Mailbag: Cashman, Gardner, IFAs, Run Support

Only six questions this week, but some of the answers are kinda long. The Submit A Tip box in the sidebar is the best way to send us anything through the week.

(Mike Stobe/Getty)
(Mike Stobe/Getty)

Several people asked: What happens with Brian Cashman when his contract expires after the season?

A bunch of people sent in some variation of this question. Some nice (is it time for a change?), some not so nice (fire that idiot!). Needless to say, when you commit over $500M to free agents in an offseason only to get worse and potentially to miss the postseason for the second straight year, it’s only natural to wonder if a change in leadership is needed.

I’ve been a Cashman supporter over the years but I do think it’s time for the Yankees to make a change. He’s been the GM for 16 years now. That’s an eternity in GM years. The Yankees are still trying to win by almost exclusively signing free agents and that’s not just going to work in the game these days. The best players are not hitting the open market until their post-prime years. Baseball has changed but the Yankees have not. They’re still trying to build a team the same way they did 10-15 years ago and it’s not working.

I feel the Yankees have reached the point where bringing in a new GM with a different voice would really benefit the club. I think the same applies to managers and coaches too — eventually they get stale and it’s time for a new voice to shake things up. That’s human nature. It happens. The club’s way of doing business needs an overhaul, not one or two minor tweaks. I mean, given their payroll, other teams rely on the Yankees to make mistakes to contend, and there have been a lot of mistakes in recent years.

Who should replace Cashman? That’s a hard part. Assistant GM Billy Eppler is the obvious in-house candidate but he is being given serious consideration for the Padres GM job (he interviewed for the position yesterday, the team announced). He might not be a long-term option. Hiring someone from outside the organization is tricky because the New York market is so unique. Money doesn’t guarantee success and the expectations are through the roof. Experience in this kind of market is not required but it would preferred.

If Eppler gets the Padres job, I have no idea who the Yankees could replace Cashman with. Ex-Cubs GM Jim Hendry is in the front office as an advisor but no thanks. Advisor and ex-GM Gene Michael has made it pretty clear he’s out of the GM game at age 76. Scouting director Damon Oppenheimer? Eh, maybe. Hiring Billy Beane or Andrew Friedman away from their teams is totally unrealistic. There figures to be a few GM openings this winter (Phillies? Diamondbacks?), so the Yankees would have competition for the top candidates.

I do think it’s time for the Yankees to bring in a new GM — I’ve been saying they could move Cashman to a high-level advisor role when the time comes for years now, similar to Kenny Williams and Mark Shapiro, and I still think that. He’s worth keeping around, especially if they bring in a GM from outside the organization — because there needs to be some change. The team-building strategies are too outdated to continue. Going from Point A (Cashman) to Point B (new GM) will be very difficult and my biggest fear is Hal Steinbrenner and Randy Levine hiring some figurehead GM they can walk all over.

(Al Bello/Getty)
(Al Bello/Getty)

Joe asks: Why don’t the Yankees switch Gardner and Ellsbury in the lineup? Why bat Ellsbury third when Gardner has shown more power this year?

I agree completely. (I said this earlier this week.) Jacoby Ellsbury‘s batting third because he’s the big name and he’s the guy with the huge contract, but he is totally miscast in that lineup spot in my opinion. Brett Gardner would be as well, don’t get me wrong, but when you look at their skills, I think Ellsbury makes more sense in the leadoff spot and Gardner third. To wit:

  • Their batting averages (.288 vs. .284) and on-base percentages (.358 vs. .352) are essentially identical. It’s not like one guy has a big 25 or 40-point advantage or something.
  • Ellsbury is quicker to steal than Gardner. I don’t have any stats to back that up (I don’t even know if that stuff is available) but I think we can all agree that’s the case.
  • Gardner has shown more usable power this year (.144 ISO vs .106 ISO, 8 HR vs. 4 HR) and does a better job of taking advantage of the short porch. Every Ellsbury hit looks exactly the same — line drive to center or left-center. Hard to hit for power and clear the bases like that.

