By Sweeny Murti
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Three years ago the Yankees missed the playoffs for the first time in more than a decade. Brian Cashman’s contract was up, and there appeared to be some doubt as to whether Cashman wanted to return as General Manager for the 2009 season.
Cashman sat at a table in the media dining room of the old Yankee Stadium in October 2008 and gave a speech which I referred to as a cross between Jack Nicholson in “A Few Good Men” and Michael Douglass in “The American President.” I described Cashman as “calm and measured, but ever so pointed in telling the media why he chose to return to the Yankees.”
Here is what Brian Cashman said on the day in 2008 he announced he was coming back with a new three-year contract:
“I’m a competitive person. I don’t like what I see sometimes that shows up in the newspapers. I don’t like that some people forget that I’ve been here since 1986, that I’ve been a part of this franchise since when it was no good or wasn’t very good, that I was part of a rebuilding process as an assistant GM…under Gene Michael for four years, under Bob Watson for two years when we were rebuilding this thing, and getting it back to a championship caliber form. That doesn’t mean I was not inside the rooms and inside the decisions process. I was an assistant farm director in the minor leagues when we had all the core that’s here today, or we helped finish off championship runs. I was in the minor leagues with them at that point. And it just seems like some people forget that. And the story line that was gonna be written if I left I didn’t agree with, and I’m not gonna let that story be written.
“And one thing Reggie Jackson says is that…you’ve heard it a thousand times I’m sure from him, ‘When you have the bat in your hand you can always change the story.’ Well if I left I was not gonna like the story that was gonna be written because it wasn’t gonna be accurate. It wasn’t gonna be an accurate depiction of my time here.
“I’ve given my heart and my soul to this franchise and they’ve given their heart and their soul back to me. I’d be nothing without what the Steinbrenners have done for this person at this table right now. But at the same time, I’m not gonna let an inaccurate story stick. And the only way for me to change that is to change the story. So I’m staying to change the story. That’s the fact.”
So Cashman went to work on changing the story. Now, as we wait for word on what we all assume will be a new contract to bring Cashman back as Yankee GM, here are some of the key moves he made over the last three seasons:
2009: Signed free agents CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, and Mark Teixeira. Re-signed Damaso Marte. Traded for Nick Swisher, Eric Hinske, Jerry Hairston Jr., and Chad Gaudin.
It took Cashman only his first year to turn the Yankees back into World Champions. Sabathia, Teixeira, and Swisher were key components in the turnaround, for both their production and their attitudes. Yes, the free agent moves were about the Yankees flexing their financial muscles, but Cashman saw a need to change the clubhouse culture and hit the jackpot with all three. Burnett had a decent first year, although the last two seasons have kept it from being a successful signing. Hinske and Hairston ended up being key reserves, while Marte got big outs in the World Series before spending the next two years on the DL.
2010: Let go free agents Johnny Damon, Hideki Matsui, Jose Molina. Signed free agents Nick Johnson, Randy Winn, Marcus Thames, Chan Ho Park, and Dustin Moseley. Traded for Curtis Granderson, Javier Vazquez, Boone Logan, Austin Kearns, Kerry Wood, and Lance Berkman.
The Damon fiasco was botched because both sides were too stubborn to come to a compromise. Matsui was a gamble on getting rid of a player too soon rather than too late, one I agreed with at the time. Johnson and Winn were not suitable replacements. Thames was productive. Logan ended up being the keeper in the deal that sent Melky Cabrera to Atlanta, although Logan has failed to become the specialist the Yankees desire. The deadline deal for Wood was the only one that seemed to help, but Texas pitching stopped the big Yankee bats in the ALCS.
2011: Re-signed free agents Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera. Signed free agents Russell Martin, Andruw Jones, Eric Chavez, Bartolo Colon, Freddy Garcia, Mark Prior, Carlos Silva, Kevin Millwood, Pedro Feliciano, Luis Ayala, Cory Wade and Rafael Soriano. Traded for Chris Dickerson.
The Jeter negotiations were ugly, and so were the first three months, but he finished the year back near the .300 BA mark. Mariano was Mariano again. Martin was an All-Star. The Granderson trade from the previous year blossomed, as he became a MVP candidate. The bushel full of veteran free agent signings turned into exactly what the Yankees needed—they found a few good apples in the bunch to overcome losing Cliff Lee to the Phillies and Andy Pettitte to retirement. Soriano wasn’t a Cashman call, but pitched well down the stretch. Jones, Chavez, and Dickerson were championship caliber bench players. Tigers pitching stopped the big Yankee bats this time in the ALDS.
This year’s playoff loss in particular has brought scrutiny about the types of players the Yankees have, whether or not they are playoff pressure players. Fact is, Cashman has done the one thing he can control—build a roster to get to the playoffs. In the Wildcard Era that is all a GM can control. He has used Yankee resources to their fullest extent.
Meanwhile, Cashman has stayed true to his vision of improving and using the farm system. Brett Gardner, David Robertson, Phil Hughes, and Ivan Nova have all made major contributions over the last three seasons.
Three years ago there was doubt that Brian Cashman wanted to come back and that he was the right man for the job. He could have taken the Theo Epstein route after Boston missed the playoffs. Instead, he chose to stay. Cashman built teams that won 103, 95, and, 97 games and won one World Series.
It’s not an easy job to have one set of expectations and consider everything else a failure. Brian Cashman has lived it and breathed it for a long time, and he is on the verge of coming back for another run.