By Sweeny Murti
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Brian Cashman is officially back for another three-year term as GM. It is not a surprise. Two weeks ago I gave Cashman a passing grade for the last three years with the idea being that he has successfully built playoff teams the last three years, including one World Series champion. Every team in baseball would take that. Unless of course they were recently spoiled by winning three in a row or something like that.
So now that Cashman has returned, he shed some light on his off-season agenda when he spoke to reporters Tuesday afternoon. Here are some of the more interesting tidbits:
*Securing CC Sabathia will allow the Yankees “to be more open-minded and conservative.”
The Yankees stayed out of making expensive mistakes or panic moves last winter and Cashman sounds as if he wants to take the same approach now that he doesn’t have to go shopping for an ace. Cashman spoke of having “organizational depth” and “flexibility.” It means the Yankees will hope for another strong year from Ivan Nova, a bounce-back from a healthy Phil Hughes, and perhaps hope to get lucky in the same vein as Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia.
I would expect the Yankees to add more starting candidates at lower cost as the market dries up. In other words, they will kick the tires on C.J. Wilson, but I doubt they feel he will be worth a great expense.
As for the potential pursuit of Japanese sensation Yu Darvish, who as of now is still not a posted player and therefore not yet eligible for bidding or on-the-record discussion by a major league team, Cashman said the Yankees have learned “the hard way” about mistakes one can make in the Japanese pitching market. Darvish is by all accounts not another Kei Igawa. But the Yankees will likely proceed with caution.
“It’s not as simple as seeing the obvious talent from the stands,” Cashman said in regards to scouting a Japanese pitcher like Darvish. The Yankees, like other major league teams, have come to realize that differences in conditioning, travel schedules, and culture in addition to differing sizes of strike zones and the actual baseballs themselves have made scouting Japanese pitchers much more complicated. Cashman didn’t say the Yankees weren’t going there, but he made it clear that they would like to be a little more certain of what they’re buying should they choose to do so.
*“I don’t anticipate a bat being of need at all. Offense is not a problem with this club.”
So you can cross the pinstriped Prince Fielder or Albert Pujols jerseys off your holiday shopping list. You can probably look at this as a lying in the weeds approach similar to the one that landed Mark Teixeira three years ago. The only difference is this—the Yankees still have Mark Teixeira.
The Yankees were beaten basically by one hit in the Division Series loss to the Tigers. They were still one of the top offensive teams in all of baseball and feel as if they can continue along the same lines.
Cashman also noted that picking up Nick Swisher’s option was “an easy call,” and he was not influenced negatively by another bad postseason performance. Cashman has judged—quite accurately might I add—that regular season production like Swisher’s is not easy to find and that a one-year deal will give the Yankees very good value.
Cashman added that he doesn’t have any health concerns going forward with Alex Rodriguez.
*Jesus Montero “can be catching for us, or a DH for us, or a lethal bat off the bench for us.”
Montero has been viewed as a major trade chip for the Yankees in the past—they essentially traded him to Seattle for Cliff Lee in 2010 before the deal fell through—but they also found out last September that their projections feels accurate. He can be a very big bat for this lineup and could offer some flexibility on the roster at two positions.
The Yankees catching depth is of great value to them on the field and in potential trades. They have a strong receiver in Austin Romine who is nearly big-league ready. And Russell Martin is a guy the Yankees loved having last year and will gladly bring back. While Martin is arbitration eligible and under team control for only one more year, Cashman indicated he would not be against exploring a multi-year deal for Martin if it made sense financially.
Jorge Posada has probably seen his final days in a Yankee uniform. While offering many kind words about Posada, calling him “one of the best catchers in Yankee history and a borderline Hall of Famer,” Cashman did not give any indication he would considering brining Posada back for another year, saying instead that “it’s not something I can really talk about today.”
This is not a surprise. Don’t expect Posada to be a Yankee in 2012.
*Bartolo Colon, Freddy Garcia, Eric Chavez, and Andruw Jones “all were huge acquisitions. I’m not opposed to any of those guys coming back.”
Cashman was laughed at last spring for acquiring a 2005 All-Star team, but he struck gold in some form or fashion with every one of them. It gives you an idea of the type of player the Yankees are willing to take a chance on. Signing low-risk, high reward veterans to fill out the rotation or the bench are very strong options for Cashman.
And perhaps the perception around baseball has changed thanks to 2011. Veteran free agents have been reluctant to sign with the Yankees in the past because there simply isn’t much playing time available with a set everyday lineup like the Yanks have. But with an aging lineup and a greater potential for at-bats than in years past, perhaps more players like this show up in Tampa come February, and perhaps a few of them even make it north come April.
*Cashman is still a fan of A.J. Burnett: “If he’s with us, without a doubt he’s in the rotation.”
The first part of that quote could be telling. Cashman refused to say that he wasn’t looking to move Burnett, while at the same time defending him for being a healthy starter who has provided innings at the very least. Cashman said, in the interests of trying to improve the roster, he will always be open to discussion about any player without full no-trade protection (like Burnett).
And while that might sound good to most Yankee fans who cringe at the mere thought of Burnett coming back for more in 2012 (and 2013!), don’t get too excited. Cashman was quick to point out that, “If I’m losing 190 innings or so (Burnett has averaged 195 innings in his three seasons as a Yankee), I don’t know how I’m going to replace it too easily.”
That means the Yankees are going to have to secure a few more sure things for their rotation before considering a move with Burnett.
All in all, Cashman’s broad view a few weeks after the bitter playoff loss is a good one. His team is good enough to make the playoffs every year. He needs to tweak, but he does not need to overhaul his roster. The Yankees will still be World Series contenders in 2012. That much we know. Will they succeed? That’s why we wait for them to play 162 games before we decide.