Since they get on base at almost the exact same rate, the Yankees would be better off using Gardner’s slight edge in power — remember, he has more power than Ellsbury but is still no better than an average power hitter overall — a little lower in the lineup, with potentially more men on base. It wouldn’t make a huge difference in the grand scheme of things, but when you’re struggling to score runs like the Yankees have been, I see very little downside to making the swap.

Daniel asks: Why is it that when you’re showing the rankings of different international prospects and you give MLB.com and BA’s, the rankings are so vastly different? It doesn’t seem like it’s quite as stark a difference with US prospects. Why the big gaps, and who do you trust more anyway?

I listed each player’s ranking in our massive International Free Agency Open Thread the other day — the unofficial final tally was 22 players and $26.8M in bonuses plus penalties, by the way, and there are still some more signings to come — and in some cases the rankings are very different. Venezuelan OF Jonathan Amundaray was ranked seventh by MLB.com and 22nd by Baseball America, for example. Dominican OF Antonio Arias was ninth by MLB.com and 28th by Baseball America. A two or three spot difference is nothing, but 15-20?

I think this stems from the general lack of reliable information about international prospects. MLB.com and Baseball America do a really awesome job of digging up info on these kids, but it’s still tough to find a consensus. Remember, these are 16-year-old kids who have a lot of development left. They are even more unpredictable than high schoolers, so the opinions very wildly. It comes down to the difference in sources, I guess. I trust Baseball America (Ben Balder) the most because he’s been on the international free agent beat for a while now and always seems to have the most information and the best projections (about who is signing where, etc.). I think it’s important to consider all possible sources through. The more info, the better.

Joe asks: Hiroki Kuroda gets terrible run support, it seems.  What Yankees starter has gotten the worst?

Kuroda has never gotten run support in the big leagues. The Dodgers never scored for him back in the day and even in 2012, when the Yankees had a good offense, they still never scored for him. Here is the where the team’s starters rank among the 157 starting pitchers who have thrown at least 40 innings this season (only Kuroda and Masahiro Tanaka have qualified for the batting title):

Juan Nicasio of the Rockies has received the most run support this year (6.79 runs per game) by almost a full run (Jesse Chavez and Matt Shoemaker are tied for second at 5.88). Andrew Cashner has received the least run support at 2.17 runs per game. Yikes. How in the world can someone pitch like that, knowing that if they give up two runs, they’ll probably lose? The Padres, man.

Maxwell. (Jason Miller/Getty)
Maxwell. (Jason Miller/Getty)

Dustin asks: Chris Capuano is now a free agent. Should the Yanks give him a minor league deal? Same for Jerome Williams and Justin Maxwell if they clear waivers. And would Nolan Reimold even be worth claiming on waivers and giving up something of minor value?

I’d take all four of those guys a minor league contract at this point, especially Maxwell, who might be a better option for the right-handed half of the right field platoon than Alfonso Soriano. He stunk this year (11 wRC+ in limited time), but Maxwell has hit .230/.344/.407 (105 wRC+) against lefties in his career. It’s not like the Triple-A Scranton outfield is full either. Reimold is hurt all the time (56 games from 2012-14) but has kinda shown he can hit southpaws (career 98 wRC+). Capuano has a knack for underperforming his peripherals and I consider both him and Williams as replacement level arms at this point of their careers. The Red Sox were nice enough to audition Capuano in the AL East for the Yankees. Of these four guys, Maxwell seems most likely to be useful.

TomH asks: RAB and others have recently noted a kind of creeping mediocrity among MLB teams, probably resulting from the Bud Selig era leveling moves. How do you think this pretty obvious general mediocrity will affect baseball’s popularity?

It’s probably a net win for the game. More teams are in the race and that means more fans are excited and paying attention (and going to games and buying merchandise). I joke all the time that the Yankees are unwatchable these days, but I watch a ton of non-Yankees baseball too, and I think the level of play around the league is very low right now. Most of MLB is Yankees-esque unwatchable. Is that because of Selig’s competitive balance? I’m sure that’s part of it. I think it’s good for the game overall to have more teams in the race and more fans interested, but I do think baseball is at its absolute best when there are two or three superpowers fans can hate. Maybe I’m just biased as a Yankees fan.

