grown to $200 million, should be fired.

Well, I do not buy it for one second. When Brian Cashman inherited the Yankees — a team he, as an assistant general manager, helped construct — they were at the start of a great run of World Series championships. His work led the team to three World Series championships, five American League Championships and a playoff berth every single season.

But for some Yankee fans, the team has failed every year after 2000. Who cares about the two AL Championships and the seven playoff appearances? Who cares about the 686-445 record with a.607 winning percentage tops among all Major League teams from 2001-2007.

So are we supposed to blame Brian Cashman because he’s put together a team that wins during the regular season but can’t win during the playoffs? I don’t think so. If you put together teams that win in the postseason but can’t get there, what’s the point?

The bad part are these best-of-five series. While I hate to make excuses, they’re hardly indicative of a team’s ability over the course of 162 games. Cashman has, while working with a very overbearing boss who insisted on giving Jason Giambi a contract about two years and $40 million too long, to name one, put together one of the most successful baseball games of all time. You can’t top that no matter how poorly the Yanks have done in October.

Meanwhile, the Yanks are down but not out at all. They face Jake Westbrook on Sunday and, if they survive, Paul Byrd on Monday. If the team clicks, there’s no reason to count them out and every reason to expect a game five. If they make it that far, you’ll see far less criticism of a team that, while flawed, isn’t exactly a disaster.

What to do

Sorry for the lack of posts recently, but the 3 of us have been busy and all that junk.

I’ve managed to secure a smidgen of time for myself amidst the chaos in my life, so I wanted to get something up on the site that could spark a decent conversation/debate and keep the site semi-interesting for more than 2 minutes. So here’s how it works:

You are Brian Cashman, and your team is in very real danger of missing the playoffs for the first time since Bill Clinton’s first term as Prez. The trade deadline is 11 days away and you have a pretty deep farm system (as well as a wealth of the most precious commodity in baseball, young cheap pitching) but few open spots on the ML roster. What do you do?

Discuss.

Cashman: we have a plan

Cashman just spoke to the media on hand. He basically said what we expected: they have a strict plan for Phil, and they’re not going to deviate from it.

He didn’t say it specifically, but this is definitely what he meant: Phil will have two starts in Scranton. He said they’re going to get him to 100 pitches before they even consider sending him up, so the 75 he’ll throw Monday won’t be enough.

He also seemed quite elated at a Juan Miranda question. Don’t rule him out being the starting first baseman next year.

Read nothing into Cashman’s comments

Nothing warms my heart better than typing the next three words: Great win tonight. The Yanks overcame Roy Halladay and Kyle Farnsworth to win a thrilling game. They shaved a game off the Red Sox lead and held steady in the Wild Card. Things are clicking.

Today, I would like you all to reserve the Kyle Farnsworth insults for the comments on this post. Instead, as Phil Hughes prepares for another Minor League rehab start, let’s talk about what Brian Cashman said yesterday afternoon.

As Peter Abraham noted last night, the Yanks’ GM spoke a bit about Kei Igawa’s spot on the rotation as Phil Hughes’ return comes closer. Cashman claims that Kei Igawa has been hurt by his irregular spot in the rotation and that Hughes has nothing guaranteed. “Until he’s ready it’s not something we have to consider. He’s not guaranteed anything,” Cashman told the Yanks’ reporters.

Now, let’s get one thing straight: Phil Hughes will always be a better pitching option than Kei Igawa. Kei Igawa won’t magically stop giving up home runs if he starts getting on a regular work schedule. He won’t find a way to make 115 pitches last 8 innings instead of 5 innings, and he won’t magically find a way to get out Major League hitters.

That being said, Brian Cashman here is doing his job as General Manager. He isn’t going to throw Igawa to the wolves even though we know Igawa will end up with the wolves if Hughes returns healthy and ready to go. He can’t say that, yes, Kei Igawa has just two more starts left in the Bronx this year. Considering that Kei Igawa is under contract for four more years, the Yanks won’t be as tactless as to cut him loose now.

Plus, as Abraham later noted, no 21-year-old is ever guaranteed a spot in the rotation based upon his work in 10.2 Major League innings. We know what Hughes can do; we saw it in Texas on the night his hamstring popped. For now, Hughes doesn’t automatically get that spot.

But know this, readers: Phil Hughes will be back in the Yankee rotation if he aces his last two rehab tests. Cashman will be on hand today in Trenton, and if Phil delivers the goods, as I expect him to, Cashman will say to himself at least that Igawa is gone. So don’t despair; Cashman is simply tending to his sheep. As the Yankees’ shepherd, that’s his job.