As we here at Yanks Go Yard wrap up our “Grading the Yankees” series, we realize that no assessment can be complete without an assessment of the man putting together the roster we cheer and root for every single year: General Manager Brian Cashman. While it’s a popular sentiment for the GM to be lambasted for his free-agency failings (OK, Carl Pavano was a hot mess during his time in New York), of late, Cashman has been among the savviest GMs in the game, by shedding payroll, picking up the right players from the scrap heap, and, more importantly, not making the “obvious” move.
Right off the bat, arguably the two of the best moves that Cashman made in 2012 went hand-in-hand: the trade of A.J. Burnett that freed up enough cash to resign Eric Chavez and sign veteran DH/spare OFs Andruw Jones and Raul Ibanez. Despite a few respectable years in Florida and Toronto, the Yankees overpaid for the hurler as they came off the missing the playoffs for the first time in over a decade after the 2008 season. Despite helping the team win a championship in 2009 (we’ll always have Game 2 of the World Series, A.J.), Burnett was an underwhelming 34-35 with a ghastly 4.79 ERA during his three years in pinstripes. He also had an average 1.449 WHIP over that time, with 513 Ks to 587 Hs and 258 BBs- not exactly inspiring. Further, keeping Burnett would have added unnecessary filler, as having to keep Burnett in the rotation may have cost Phil Hughes and David Phelps (or a then-healthy Michael Pineda) plus their combined 20 wins out of the rotation on a numbers game alone. And, given the money that his contract cost for the final two years of the deal, it was not a sound decision to not trade him, particularly given that the savings would have allowed Cashman to shore up other holes in the roster. Not to be overly dramatic, but dropping Burnett was one of the best moves Cashman has made in a while.
Though Burnett had a solid year with the Pittsburgh Pirates, it was apparent that following a meltdown during his 2011 season, his time with the Yankees was over. In the swap, the Yankees received some fringy minor league prospects, but overall, this was a straight salary dump for the Yankees. Cashman was able to negotiate saving himself about $13 million despite coughing up nearly $20 million to the Pirates in the deal. While we assess the reasons for Andruw Jones’ decline in his assessment, and Chavez was a life-saver after the Alex Rodriguez injury, but the extra money to sign Raul Ibanez was the key element of the deal. Ibanez was able to fill in admirably in the field after Brett Gardner went down, and pitched in with the “Too-Many-Damn-Home-Runs” theme, hitting 19 dingers and driving in 62 RBI. Moreover, he was one of the only Yankees who didn’t embarrass himself in the playoffs, hitting .338/.437/.825 in the playoffs, not to mention the ALDS Game 3 walk-off, after also tying the game in the bottom of the ninth inning. Given the adversity due to losing players to injury, and the lack of production it caused, Ibanez was a solid player for the team and one of Cashman’s savviest low-cost, high-reward signings in recent years.
In typical stealth-mode, Cashman further added credibility to his cost-conscious ways despite being a member of the spend-happy Yanks when he, seemingly out of left-field (or right — see what I did there?), traded for Ichiro Suzuki from the Seattle Mariners for two minor league pitchers. Though the jury was out on what the declining player would have to offer, he didn’t disappoint. In 227 ABs, the veteran hit .340/.454/.794, with 14 stolen bases and 20 extra-base hits. Having constructed a roster of homer-happy players, Cashman added the missing element of speed to the Yankees’ lineup, giving them further dimension to the offense. Additionally, by added the outfielder, the Yankees were able to rest Ibanez and Jones from so much action in the field (which probably led to lesser offensive production for each player than otherwise expected). Moreover, Cashman gave up virtually nothing to get the outfielder, making a huge pickup that much better — and being able to add Ichiro to the team for 2013 and 2014.
The final jewel in Cashman’s crown has been the exact antithesis of his former boss, The Boss: the obvious lack of reactionary moves. If The Boss was still alive, how long do you think it would have taken him after that embarrassing ALCS loss to sign Josh Hamilton and Zack Greinke, after locking up Albert Pujols sometime last winter? A little dramatic, but all of you Yankees fans get the sentiment. Sure, it’s easy for Cashman to be able to spend, as fans of all the other teams in the league like to point out. But often, it’s the deals he doesn’t make for the sake of making moves. For instance: not signing C.J. Wilson; not trading for Jair Jurrjens; not signing Hamilton or Greinke this winter. The best moves Cashman has made were those in which he did not react to the problem. While that may not be the way that an entire generation of Yankees fans has grown up, it has also resulted in a great thing — a rebuild of the farm system, and develop from within, such as with Mason Williams, Slade Heathcott and Austin Romine, not to mention current contributors Hughes, Phelps and David Robertson. For all the heat he may take, since assuming greater control of the Yankees, Cashman has made (or not, as it were) solid moves to supplement the core of the Yankees, as opposed to the previous regime of rocking the boat.
- savvy bargain-basement shopper despite the big wallet
- doesn’t break the bank to add depth
- adept focus on building the farm system to add to trade options as opposed to free agency
FINAL GRADE: A-
Occasionally, teams just get beat, and unfortunately that was the case with the Yankees this year. That said, it wasn’t the fault of Brian Cashman. With solid supplemental moves given the financial parameters imposed upon him by ownership, as well as the constraints due to the distribution of the payroll. With all of that, plus the win-or-else mentality in New York, Cashman does a bang-up job, year in and year out. He is one of the longest-tenured GMs in the game for a reason, and whatever moves he does or doesn’t make, Yankees fans would be wise to trust his judgment. There is a method to his madness, and the best intentions of the Yankees present and future are well-tended by him. Another very solid season for the Yankee GM.
**Please check out our completed Grading The Yankees page for the 2012 season**