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Trading prospects for established players

“As unpopular as trading Melky and IPK (along with a lesser prospect) could make me, I probably would.” – the world’s biggest idiot, yours truly, in November, 2007, referring to…Miguel Cabrera.

Well, that certainly was embarrassing. A bit less embarrassing is this post about saving the Big Three. In that situation we made our pleas to not trade Phil Hughes or Joba Chamberlain, top-five prospects in 2007 and 2008, respectively, for Johan Santana. Even in hindsight that is somewhat understandable. The hype machine ran strong for Hughes and Chamberlain, and Santana was about to become massively expensive. With CC Sabathia‘s free agency looming, why not concentrate efforts there and hold onto the young arms?

With Miguel Cabrera, there is no justification for the prospect hugging mentality. At the time Cabrera had just completed his age-24 season, his third straight with an OPS+ over 150. His defense at third base looked poor to both the eye and the stats, and the media griped about his poor attitude, but those flaws are mere nitpicks when it comes to a generational talent. Following the 2007 season the Yankees had an opening at third and a virtual opening at first. Even if they hadn’t, there is always room for a player who can hit like Miguel Cabrera.

At the time the Marlins sought a starting pitcher and a center fielder. Detroit paid the price, sending top-five prospect Cameron Maybin and 2006 first rounder (projected first overall) left-hander Andrew Miller. In addition, the Marlins sent Dontrelle Willis to Detroit. That might have seemed like a sweetener for Detroit, but Willis was getting expensive and was coming off a poor season — though I’m not sure anyone knew at the time that he was cooked at age 25. Given the state of the farm system in 2007-2008, the Yankees very well might have matched up with the Marlins.

Phil Hughes’s name comes to mind first, as a pitcher comparable to Miller. Melky Cabrera was still a promising center fielder, though the Yankees also had Austin Jackson, who was a top-50 prospect before 2008, as a younger, more cost-controlled option. With a seeming horde of mid-tier prospects, perhaps the Yanks could have sweetened the pot and trumped Detroit’s offer. You could spend days imagining how Yankees history would have unfolded in that scenario.

The Yanks never really made a run for Cabrera, or at least that’s the way it’s portrayed, because they didn’t want to part with their three young, promising pitchers: Hughes, Joba Chamberlain, and Ian Kennedy. In hindsight, it’s a head-smacking idea. None of the three amounted to anything special. Each pitched well for certain stretches, but in the six full seasons since they debuted none has particularly stood out.

Looking back at this case boiled my blood a bit. It seems the Yankees haven’t made many good prospects-for-veterans trades since Cashman received “full autonomy” after the 2005 season. He’s made dozens of trades in that time, of course, but very few that involved prospects in exchange for solid, everyday veterans. The track record isn’t all that impressive when he did, either.

July 30, 2006: Traded C.J. Henry (minors), Jesus Sanchez (minors), Carlos Monasterios and Matt Smith to the Philadelphia Phillies. Received Bobby Abreu and Cory Lidle.

Perhaps Cashman spoiled us with this first big trade of his autonomous reign. Everyone knew the Phillies were going to trade Abreu. Given his large contract and the Yankees’ desperate need in the outfield, the match seemed perfect. The Phillies played tough, demanding Phil Hughes in early July, but Cashman waited them out and eventually landed them for what amounts to very little.

C.J. Henry was the Yankees’ first-round pick in 2005, but just a year later it was evident — to fans, at least, and apparently to evaluators as well — that he wasn’t going to work. Getting a previous-year first-rounder helped the Phillies save face, maybe, but this was a coup for the Yankees.

July 7, 2007: Traded Jeff Kennard (minors) to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Received Jose Molina.

While this is a minor move on the face of it, the Yankees certainly needed a backup catcher upgrade; they had been playing Wil Nieves there all year. Kennard was on the 40-man and expendable, so the trade worked out as well as a trade for a backup catcher can.

July 26, 2008: Traded Jeff Karstens, Daniel McCutchen, Ross Ohlendorf and Jose Tabata to the Pittsburgh Pirates. Received Damaso Marte and Xavier Nady.

