Despite popular belief, New York Yankees general manager Brian Cashman has always worked on a budget. Only this offseason (and maybe last), Cashman has been forced to penny pinch in areas where he may not have had to in the past, or simply not participate in negotiations in places he was not ready to explore. There will be no shiny offseason toys arriving at the Yankees doorstep this holiday season. Instead, the meticulous plans will unwrap items of necessity, like a well made designer sweaters or ties.
Cashman spoke Sunday about his inability to pull the trigger on moves this offseason suggesting that he has to remain within a framework for spending, not just a budget number. The most recent example is Raul Ibanez departing for Seattle.
Cashman was quoted by Mark Feinsand of the New York Daily News about the now familiar situation of losing out on a player because it wasn’t the current focus on his agenda.
“I can’t have that complicate my ability to get what I want. We’ll need something for the DH spot as well, but the most important aspect right now is finding a right-handed bat in the outfield.”
I understand the desire to remain with the confines of a plan, but it seems that the plan has sometimes come at the expense of a smart decision. Ibanez, while 40-years-old, would have been a good fit in the lefty side of the DH platoon. His salary, $2.75 million with $1.25 million more incentives for one season, certainly fit the monetary confinements. In this case, I can’t see Cashman’s rationale for not at least getting more involved in the discussions. Same held true in my opinion when they allowed Russell Martin and A.J. Pierzynski sign elsewhere without any negotiating.
Having a timetable and model for the offseason signings shouldn’t preclude some variations when an opportunity presents itself. Would Cashman ignore a deal to upgrade in a certain area in which he is covered for now, if all the financial implications fit the Yankees’ plans? I don’t think he would. Without saying it directly, the Yankees, while “interested” in Ibanez, may have felt that whatever he could provided the team was not enough to circumvent the current priority of a right-handed bat.
Cashman and his associates have shown the ability to switch gears and to surprise in the past. Any inaction they’ve shown this offseason has been just as calculated as any move they’ve completed. They set out to sign fill their rotation and did so by bringing back Hiroki Kuroda and Andy Pettitte for one-year deals. They worked on re-signing Mariano Rivera and did.
A wrench was thrown in the plans when it was determined that Alex Rodriguez would need to undergo surgery on his left hip in mid-January, forcing Cashman to re-prioritize his need for a right-fielder. He had to put talks with Ichiro Suzuki on hold because filling the hot corner void was deemed more important. Rightly so.
Cashman engaged in talks with several options. He made an offer to Jeff Keppinger (a multiyear deal at that) but the consistent and versatile utility fielder agreed with the Chicago White Sox instead. Cashman moved on to Kevin Youkilis and eventually signed the former Red Sox third baseman to a one-year, $12 million contract.
He then put Suzuki back on the top of the list. All the while, Ibanez, for some reason, was getting antsy. But, Cashman would not waver from his plan while there was something more important in front of him. After a more than a week of intense talks and then a few days of very specific refinement of the contract terms, Ichiro was on board for two more seasons in the Bronx.
With three left-handed hitting outfielders, the next immediate vacancy was for a right-handed outfield bat to complement the crew of Suzuki, Brett Gardner and Curtis Granderson. So, Ibanez was not offered a contract, despite the knowledge that he wanted to sign quickly. It’s uncertain whether Ibanez’s agents engaged the Yankees in the end. No matter, Cashman would have passed as it is didn’t fit his pattern or the budget constraints to spend in that area before one of need.
“We never made an offer. I have to see how much money I have left. I don’t have an unlimited budget.”
Again, this looks like double-talk to me. Cashman knows very well what he can spend. That’s a nice way of saying the Yankees preferred to spend in a better way right now. So, the search continues for the elusive right-handed hitting outfielder. Scott Hairston is probably the best option out there, but he wants a multiyear deal and Cashman likely does not have that on his checklist for this slot.
I’ve written about the other options the Yankees have in the free agent market and via trade (an area that Cashman said is limited). There are players on the farm who could be given a shot, but the Yankees have already decided to go inexpensive at the catcher position and take a hit offensively in doing so.
It is unlikely they’ll want another young or inexperienced question mark filling a spot in the lineup. Feinsand suggested that the Yankees could check in on free agent Matt Diaz who hits lefties very well (.324/.364/.498 for his career). Diaz would be an inexpensive and experienced option, something Cashman surely has at the top of his itemized list of variables for the position.
While this may be Cashman’s toughest winter, he hasn’t exactly had to skimp. He’s doled out $62 million in guaranteed salary this offseason to five players. Instead, he created a plan and he’s stuck with it; the only sidestep being one to fill a spot due to injury. There will be no shiny new toys for the Yankees this holiday season, just a handful of luxury sweaters and ties providing the perfect to fit the Bombers’ wardrobe and in sticking with the original shopping list.