Cashman levels charges of fiscal insanity

When the Yanks on the World Series in 1998, they did so with a $73-million payroll. Despite the then-lofty price tag, the Yanks finished behind the $74-million, fourth-place Orioles in the payroll wars. That historic season would be the last time the Yanks lost that battle.

Ten years later, the Yanks are coming off a season that saw their payroll balloon to $218.3 million, nearly $70 million higher than the most expensive team to ever win a World Series. Brian Cashman, who is part of a Front Office that just doled out the most expensive contract in history and high-ticket deals to two other star players, now says that the bloat has to stop:

“We are high,” Yankees GM Brain Cashman said in an interview with ESPN 1050 New York’s Andrew Marchand. “If I could get our payroll lower [I would]. It is not going to happen — not this year. But we have, at the end of the year, a lot of numbers coming off. The combination of building our farm system and getting our salary lines back to where they probably need to be. That’s a process, too, and that takes some time. I’m not particularly proud that we have the highest payroll in the game.

“I just don’t think you are going to get the type of bang for your buck at the type of dollars that you are paying.”

For some Yankee fans, their instant reaction to this quote will be one of concern. The vaunted Yankees are going to enter a rebuilding period? No way, how how.

But what Cashman is saying actually makes perfect sense. With the farm system coming due at the same time a lot of contracts are coming off the books, the Yanks have the cheap, good pieces to plug in to the right holes. At the same time, with a lot of albatross-like contracts — Jason Giambi, Carl Pavano, Kyle Farnsworth — coming due, the Yanks can use that money to snatch up the right pieces.

NoMaas likes to say that if they had $200 million to spend, the Yanks would never lose. If Brian Cashman is true to his word and the Yanks’ brass don’t overreact this season, we may finally get to see what happens when the Yanks put together a well-constructed $180-million machine instead of a $200-million bloated roster.

Who’s next at the top?

Pitchers and catchers are still at home. Position players have a few weeks left in vacation. Yet, the Brian Cashman Job Watch is already on the go.

Today, Joel Sherman checks in with his latest: Brian Cashman may very be building a farm system for his successor. Using the Super Bowl Champs as an example, Sherman draws parallels between Cashman and Ernie Accorsi, the former New York Giants GM who built the current Giants team.

It is possible, and Cashman knows this, that he might be rebuilding a farm system for another man, that he will play Accorsi and hand off something ready to blossom to his successor. He insists he is fine with that prospect, recalling how fortunate he was to be gifted a championship roster from his predecessor Bob Watson, saying he owes it to that memory and to professionalism and to Yankees fans to guarantee his baton pass is as fruitful.

“You want to make sure it is sustainable for the next person,” Cashman said.

Cashman has just one year left on his contract. No one would be surprised if he returned again, that his love for the job and his long history with the Steinbrenner family produce another contract. But no one around the Yankees – or really around baseball – would be surprised either if VP of scouting Damon Oppenheimer, like Reese, graduates from heading a draft room to directing the big room. Oppenheimer’s outstanding recent drafts have provided much of the backbone to support Cashman’s vision of restoring youth and financial sanity to the Yankees roster.

A lot of Brian Cashman’s most vocal critics have long pointed to the Yanks’ farm system in the pre-Cashman days as a sign that Brian is an overrated GM. While this argument ignores the fact that Brian Cashman, as an Assistant GM before his days as a General Manager, was instrumental in building up the Yankees farm system, it also ignores what Cashman has been able to accomplish since 2005 when he seemingly wrested control away from King George and his Tampa minions in order to build up a franchise.

Since then, the Yanks have skyrocketed in prospect ratings from the low 20s to the upper echelons of the list. That is not to say that Cashman has been a perfect GM. I’ll happily defend Cash, but I know that the Yankees are a flawed team with an astronomical payroll. But it’s hard to understate the importance of their farm system.

They have top-notch arms in Joba, Phil and IPK ready to contribute at the Major League level now. They have position players who should develop just in time to contribute when they are most needed. And they have a new organizational philosophy that will keep them spending on the amateur draft and international free agents while maintaining a competitive Big League club through free agency.

Who knows what the future holds for Cashman? He may jet to Philadelphia as many have speculated. He may stick around. He could retire and come back after a few years away from the game. But no matter the outcome in 2008, he has left his mark on this team, and it’s for the better.

In Brian Cashman, we trust

It’s not easy being Brian Cashman. With numerous bosses and the weight of the epicenter of the baseball world on his shoulders, Cashman’s job is not one anyone should take for granted, and as Tyler Kepner masterfully details in The Times today, no one knows this better than Brian Cashman.

“I feel the responsibility of millions of Yankee fans on my shoulders, fans who take this very seriously and for which every game is very important. I think of that every day,” Cashman once said to Ernie Accorsi, and as we know, Yankee fans are very demanding, to say nothing of the Steinbrenners.

So here we sit, a few days after the first word of a plan to send Johan Santana to the Mets leaked out, and all eyes are on Brian Cashman. For the Yanks’ GM, too, it’s been a rough winter. He’s dealt with a new leadership structure at work, and last week, as his comments question popular Yankees, including long-time fan-favorite Bernie Williams hit the press, it seemed like this tumultuous off-season was finally catching up to Cashman.

But for all the talk of job troubles and personnel changes, for all the doubt surrounding the Santana trade and the pressures of having a real, actual baseball fan in the form of Hank Steinbrenner peering over his shoulder as much with his mouth as with his eyes, Cashman is right where he wants to be. The Yankees in 2008 are his team, and while many believe his fate will rise and fall with the Yankees, it’s not so simple for this 20-year veteran of the Yankee organization. Gone are the days when King George fired people at will.