The Yankees actually weren’t in that bad of shape at the time of this trade. At 58-45 they were just three games behind the first-place Rays and one game behind the Red Sox. With Jorge Posada out, they could have used some pop, and had an opening in the outfield thanks to Melky Cabrera’s horrible play. Nady had hit 13 homers and 26 doubles with the Pirates in what was looking like a career year. Tabata had proven disappointing by that point, and the three pitchers were back-end arms, at best, expendable for a first-division team.

Nady hit .268/.320/.474 in his 247 PA with the Yankees, quite a bit lower than the numbers he produced with Pittsburgh. That helped plenty, though, because Cabrera had played so poorly. The Yankees got essentially nothing out of Nady the following year, when he blew out his elbow. Tabata, while nothing special, has produced above-average numbers in three of his four MLB seasons.

November 13, 2008: Traded Wilson Betemit, Jeff Marquez and Jhonny Nunez to the Chicago White Sox. Received Nick Swisher and Kanekoa Texeira.

It’s still difficult to look at this trade and believe it happened. It wasn’t totally prospects-for-veteran, since Betemit had been in the league since 2004. But the Yankees certainly got a steal here, in a deal that probably no GM rejects. Hell, I’m not sure Kenny Williams rejects it.

June 30, 2009: Traded Casey Erickson (minors) and Eric Fryer to the Pittsburgh Pirates. Received Eric Hinske and cash.

Another minor move that deserves mention, because Hinske played a role on the best team in the league.

December 8, 2009: As part of a 3-team trade, traded Phil Coke and Austin Jackson to the Detroit Tigers and Ian Kennedy to the Arizona Diamondbacks. Received Curtis Granderson from the Detroit Tigers. In addition, the Detroit Tigers sent Edwin Jackson to the Arizona Diamondbacks; and the Arizona Diamondbacks sent Max Scherzer and Daniel Schlereth to the Detroit Tigers.

With Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui departing, the Yankees needed an outfielder and some pop at the plate. Granderson wasn’t exactly known as a power hitter at the time, but he had hit 20-plus in each of the previous three years, including 30 in 2009. He has certainly produced a few quality years with the Yankees, socking 115 HR with a 120 OPS+. It’s hard to call this trade a failure.

At the same time, Jackson has been quite good for the Tigers. He doesn’t have Granderson’s skills at the plate, though he has produced a higher OBP than Granderson since his debut. In terms of WAR Jackson actually comes out on top, 19.1 to 14.1 in bWAR and 14.6 to 13.9 in fWAR. Defensive measurement represents WAR’s most prominent flaw, so make of that what you will. This wasn’t a bad trade by any means, but it certainly wasn’t a steal of any kind.

December 22, 2009: Traded Melky Cabrera, Mike Dunn, Arodys Vizcaino and cash to the Atlanta Braves. Received Boone Logan and Javier Vazquez.

The initial reaction to this trade was somewhat divided. Some Yankees fans hadn’t forgiven Vazquez for the second half of 2004. Others saw how he’d pitched after leaving and thought it was a good fit. At first the trade looked horrible, then it looked better, then it looked horrible again.

In the end, it was certainly horrible — not only for Vazquez’s performance, but because they could have used Vizcaino in a different trade later.

July 30, 2010: Traded a player to be named later to the Cleveland Indians. Received Austin Kearns. The New York Yankees sent Zach McAllister (August 20, 2010) to the Cleveland Indians to complete the trade.

At the time this one didn’t seem too bad. Kearns had been good in the past and was seemingly amidst a resurgent season. McAllister was a middling prospect who probably didn’t have a role with the Yankees. Of course, the whole thing blew up in their faces. Kearns was generally horrible, and McAllister has started looking like a serviceable back-end starter.

July 31, 2010: Traded Mark Melancon and Jimmy Paredes to the Houston Astros. Received Lance Berkman.

Traded players to be named later to the Cleveland Indians. Received Kerry Wood and cash. The New York Yankees sent Andrew Shive (minors) (October 21, 2010) and Matt Cusick (minors) (October 21, 2010) to the Cleveland Indians to complete the trade.

