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Keefe To The City: Opening The Offseason

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Brian Cashman (credit: Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

Brian Cashman (credit: Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

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By Neil Keefe
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I’m used to Brian Cashman, and when you get used to things, you don’t want them to change. So, while I have my differences with Cashman and have written both positively and negatively about him, I’m comfortable with him, and that’s a good thing, and I’m happy to have him back for three more years.

Look at what’s happening in Boston. They had the worst collapse in September history. They had a Yale graduate with one career start starting at catcher and hitting fifth in Game 162. Their first baseman blamed their historical collapse on God. Their $142 million left fielder apologized to the fans for being a waste of $142 million in his online diary well before the collapse was complete. I’m not sure if the manager quit or was fired, but either way he is out after eight years and two titles as the most successful manager in the franchise’s history. The face of their franchise and the man responsible for their two championships questioned if he wanted to return in 2012 and said he would sign with the Yankees (if they would want him, which they don’t.) The ownership group leaked a bunch of stories about players drinking beer and eating fried chicken during games, and tried to frame Terry Francona as a pill-popping addict with marital problems. The principal owner showed up at the CBS radio station in Boston and demanded to go on the air in the middle of the city’s biggest afternoon drive show, and went on to admit that he didn’t want the $142-million outfielder, who still has six years left on his contract. More stories came out about starting pitchers drinking beer in the dugout and “rally beers” in the clubhouse and then the general manager left for the Cubs despite growing up down the street, in the shadows of Fenway Park … as a Red Sox fan.

Yeah, things could be a lot worse. I could be sitting here wondering what the new general manager would do with the 2012 Yankees and what crazy move he might make to put his stamp on the franchise and to prove that he is different than Brian Cashman and not just a clone of him. The grass is always greener, but I’m OK with the grass I have for now.

On Tuesday, Cashman made his rounds with the media after his new three-year deal with the Yankees was announced. And when Cashman talks, people listen, especially me. It’s not that often that the Yankees general manager talks about the team or the future of the team or gives a state of the Yankees address, but when he does, I’m ready.

Here are some of my favorites quotes of his from his 40-minute conversation with Mike Francesa.

On CC Sabathia signing an extension with the Yankees: “Obviously he wanted to be here. We wanted to keep him. It was obviously going to take a commitment nonetheless.”

We know you wanted to keep CC, but to say that CC “wanted” to be here is kind of pushing it. Yes, he would have liked to remain a Yankee before signing the extension on Monday night, but if the Yankees didn’t offer an extension to the four remaining years, did he “want” to stay enough that he would have stayed with just his current four-year deal? Obviously not.

I don’t blame CC for wanting to add money and years to his current deal and he was given that right with the opt-out clause, but this idea that he is the opposite of A-Rod for not opting out and getting a deal done is ridiculous. No, he didn’t technically opt out like A-Rod did in 2007, but everyone knew he would if the Yankees didn’t come to him with an offer. It’s nice to think that CC Sabathia and his family love New York/New Jersey and that this is the only place he wants to pitch, but it’s not accurate.

I’m just happy to have the big man back. Now I don’t have to move to Europe and become a soccer fan knowing that the 2012 Opening Day starter might have been Ivan Nova or A.J. Burnett.

On the postseason being up for grabs: “Crapshoot probably isn’t the best description, but it’s got a lot more volatility to it.”

I think the “crapshoot” description Mike Francesa gave of the postseason is a very fair description at this point. Both No. 1 seeds lost in five games in the first round, losing the fifth game of the series at home. The team that won the World Series was 500-to-1 odds to win the NL pennant and 999-to-1 odds to win the World Series on Sept. 12. The World Series MVP was a 28-year-old Missouri native who has never played more than 97 games in a major league season. So if you don’t like crapshoot, I’m offering you “completely random” or “unpredictable” or “hitting the lottery.”

On picking up Nick Swisher’s option: “In Nick’s case, we have flexibility. We can do whatever we want. We didn’t have to pick the option up. We could trade him if we want or we can gravitate to him.”

As Cashman was saying this he had a few pauses and I just kept thinking, “Yes … come on … yes … come on … say it … SAY IT … SAY IT … SAY ITTTTTTTT!” Eventually he said it. He said that there is a possibility that the Yankees could trade Swisher.

I know people love Nick Swisher and most of these people love him like they love Brian Cashman, so writing an entire column about things Brian Cashman said and incorporating Nick Swisher into it probably isn’t in my best interest. I’m OK with Nick Swisher playing a fourth season with the Yankees in 2012. I understand that he is a big part of the 162-game grind and getting the Yankees to the postseason even if he doesn’t know that the games in October also count, and all that stuff about small sample sizes, even if 147 career postseason plate appearances isn’t that small of a sample size.

But I’m also OK with the Yankees making a trade that has Nick Swisher involved with it as I continue to have high hopes for the possibility of Joey Votto (no, I didn’t think of this idea) becoming a Yankee or even Carlos Beltran or someone else. Once again, I repeat, I’m content with Nick Swisher being a Yankee.

