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December 18, 2007

Juliano: Flexibility Makes Cashman Right Man For Yanks

William Juliano has decided to pitch in on the Cashman Appreciation Project. What follows below is William's own words. Thanks to William for sharing this content with WasWatching.com!

Every GM has to judged within the context of the team for which he works. In Brian Cashman’s case, we need to evaluate the role that he played in maintaining the Yankees run of success, as well as the steps he has taken to sustain it into the future. To do this, I have broken the Cashman era into three segments: the dynasty years (1998-2001), which focused on supplementing a core; the post-championship years (2001-2005), which focused on using free agents to supplement an aging core; and the youthful retooling (2006-?), which has focused on using an up and coming young core to revitalize the organization and sustain its success.

Dynasty Years

Brian Cashman inherited an immensely talented team in 1998. Still, there was one move that was very crucial to this team achieving regular season history and winning the World Series...the signing of Cuban defector Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez. With so much water under on the bridge, it’s easy to think of El Duque as a natural Yankee and assume that George’s money and brand more than Cashman’s negotiating skill was responsible for the coup. A careful check of the reports in March 1998, however, suggest otherwise. In the early days of the negotiations, Joe Cubas, El Duque’s agent, expressed significant frustration with the Yankees negotiating tactics, singling out George Steinbrenner and Mark Newman for pointed barbs. Once Brian Cashman assumed the role of point man, however, a deal was quickly consummated. In a New York Times article on March 7, 1998, Cubas stated, “I was about to cut a deal with Cleveland. We were at opposite ends of the spectrum yesterday. The thing that helped was that Cashman got directly involved, which he hadn't been from the very beginning.”

Think about that for a minute. If not for Cashman salvaging the negotiation, El Duque not only wouldn’t have been available to save the Yankees season in Game 4 of the ALCS, he very well could have been pitching AGAINST them!! As a result, in the one move, you could make a very strong case for Cashman playing a vital role in the 1998 championship season.

Another important decision from that season was one Cashman didn’t make...a mega trade for Randy Johnson. According to all accounts, the Yankees could have bagged the Big Unit had they been willing to give up a package of young players, including set-up man Ramiro Mendoza. Considering that the Yankees won the next three championships, that decision to hold off on Johnson has to be viewed as a wise one. Not only did the Yankees retain a valuable set-up man who pitched several key innings over the championship run, but they also maintained the clubhouse chemistry that was the defining feature of those teams. Who knows…Randy Johnson could have been dominant for the Yankees, but then again, he could also have been a disruption (and led to a series of other roster moves that would have made those teams very different). What we do know is the Yankees couldn’t have done any better over the next three seasons.

As listed by Steve Lombardi, Cashman registered a few very nice moves in 1999. The most significant one among them was adding Roger Clemens. It sure took courage to trade the bets pitcher off of such a historic team, but Cashman made that difficult decision and it benefited the Yankees for years to come (also, Cashman might have been able to pull off an even better deal if Hideki Irabu had not had a no-trade clause to Toronto). In addition to the Rocket, the additions of Jason Grimsely and Darryl Strawberry also proved to net positive results. Sure, Cashman may have swung and missed a few times as well, but with a team like the Yankees, what counts is the contact you make. With a much larger margin for error, a Yankee GM doesn’t have to be perfect. In fact, you can argue that he shouldn’t even try to be. After all, failing to take risks means limiting the reward.

Another trade from 1999 wound up bearing real fruit in 2000. After almost being able to trade Irabu in the Clemens deal, Cashman was able to package him to the Expos for Jake Westbrook and Ted Lilly. As we all know, Cashman then sent Westbrook to Cleveland in a deal that landed David Justice. I don’t think much needs to be said about the role Justice played in winning the championship that year. Once again, while it might only be one move, Cashman made a key decision that helped lead to the Yankees final ring in dynasty era.

Also from 2000, the Yankees signed Chien-Ming Wang to an amateur contract. That decision would pay dividends much later on.

In 2001, Cashman supplemented an aging pitching staff by signing Mike Mussina. Even though Cy Youngs and championships did not follow, Moose has gone on to have a very good career with the Yankees. By targeting Moose and bagging his prey, Cashman deserves credit for a wise play of the FA market. That year, Cashman was also busy in the amateur free agent market, adding Robinson Cano and Melky Cabrera. At this point, it is important to note how the Yankees were able to supplement their feeble farm system with international free agents. As free agents became the fuel needed to sustain the Yankee locomotive, these signings helped make up for the lack of high draft picks.