Kepner details Cashman’s struggles:

Usually deft as the Yankees’ primary spokesman, Cashman is struggling with Hank Steinbrenner’s quick ascension to that role. At times, Cashman has seemed especially cautious; at other times, unusually candid…

Hank Steinbrenner, 50, is not as detail-oriented as his father; he is not apt to demand new carpeting in the training room. He is a passionate fan, in tune with the sport’s history, driven to win and often willing to speak his mind. Hal, 38, is considered more fiscally conservative, and he rarely speaks in public.

Cashman got what he wanted this winter. The Yankees re-signed their veterans while protecting their top prospects and also gaining a 2008 draft pick for letting reliever Luis Vizcaíno sign with Colorado. But there is a belief in the industry that it has been a trying winter for Cashman as he adjusts to the team’s new leadership, and the possibility that decisions could be made without his consent.

The pressure on Cashman — and make no mistake, a lot of it is self-induced — will be there all season, but we as fans shouldn’t be so critical as Cashman. And herein, my RAB friends, lies the rub: A few vocal Yankee bloggers have been ridiculous harsh in their treatment of Brian Cashman this year. They have questioned his every move as GM, and they don’t feel that the Yankees have three viable pitchers on their hands in Joba Chamberlain, Phil Hughes and Ian Patrick Kennedy because Jeff Cindrich or Sterling Hitchcock or Ryan Bradley never made it work in New York.

Let’s get one thing straight: Rare are the times when any Major League Baseball organization witnesses the meteoric rise of three pitchers with the pedigrees of Joba, Phil and Ian. Rare are the times when three pitchers are utterly dominant at every level of Minor League — and Major League — baseball. These guys are not your garden variety pitching prospects; these are three pitchers ready to contribute at the Major League level now and into the foreseeable future.

Yes, it’s true, the three of them may face innings caps this year. The Yankees have some valuable arms, and some caution at the start should pave the way for future success. But what they don’t have are question marks. It’s not a question of whether these pitchers will be good; it’s a question of just how good they will be. We — like Brian Cashman — know the ceilings. So when the New York Post says that Phil is pitching for Cashman’s job, it’s no big deal. Of course Phil is pitching for Brian’s job because Phil is a big part of Brian’s long-term plan to invest heavily — and wisely — into young arms. It’s going to work.

So as we sit here and watch the media swarm around the Yankees, we see questions and a General Manager under the most powerful of microscopes. But I’m comfortable with what Cashman has and hasn’t done this season. I believe in the young arms; I believe in Cashman.

Cashman playing an intense game of chess

I thought that once Johan was dished to the Mets, we’d kinda stop talking about him. We had some intense discussion about him yesterday, but I figured the mob would calm down and realize that this is far from the worst thing that could happen. In fact, as you know we’re going to argue, it’s a good thing.

If you’ve ever played chess, you know that a fatal downfall of any player is to constantly react to his opponent’s moves. If you don’t have a plan of your own and are constantly on the defensive, you’re eventually going to be crushed. Even if your opponent makes a blunder or two, if she’s got a plan and you don’t, you’re going to lose 95 times out of 100.

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The Bernie saga continues

I really don’t like this story, and I really want it to go away. I knew this would come out soon enough, but it didn’t have to. The sad tale of Bernie Williams‘ last year on the Yankees continues.

Bernie was always a favorite of mine. He was a solid presence on the team and was emblematic of the great Yankee teams in the late 1990s. But he never knew when to quit. After a poor 2005, we all figured Bernie would come back to the Yankees for a farewell tour in 2006. He never saw that season as anything other than just another year, and when Brian Cashman didn’t offer him up a contract for 2007, it seemed that the relationship between number 51 and the Yankees grew a little sour.

Now we didn’t know that it grew a little sour. Or at least we didn’t know until this weekend when Brian Cashman got to talking about it. In discussing baseball with Theo Epstein on Friday, Cashman started opining on Bernie:

Cashman took a few jabs at Bernie Williams, the popular Yankee whose exit from the team was not on friendly terms. Cashman said that Williams was terrible in 2005, but that he brought Williams back as a farewell in 2006. After Williams had a solid year, he wanted to return for 2007. But Cashman did not sign Williams. Cashman said that Williams’s music career “took away from his play.” Interestingly, Cashman said that Joe Torre, who was then the manager, looked for ways to play Williams in 2006 “ahead of guys who could help us win,” so Cashman did not want that to happen in 2007.

We saw this conflict emerge between Cashman and Torre in 2007, and when Torre wasn’t welcomed back for 2008, more than a few thoughts of inevitability ran through my head. The Yankees weren’t going to have Torre back unless he brought that a World Championship no matter what. Cashman had to take Scott Proctor away from Torre; he had to take Miguel Cairo away from Torre. And when the GM starts taking players away from a seemingly stubborn manager, the future does not look good. It’s just too bad that Bernie had to be dragged into this mess.

Meanwhile, Peter Abraham picked up the phone and called Bernie Williams who wasn’t too thrilled with Cashman’s comments. “I don’t think he has any basis to say anything like that,” Bernie said to Abraham about Cashman’s comments. “Let me put it this way: Questioning a person’s commitment to the team is a very serious accusation, at least in my book.”

I don’t blame Bernie was being upset with Cashman, but at the same time, I don’t blame Cashman for not offering Bernie a guaranteed Major League contract for the 2007 season. I just wish this spat hadn’t become so public. I wish Bernie hadn’t been so stubborn. We all hate seeing our favorite players taken down a notch, and that’s what’s happening here.

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.