(Side note: The other day I saw an article that suggested through sabermetrics that Swisher is equal Beltran. I like sabermetrics and one of my goals during this offseason is to get even better with using them and understanding them, but there is no mathematical formula or computer program or algorithm that can tell me that Nick Swisher is equal to Carlos Beltran … ever.)

On the offensive failures in the postseason: “Believe me the one thing is in Nick’s case and Alex’s case and all these guys’ cases that didn’t get the job done: they’re just as frustrated as the fans. The fans might not get a chance to see it. I’m not going to point out who cries and who doesn’t cry postgame or when it’s over, but these guys all have the same dream that the fans have.”

I wish he would tell us who cries and who doesn’t. Actually I could probably guess…

Jorge Posada definitely cried this year because he knew his career was over. This most likely led to Suzyn Waldman crying upon seeing Jorge crying.

I could see Nick Swisher crying because that just seems like the type of thing he would do.

There’s no way Derek Jeter cried because that’s not something No. 2 would do. He’s a man’s man. I know he was crying on the inside thinking of another year of his career being erased without a championship, but his eyes definitely weren’t watery.

I know that A-Rod didn’t cry because he has his ring now and has other things to do like figuring out a way to spend the $197,530.86 he makes for every game during the regular season whether he plays or not.

This is hard. I’m not really sure who would cry on the Yankees or if anyone did. I would like to think that guys care enough to have an emotional breakdown after the season comes to an end, but I also don’t want to know that there are Yankees that cry. I’m going to hope that no one actually cried.

On Jorge Posada: “He was one of the few offensive guys that were able to get some done for us on a consistent basis.”

It’s Brian Cashman saying something nice about Jorge Posada! We haven’t seen this in a while so read it again, and again and soak it all in because who knows when it will happen again.

On Jan. 26, I wrote:

Cashman wanted to make sure that he was the one to tell Jorge Posada that he would now be a designated hitter and would no longer be a catcher (thought Jorge will be training as if he is going to catch in the even that Cashman’s catching plan doesn’t work out). He wanted to make sure that he was the one, so he took out a private room at a doctor’s office while Jorge was having some minor work done and put it all out there for Jorge without giving him a chance to refute the plan.

I’m glad that Posada got a chance to go out on top as the most consistent offensive player for the Yankees in the ALDS, while guys with much more money and many more years left on their contracts failed miserably. Thanks again, Jorge.

On Eduardo Nunez’s errors: “Do they bother me? Yes.”

I’m glad they bother you because they bother me too. It’s never good when you don’t want the ball to get hit to an infielder because you’re not confident in them throwing the ball to first base. It’s even worse when that guy might be the shortstop of the future for your team.

Cashman also compared Nunez to a “wild mustang.” I don’t really know what to say about that other than trying to picture Eduardo “Nuney, Nunie, Noonie, Noony” Nunez as a wild mustang…

On protecting A.J. Burnett from criticism: “I certainly didn’t shield much. I think I just got run over.”

I think you got run over too.

On 2010 and 2011 being who A.J. Burnett is: “It very well might be, but that doesn’t mean we have to accept it. It’s Larry Rothschild’s job and it’s Joe Girardi’s job and it’s our staff’s job and it’s A.J.’s job to continue to try to be better.”

I think you have to accept it. There isn’t another option. Like when Nicolas Cage doesn’t want to stick that needle into his heart in The Rock, but it’s the only option and there is nothing else that will save him. Just accept it and we can all move on and know that you don’t believe your own lies about believing in A.J. Burnett.

A.J. Burnett is 34-35 as a Yankee. He has thrown to a handful of catchers and has had two pitching coaches. He is what he is. He’s a guy that happened to have an OK year in a contract year and got lucky that the exact same season the Yankees missed the playoffs for the only time in the last 18 years. All the stars aligned and after CC Sabathia signed and the pitching market was set and the dust cleared, Brian Cashman was standing there with an $82.5 million contract and a black pen for A.J. Burnett to sign with.

If A.J. Burnett wanted to stand on the mound at Yankee Stadium in 2013 following his final start as a Yankee in the final year of his contract with the team and recite Lou Gehrig’s “Today, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of this earth” speech, I don’t think anyone will mind. Because that is what Burnett is. A guy who no matter how bad he sucks knows he will make $16.5 million a year and can’t be traded because no one wants him at that price and he can’t be cut because it would be a waste of money and the fear that someone else would pick him up for the league minimum and he would beat the Yankees.

All I can do is tip my hat to A.J. Burnett.

On the six-man rotation hurting CC Sabathia’s season: “I think that he was a team player. The biggest thing was I think being in the six-man rotation it didn’t benefit him, and the byproduct was to try to keep Nova and A.J. Burnett in line.”

This made me more upset than anything and I don’t know if I will ever get over it because it is what ultimately cost the Yankees their season.

The 2011 Yankees were built around their offense, their bullpen and ONE starting pitcher. That’s right they had ONE starting pitcher. Yes, Ivan Nova won 16 games, but I don’t think you ever want to have a $200 million payroll and be relying on a 24-year-old kid with seven career starts before the 2011 season. Whatever Nova provided was extra, but it wasn’t expected.