Post Championship

2002 clearly wasn’t one of Cashman’s stronger seasons as a GM. He did a nice job sending David Justice to the Mets for Robin Ventura (who filled a void nicely for the season). Also, at least for 2002 alone, the FA signings of David Wells, Jason Giambi and Steve Karsay all paid off rather handsomely. Unfortunately, the trade of Ted Lilly for Jeff Weaver stands out as a sore thumb. Although many touted the deal as a good one at the time, the record now indicates otherwise. Of the three main pitchers in the deal, Lilly and Bonderman proved to me much more valuable than Weaver. If not for this ill-fated trade, 2002 actually would have been another pretty good year on Cashman’s ledger. Still, the 2002 Yankees won a ton of games in spite of their early post season exit.

For the 2003 season, Cashman added Hideki Matsui to fill a long-time void in left field. He also made a savy signing of Jon Leiber that would pay off a year later. Most importantly, he picked up Aaron Boone from the Reds. While Boone really wasn’t very good for the Yankees, his one swing on a Wakefield knuckleball justifies that entire season for me. Considering that he didn’t really give up much, I think the deal was a very good one. What’s more, with the addition of Boone, Cashman was able to trade a lame duck 3B in Robin Ventura for Scott Proctor. For all the jokes about Proctor, he was hugely successful in 2006. In any event, the Yankees did make the World Series that year. Who knows, if Joe Torre wouldn’t have left Mariano on the bench in favor of Jeff Weaver, there might be another banner flying atop the Stadium.

With the loss of Pettitte and Clemens in 2004, the Yankees were in transition. His best FA signing was Tom Gordon (Sheffield goes on the Steinbrenner’s ledger, although one could argue that Cash’s preference for Vlad is feather in his cap). Also, Cashman was able to pull of one of the biggest trades in team history when he landed Arod for Soriano. Oh yeah...the Yankees received cash in the deal. Cashman also brought back El Duque, a move that paid huge dividends when he went 8-2 over the second half of the season. Other notable additions included John Olerud. On the draft front, the Yankees picked up a kid named Phil Hughes. In retrospect, Cashman’s 2004 was pretty good...he picked up a great bullpen arm; superstar player; emerging top prospect; and a few useful veterans. For a team that was a perennial winner, that’s pretty much all you can ask. Unfortunately, a few bad breaks and one historic comeback later, 2004 looks like a disaster. In reality, it was a pretty good year for the team and the general manager.

If one wants to pin a bad year on Cashman, 2005 is that season. Pavano, Wright and Womack were awful signings...both in retrospect and at the time. Having said that, 2005 wasn’t all bad either. The Randy Johnson deal didn’t bear the fruit that was hoped, but the Big Unit was actually pretty good that regular season (ERA+ of 112 and 5 wins against the Red Sox). Also, although minor at the time, the deals for Shawn Chacon and Aaron Small proved vital. When you consider that Cashman didn’t give up much in the Unit deal, and next to nothing in the other two trades, you can’t argue with that trio’s performance (34 – 11). Still, the Chacon and Small performances were necessitated by the awful deals for Pavano and Wright, so you can’t heap too much praise. Perhaps, where you can give Cashman more deserved praise is for his willingness to admit his mistakes and take the dramatic step of promoting Cano over a clearly awful Womack. With Wang and Cano contributing in their rookie campaigns, Cashman’s strategy of signing international free agents was starting to pay off.

Youthful Retooling

Heading into 2006, Brian Cashman finally had the autonomy he had long desired. His first major move, signing Kyle Farnsworth, certainly wasn’t a good omen, but his draft fared much better. By adding Joba Chamberlain and Ian Kennedy, Cashman continued a strategy of signing over-slot pitchers in an attempt to stockpile young arms (a strategy that has the Yankees as players in every major deal being contemplated). On the major league front, Cashman also signed Johnny Damon. Although the ultimate value of that contract is still to be determined, Damon was a significant asset in 2006. Another feather in his cap was the mid season addition of Bobby Abreu for next to nothing. That deal clearly spurred on the Yankees second half resurgence that culminated in a 5-game massacre of the Red Sox in August. Still, the Yankees fell short of their ultimate goal, and part of the reason was the failing of an older staff. Toward that end, Cashman seems to have realized the need to develop young starters and you can’t argue much with his progress to this point.