Needing offense, the Yankees stood to gain with the Berkman acquisition. He wasn’t atrocious, but he brought no power to the table, hitting just one homer and seven doubles in 123 PA while struggling with injuries. Losing Melancon didn’t seem like a huge deal, since he’d struggled at every opportunity. But he’s turned into a serviceable reliever (who has, fairly, struggled in both New York and Boston).

The trade for Wood made and continues to make all the sense in the world. That one couldn’t have gone better, indeed: Wood ran his luck all the way through October, while the Yanks gave up no useful players.

April 4, 2012: Traded George Kontos to the San Francisco Giants. Received Chris Stewart.

Kontos turned in a very good 2012 season and a poor 2013. He’s still only 29 in 2014, and might be a useful piece of a bullpen. Stewart…I’m not even going there.

July 23, 2012: Traded Danny Farquhar and D.J. Mitchell to the Seattle Mariners. Received Ichiro Suzuki and cash.

This seemed to make sense, in that the Yankees needed an OF and they gave up what seemed like little. Mitchell wasn’t going to amount to anything, and they had just claimed Farquhar off waivers from the A’s earlier in the 2012 season. Yet Farquhar dazzled this year, particularly in the second half, when he took over as Mariners closer. Chances are he reverts to being crappy again next year, but again, there’s a mixed blessing here. Trading for Ichiro led to the ill-advised two-year contract. Then again, he also played a role in the Yankees staying afloat last September as the Orioles constantly threatened.

February 13, 2013: Traded Abraham Almonte to the Seattle Mariners. Received Shawn Kelley.

It’s tough to say, since Almonte only just made it to the majors. But Kelley has worked out well, and could help as the Yanks rebuild their bullpen post-Rivera.

July 26, 2013: Traded Corey Black (minors) to the Chicago Cubs. Received Alfonso Soriano and cash.

Soriano made the second half at least partly interesting, and really extended the Yanks life in the 2013 season. We all know how Cashman feels about Corey Black.

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This revisiting of prospects-for-veteran trades isn’t meant as a referendum on Cashman or the organizational philosophy. It’s not meant as a rip on the farm system. Instead, it’s meant as something of an eye-opener.

If media narratives in any way reflect reality, teams are more protective of their prospects than ever. The Yankees appear to be in that boat. From back in 2007 to now, they’ve played the reluctant role when playing the prospects-for-veteran game. Yet when you look through their track record, there aren’t many clear wins when they do partake.

Is that a lesson, that they should indeed be more reluctant, given their track record? Does it mean that they need to reassess how they evaluate their internal talent? I’d say no to the former and yes to the latter. Furthermore, looking at these deals makes me think that the Yankees should take advantage of this prospect-protective market and see what they can get for what they have in the minors. Given their current team landscape, it might be the best bet they have this off-season.

Cafardo: Rumblings that Cashman may be “a little tired” of Yankees

Via Nick Cafardo: There is speculation among rival executives that GM Brian Cashman has grown “a little tired” of the Yankees and could head elsewhere if he finds an opportunity he likes with another team. This directly contradicts what Jon Heyman reported last month, that Cashman and ownership have no interest in severing their “overwhelmingly positive longstanding relationship.”

Cashman, 46, has run the Yankees for almost 16 years now. He is under contract through next season and it is very uncommon for a team to let a high-ranking executive out of their deal for the same position with another team. A promotion? Sure. A lateral move? Doesn’t happen all that often. I suppose the team could fire Cashman this offseason if they miss the postseason, but that would really surprise me. If he was going to leave though, this is the time to do it. The big league team sorely needs to be rebuilt, the farm system has little to offer, and payroll is coming down. Not exactly the most appealing situation for Cashman or a potential replacement. Given their track records with this sort of stuff, I buy Heyman’s report more than Cafardo’s.

On Brian Cashman and Alfonso Soriano

“I would say we are in a desperate time. Ownership wants to go for it. I didn’t want to give up a young arm [Corey Black]. But I understand the desperate need we have for offense. And Soriano will help us. The bottom line is this guy makes us better. Did ownership want him? Absolutely, yes. Does he make us better? Absolutely, yes. This is what Hal wants, and this is why we are doing it.”