So knowing that you have an ace, who is the most important piece to winning in the postseason, wouldn’t you try to maximize the amount of times that person pitches during the regular season and try to make them as comfortable as possible? Yes, the Yankees won 97 games and won the American League without needing to maximize CC Sabathia starts, but did it ruin his phenomenal season and eff him up for the playoffs? Yes, yes it did.

If the Yankees rotation was Sabathia, Halladay, Lee, Lincecum, Hernandez and Carpenter, then yeah, you would probably want to have a six-man rotation because deciding who the odd-man out is would be impossible. The problem is the Yankees rotation was Sabathia, Nova, Garcia, Burnett, Hughes and Colon. That’s a two-man rotation, maybe a three-man rotation tops. So, the Yankees decided to use a six-man rotation because they couldn’t figure out who to put in the bullpen and wanted to give Garcia and Colon extra rest and because Joe Girardi couldn’t decide whose feelings to hurt. It ruined the Yankees season as CC went 3-3 with a 4.30 ERA from Aug. 6 until the end of the season and then pitched to a 6.23 ERA in 8 2/3 innings in the playoffs. But hey, everyone got to a turn to be a starting pitcher! Everyone’s a winner! There are no losers in Major League Baseball!

On Phil Hughes’ season: “I think Hughes will bounce back. He showed up a little bit out of shape … not erratically, but him along with a few guys showed up a little out of shape, and they wound up in what we call “fat camp” early in the spring, and he knocked it all off. But that’s not news now. That was news then. He’s not happy with the season he had.”

Umm, actually this is news. While I was wondering which fast food restaurant out of the Big Three (McDonalds, Burger King, Wendy’s) is Bartolo Colon’s favorite and trying to master PhotoShop so I could place his and Joba Chamberlain’s heads on the bodies of famous fat people, I had no idea that Phil Hughes was part of the Yankees’ version of Camp Hope. Where is this camp? Is there a replica “Blob”? Are there go-karts? Is Camp MVP across the street? How is this the first time I have ever heard Cashman talk about this “fat camp” publicly?

Phil Hughes was 18-8 with a 4.19 ERA in 2010 in his first full season as a starter. He pitched seven shutout innings in the clinching game of the 2010 ALDS before turning into 2007 ALDS Chien-Ming Wang in the ALCS against the Rangers. In 2011, he got off to a historically bad start to change his Wang impression into 2009 Chien-Ming Wang and went on the disabled list from April 14 until July 6. Then he came back, pitched OK in the rotation, but not good enough to get a postseason start. So yeah, I would hope he’s not happy with the season he had.

I have been a Phil Hughes supporter since Day 1, and I have had taken his side in many arguments, but if he needs to spend the first few weeks of the spring training this year with Tony Perkis or if he doesn’t make the rotation out of spring training, I’m done having his back.

On Bartolo Colon, Freddy Garcia, Eric Chavez and Andruw Jones: “No one could have predicted what these guys would have done.”

This came when Cashman was talking about looking for more low-risk, high-reward guys for 2012. What Cashman isn’t aware of is that he hit a massive parlay. Like the kind of parlay in which you have the Rams money line over the Saints and the Chiefs money line over the Chargers and you get a Saints meltdown and a Philip Rivers fumble to hit the parlay. Cashman got incredible production from Bartolo Colon, Freddy Garcia, Eric Chavez and Andruw Jones. The odds of something like happening are something like 19,879,356-to-1, and no one would even think about wagering $1 on that for the payout because it would be a waste of $1.

As currently constructed, the Yankees are a playoff team. Well, as long as two teams from the Red Sox, Rays, Twins and Angels have a bad 2012. If not, then we have a situation. And with all this talk about the Blue Jays being on the rise, the last thing we need is more competition within the division and in the league.

What I’m saying is, while low-risk, high-reward guys are worth it and make for potentially great stories, they’re not something that should be relied on without any depth or backup plans. What if Bartolo Colon didn’t make it out of spring training and Freddy Garcia was as bad as Phil Hughes was when Hughes went on the disabled for three months after only three starts? The rotation would have been CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett and Cashman would have had the rolodex out looking up Darrell Rasner’s home number in Japan and would have likely been trying to locate which jail Sidney Ponson was in so he could bail him out and have him start the middle game of a three-game series against the Red Sox. Luckily none of these things happened or I might not be here to talk about them if they did.

Brian Cashman talked about “building the best team possible” and about the future of the club and what the free agent market has available this season (not much). For just over 40 minutes he talked to Mike Francesa and gave the fans a rare look into his life and decision making as the general manager of the Yankees.

He talked about the late-90s and said, “In real time … not looking back, but I remember when we were winning the way we did and how we did and for as long as we did. It was epic.” Maybe we’ll never see something like that again, and the chances are we won’t, and I’m not saying we will … I just wanted to end this whole thing on a positive note and a happy quote.

Welcome to the offseason!

Follow Neil on Twitter @NeilKeefe

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