With 2006 signaling the need for a transition back to youth, Cashman traded three veterans (Sheffield, Johnson and Wright) for prospects. Although the jury is still out on the young arms received in return, the deals definitely highlighted the Yankees’ new philosophy. Unfortunately, the Kei Igawa deal got in the way of that plan, but even in spite of the large posting fee, Cashman wasn’t exactly effusive with his praise for the signing. Repeatedly, Cash labeled him a reliever/5th starter, so perhaps that deal came more from the team’s marketing department? In any event, 2007 continued the Yankees strategy of drafting high ceiling/high bonus talent, and saw the Yankees eschew trading highly touted young prospects for stop gap solutions.

How well the Yankees revitalized farm is at producing players will likely go a long way toward defining Cashman’s future legacy. Up to this point, however, I don’t think you can complain too much. Could he have compiled a stronger bench and bullpen in some years? Yes. Did he whiff on Pavano, Wright and Igawa? Sure. On balance, however, Cashman has seemed to make the right moves. From El Duque to Wang to Cano, he has tapped the international market with much success. With names like Proctor, Leiber, Small and Chacon, he has also had success scouring the scrap heap. By acquiring Arod and Randy Johnson, no one can doubt his ability to pull off a block buster. At midseason, the acquisitions of Justice and Abreu prove his ability to identify a void and fill it with the perfect solution. Finally, with his recent drafts, he has shown that he has been instrumental in changing the Yankees free agent first philosophy. As the Yankee team has changed, so too has Cashman. This flexibility, ultimately, is what makes Cashman the right man to serve as General Manager of the Yankees.

Posted by Steve Lombardi at December 18, 2007 01:00 PM


A question on one of Cash's recent prizes-- ARod. With all the talk of roids and HGH, why has no one mentioned the recent NY Times article about Arod the slumlord. Arguably much worse than PEDs and totally believable.

Posted by: dnemet [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 18, 2007 01:18 PM

With all the talk of roids and HGH, why has no one mentioned the recent NY Times article about Arod the slumlord. Arguably much worse than PEDs and totally believable.

PEDs -- while morality is always bandied about -- are really about getting an edge over an opponent.

I don't think being a slumlord makes you hit more home runs.

So I would say in a baseball context, taking PEDs is a lot worse than being a slumlord.

Posted by: baileywalk [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 18, 2007 01:22 PM

And speaking of A-Rod:

It's being reported that he has dropped Scott Boras for a new agent (a Hollywood agent who has no other athletes as clients).

I'll give A-Rod credit for this much: at least he didn't fire Boras right before he signed his contract, a la that scumbag Kenny Rogers, just to get out of paying him his fee.

Posted by: baileywalk [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 18, 2007 01:27 PM

Excellent article, William, I really think it fills what I called for in my article- a breakdown of the deals Cashman has made, in context.

It definitely highlights the off-season prior to the 2005 season as a killer for Cashman, darkening a rather bright sea of success. Clearly, this off-season has had ramifications on the next three regular seasons and may have contributed to the disappointment many fans (like Steve) feel. Still, there was plenty to like about Cashman from the previous and subsequent seasons. The doubters will see this as "Cash gets props for the good things but not blame for the bad." but once again, this is a website where the opposite is often true. Good work!

As for the first poster on the "slumlord" article, it was written by a woman who has had continued scorn for A-Rod and the Yankees at a newspaper (the Times) which has continuous scorn for the Yankees. Also this was her last feature article before she left the paper. Except for one small neighborhood, most of the tenants complained most about the management raised the late fee to $100 from $50, and they complained about how they had to pay more when A-Rod has all this money. They clearly do not understand business... should Steinbrenner's hotels be free because he has money? The story is stupid.

Posted by: mehmattski [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 18, 2007 01:51 PM

"A question on one of Cash's recent prizes-- ARod. With all the talk of roids and HGH, why has no one mentioned the recent NY Times article about Arod the slumlord. Arguably much worse than PEDs and totally believable."