That’s what Brian Cashman told Joel Sherman just days after the Yankees acquired Alfonso Soriano last month. A lot of people have taken that to mean Cashman didn’t want Soriano, but he didn’t really say that. Maybe he meant it, but he didn’t say it. He simply said he didn’t want to give up a good but not great Single-A pitching prospect for a good but not great corner outfielder. Considering the Cubs had little leverage after Soriano said he would only waive his no-trade clause to come back to the Yankees, you can argue Black was an overpay. I think it was a fair trade, but that’s just me. Maybe Cashman thought they could get him while giving up something less. That’s not unreasonable.

Now that Soriano is pretty much carrying the team offensively — or at least producing the loudest with all the homers — Cashman’s taking a ton of heat for not wanting him even though that’s not what he said. It kinda sounds like he said that though and now he looks silly. Such is life. Does that have any actual impact on the team’s performance? Maybe, but I find that hard to believe. Maybe Cashman’s ego is bruised, but who really cares about that. He’s been the GM of the New York Yankees for a long ass time; I’m pretty sure he’s learned to tune out the public perception of him and the job he’s doing. You kinda have to to survive that long.

The question I and I think a lot of people have is why? Why did Cashman go public with his disagreement with the trade? Was he simply responding to a question or was it unprovoked? Was he suggesting the Yankees stink and should focus on rebuilding rather than adding another ancient player signed through 2014? Is he just sick of being over-ruled? No one knows other than Cashman and that sucks because it leads to all sorts of speculation. We’re all guilty of it and none of it is productive. Sure is fun though.

(Jim McIsaac/Getty)
(Jim McIsaac/Getty)

There is one thing I do know: Brian Cashman isn’t stupid. If you’ve listened to him talk at any point in the last like, 15 years, then you know he’s mastered the art of saying both a lot of words and nothing at all. He gives these long-winded answers and there’s nothing to them. Lots of words and no information. It’s amazing. Joe Girardi has gotten good at it as well. When Cashman does say something with actual substance, it’s because he wants to. There’s a reason he came out and said he didn’t agree with the Soriano deal trading Corey Black. There’s a message for someone in there.

An important thing — maybe the most important thing — to remember is that there are reputations involved here. What if Cashman was in trade talks with other clubs and told them Black was untouchable? It sure would look bad if he turned around and dealt him to the Cubs, wouldn’t it? That would make it tough to trust the guy in future trade conversations in my opinion. I remember a few years ago, while speaking at a WFAN charity event, Cashman said part of the reason he was so outspoken following the Rafael Soriano signing was because he had told other agents he was unwilling to go three years on a relief pitcher. He had to let those guys know hey, it wasn’t me. My bosses did it.

Cashman said he didn’t want to trade Black for Soriano for some reason. Some reason we don’t know. I don’t think he was out there thumping his chest trying to reassert his dominance over the baseball operations. He and the Steinbrenners reportedly have a great relationship and that’s the most important thing. That he’s not a simple “yes man” and is voicing his displeasure is a good thing (to some extent) even if comes off as unprofessional. A bunch of guys sitting around a table agreeing with each other is no way to build a baseball team. There has to be different voices. Cashman has been more outspoken these last few years — I find it really refreshing because he’s snarky and often brutally honest — and I think all of it is calculated. He’s not doing this for fun. There’s a method to Cashman’s madness.

Heyman: Mariners requested to interview Cashman for GM opening in ’08

Via Jon Heyman: The Yankees used their contractual right to decline the Mariners permission to interview Brian Cashman for their GM vacancy back in 2008. Seattle eventually settled on Jack Zduriencik. “I’m a fan of Brian Cashman. We’re both Kentucky guys. He’s an astute baseball man, and I like him very much,” said Mariners president Chuck Armstrong.

Despite some very public disagreements, Heyman says Cashman and team ownership have no interest in severing an “overwhelmingly positive longstanding relationship.” Cashman is under contract through next year and reportedly does not want to leave New York, plus an official told Heyman his job is “secure.” I still think Cashman winds up being promoted to some other position (President of Baseball Operations?) after next season with assistant Billy Eppler taking over as GM. I feel like that transition has been in the works for a while now.