Acquisitions Signal Paradigm Shift for Cashman, New York Yankees Front Office

December 27, 2009   ·     ·   Jump to comments
Article Source: Bleacher Report - New York Yankees

It wasn’t too long ago that the New York Yankees front office was the laughingstock of baseball.

With such close proximity to New York’s 27th world championship, it’s easy to forget that the franchise once traded borderline Hall-of-Famer Fred McGriff for Dale Murray and Tom Dodd, who logged one win and zero at-bats for the Yankees, respectively.

Even nightmares of Carl Pavano and his 40 million reasons not to pitch are a distant memory.

But when examining how the 2009 season culminated in a World Championship for the Yankees, one must understand their recent history:more specifically, how continued front office blunders have been replaced by championship-winning decisions. 

The story truly begins in spring training of 1998, when Brian Cashman took over as Yankees Senior VP and General Manager, replacing Bob Watson. When one takes a closer look at the Yankees’ dynasty of the time, it’s hard to assert that the championships were a direct result of Brian Cashman’s influence.

By the time the young GM took over, the cornerstones of the dynasty, everyone from shortstop Derek Jeter to right fielder Paul O’Neill, were already in place, and the rosters of the 1996 and 1998 World Series teams were set. The 1999 and 2000 teams were essentially composed of the same talent as their predecessors. As a result, the seasons culminated in the Yankees’ 25th and 26th titles, respectively. 

Following a decade and a half of ineptitude, the Yankees had once again risen to the top of baseball’s elite, and the resuscitated fan base began to expect to be attending a ticker-tape parade every November. This change in thinking was not limited to the fans, however. George Steinbrenner and the rest of the Yankees management began to expect the same. 

In the new decade, Cashman was no longer a facilitator, but more of a mouthpiece and a low-level adviser for his aging boss. Personnel decisions came not from Cashman’s home in Darien, Conn., but from Steinbrenner’s “baseball men,” a group of advisers based in the Boss’s hometown of Tampa.

These advisers, who evaluated players on little more than raw physical talent, oversaw the disintegration of a dynasty. As core players such as O’Neill, Scott Brosius, and David Cone retired, there were no promising prospects to replace them.

In the ’90s, the Yankees churned Derek Jeter, Bernie Williams, Andy Pettitte, Jorge Posada, and Mariano Rivera out of their farm system through an emphasis on player scouting and development. But from 2001-2004, the first three rounds of the MLB Draft resulted in only one Major League player for the Yankees. 

These “baseball men,” as Steinbrenner called them, shunned player development and shifted the emphasis towards free agency and the trade market. At first, the shift seemed honorable, as the signings of Mike Mussina and Jason Giambi bolstered the roster.

But the weakened farm system eventually caught up to the Yankees. After losing to the Florida Marlins in the 2003 World Series, the Yankees 2004 rotation was a hodgepodge of over-the-hill veterans and unproven commodities, a deadly mixture that resulted in the greatest collapse in baseball history. 

After Kevin Brown, Jose Contreras and the second-coming of Orlando Hernandez faltered, Yankees brass realized that something needed to be done to strengthen the pitching staff for the upcoming 2005 campaign.

The only problem was that the Free Agent market was weak at the same time that baseball’s economy was flourishing.

So, Yankees management incurred a flurry of transactions that would result in one of the most embarrassing offseasons in sporting history. After paying Carl Pavano $40 million to win just nine games, the Yankees also signed Braves‘ righty Jaret Wright, who would be out of baseball by the time his contract expired.

Such moves might have been understandable if they could have been substantiated. But the Yankees gave a combined seven years and $61 million to two pitchers who had never pitched in a major market with severely unimpressive track records.

Somehow, the Yankees managed to make the playoffs in 2005 for the 11th straight season, but were quickly bounced in the first round of the playoffs. Cashman’s contract was set to expire, and there was speculation that he would not return.

But he did, under a certain set of pretenses that would dramatically alter the structure of the Yankees organization and the transactions that would soon come to define it.

As a part of his new contract, Cashman was assured full control of personnel decisions. And with this newfound sense of authority, Cashman shifted the focus back towards player-development and smart decisions. No longer were the Yankees throwing money at unproven commodities. No longer were the Yankees trading their best prospects for veterans such as Kevin Brown and Randy Johnson. The Yankees business plan was still all about the quick fix, but it also took the future into account.

New York could have traded their four best prospects for Twins ace Johan Santana, but chose not to. The Mets did not make the same decision, and paid dearly. Santana has been terrific, but the trade resulted in a ravaged farm system and a top-heavy starting rotation. The Yankees understood that they could achieve a lot more for a lot less if they were simply patient. 

In the winter of 2008, the Yankees threw their money at proven, high-character players such as CC Sabathia, Mark Teixeira, and AJ Burnett. The price tag was steep ($423 million combined), but the efforts paid off with the Yankees’ recent championship. The savvy moves continued this offseason with the acquisitions of Javier Vazquez and Curtis Granderson, two moves that signal that Brian Cashman has truly taken grasp of the franchise.

These moves are not irresponsible risks, like the acquisitions of Johnson, Pavano and Wright in the dreaded winter of 2004. Instead, Cashman has given up prospects that would have had little impact in the Majors any time soon for two players who are likely to succeed in New York.

Centerfielder Curtis Granderson, acquired from the Detroit Tigers, is widely considered one of the highest-character players in the Major Leagues and has been putting up solid numbers for much of his Major League career.

At first glance, the trade for Vazquez is a perplexing decision. Most New York fans remember the right-handed starter as an utter disappointment in the 2004 campaign, but such a claim is not really true.

Vazquez made the All-Star team in ’04 with a 10-5 record in the first half of the season, before injuries derailed him in the second half. Vazquez did not admit to the injuries at the time, but it has since been revealed that he was in fact pitching at far less than 100 percent health.

Coming off a career year in 2009 and a very impressive track record, Vazquez seems like a good bet to succeed in his second stint with the Yankees.

With these acquisitions, and the cost-saving addition of DH Nick Johnson, the Yankees seem like they are in a position to repeat in 2010.

The mixture of young and old, well-paid and cheap, make up a roster similar to that of the late-’90s championship teams.

As a result, Brian Cashman can call the Yankees 27th world championship, and any subsequent titles the direct result of his well-guided influence. 

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