Because it was written by Selena Roberts, who has a demonstrated history of being a hack.

Simple answers to simple questions.

Posted by: Rich [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 18, 2007 02:03 PM

Nice job. I particularly like to see some credit go to El Duque -- the Yankees' best post-season pitcher of recent years. I didn't know about the difficulty in negotiations.

I think that the problems of the Johnson deal are a little understated. The major cost for the Yankees in that deal was actually an opportunity cost. The money that went to Johnson could have gone to Beltran.

Posted by: jonm [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 18, 2007 03:33 PM

You raise a valid point about the opportunity cost, but if you argue that the Yankees could have had Beltran instead of Johnson, you also have to account for: (1) 17 fewer wins in 2005, including 5 fewer wins against the Red Sox. From whom would those wins/innings have come? (2) Beltran has had an OPS+ of 96, 150 and 126 over the term of his contract. If the first and third year represent his more likely performance levels (career OPS+ of 116), then was/is Beltran really worth $17 million?

Posted by: williamnyy [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 18, 2007 05:57 PM

Good questions, William.

(1) Vazquez could have eaten the innings. Johnson had an ERA+ that year of 112. Vazquez had an ERA+ of 100. A downgrade but not that huge of a downgrade. If you look at win shares above bench; Johnson had 9 that year and Vazquez had 8. That seems to slightly minimalize the difference between Johnson and Vazquez. But, still, I can't see that the difference is anywhere close to the difference between Beltran and the 600 at-bats absorbed by Tony Womack, Ruben Sierra, and Bubba Crosby that year (Bernie would have been the DH).

[In addition, Vazquez could not have been worse in his post-season start than Johnson was in his that year against the Angels.]

(2) At the time, I thought that Beltran was asking for too much money. I realize now that I was wrong about that. There has been salary inflation and, with his defense, he's worth it. In three seasons, he has had one disappointing season, an MVP caliber season, and an all-star caliber season.

Finally, Flaherty was terrible that year. Navarro may have been worth two more wins in the backup catcher slot. Even Brad Halsey would have helped out as a spot starter/long reliever.

Posted by: jonm [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 18, 2007 06:47 PM

Even if the difference between Vazquez and Johnson was only 1 win, that would have made the difference between winning and losing the division. Now, if you are the belief that division titles don't matter, I guess that would be irrelevant, but I kind of like collecting those flags.

Of course, had the Yankees signed Beltran and shifted Bernie to DH, they likely would have made up that one win, although not by as much as you'd think as the trio you named only DH'ed 41 games.

Finally, Flaherty was awful in 2005, but even with Navarro around, something tells me Joe would have played Flash anyway.

Basically, I think the most important element in the discussion is the Unit's 5 wins versus Boston that season. Maybe Javi could have matched that accomplishment, but I find that hard to believe. Unless one thinks Beltran would have made a difference in the 2006 and 2007 post season(overall offense and CF defense didn't seem to be too much of a problem in both seasons with Damon and Melky), I don't think there is much reason to lament getting the Unit instead of Beltran. Now, going forward, if Beltran continues to put up All Star seasons, well, then you'd have a stronger case.

Posted by: williamnyy [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 19, 2007 11:40 AM

Of course, had the Yankees signed Beltran and shifted Bernie to DH, they likely would have made up that one win, although not by as much as you'd think as the trio you named only DH'ed 41 games.
You can't just consider the trio's time at DH; you also have to look at their time in the OF. Throw Matt Lawton into the mix. With Beltran on the roster, these players would have had approximately 450 less at-bats. And they were all terrible -- sub-replacement level.

Even though Damon and Melky have been all right, Beltran is a much better defensive player than either one of them. That difference is probably worth a win per season.

Also, you're overrating the flawed "wins" statistic. Five wins against the Red Sox looks much better than 39.2 innings of 3.63 ERA (his splits against the Sox)

Posted by: jonm [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 19, 2007 12:14 PM

I don't know...39.2IP/3.63 ERA against the Red Sox looks very, very good to me. In fact, when backed up by stats like that, I don't think you can "overrate" the wins statistic.

Posted by: williamnyy [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 19, 2007 09:44 PM