After last year's $441 million spending spree on CC Sabathia, AJ Burnett and Mark Teixeira, it is difficult to question anything Brian Cashman does. The deals filled the team's biggest needs with three of the league's best players and powered the Yankees to the 2009 World Series championship.
During the current offseason, he made some other impressive acquisitions: Vazquez for Cabrera, a cheap one-year deal for Nick Johnson and Granderson for two mediocre pitchers and a prospect. These deals solidified the back end of the rotation, gave flexibility to the DH/1B position and added both speed and power to the lineup.
I'm a bit confused, however (along with other Yankee fans, I'm sure) by his handling of the situation in left field. Let's review:
Move No. 1: Letting Hideki Matsui Walk .
He's coming off an insanely productive season and a World Series MVP trophy. Presumably, Cashman didn't believe Matsui and his surgically-repaired knees could survive in LF (despite the fact that Matsui himself said he could). Hence, resigning him would effectively lock up the DH position and disable Girardi from rotating our studs into that spot for rest.
Matsui immediately signs with the Angels for one year, 6.5 million. Why didn't the Yanks just do that? If Matsui is able to play LF, you have him share time with Gardner. If not, you use him just as he was used this past year. Either way, you get a 25-plus hr, 90-plus RBI, left-handed hitter who hammers left-handed pitching at a stadium with a 314-foot fence in right field.
How many of those type guys are available for 6.5 million?
Move No. 2: Letting Johnny Damon Walk .
Like Matsui, Damon is also coming off a productive season: .282, 24 HRs and 82 RBI and a solid postseason. Damon wants $10 million per season in a two- or three-year deal; pricey for a guy with merely above-average numbers and a dead arm.
But neither has seemed to bother the Yanks in the past. Aside from a drop in the stolen bases department, Damon's 2009 season was as good or better than any of the years during his four-year, 52 million dollar contract. If you paid him 13 million a season for less or equal to what he produced in the last year of his contract, why not pay him 10 million per over a two-year span?
Move No. 3: Not Signing Bay or Holliday .
This move, I'm fine with. Both commanded big money and neither player, in my mind, has proven that they are definitively worth the contracts they received. You can also be sure the Yanks are loading up their guns for a free agent assault in 2011.
Move No. 4 : Not Signing Vladimir Guerrero.
Another case of "Why didn't the Yanks do it?" He signed a one-year deal worth five million dollars with the Rangers. This is a deal I would have expected Cashman to sniff out and intercept at the last minute. Even though he's an injury risk, wouldn't it be nice to have Arod, Tex and Vlad hitting consecutively? He's another guy, in addition to Matsui, that would be perfect for a bench/DH/LF rotation with Brett Gardner.
ANALYSIS : I'm 99.9 percent sure that Cashman wants to avoid a multi-year deal with a left fielder so he can make a huge offer to Carl Crawford after the 2010 season. Signing Matsui or Vlad to a one-year deal would keep power in the lineup and give the Yanks that flexibility for a big splash in 2011.
But what does Cashman plan to do about this season?
The projected outfield with the current roster is Gardner in LF, Granderson in CF and Swisher in RF. Their batting averages in 2009 were .270, .249 and .249, respectively—not the type of efficiency you want from the outfield of a $208,077,414 payroll.
OPTIONS : In my feeble attempt to get inside the mind of Brian Cashman, I believe there are three possibilities he is considering:
1) Wait Damon out and sign him to a two-year, 14-16 million dollar deal. Next season, assuming the Yanks acquire Crawford (which I am convinced they will), Damon could slide to the DH spot as a result of Nick Johnson's departure.
2) Sign Jermaine Dye to a deal similar to Damon's.
3) Ride it out with Gardner. If he's awful as an everyday player, which he very well may be, I expect Cashman to make a mid-season move for one of the many players with contracts that expire following the season. A half-year rental, as they say. Don't be surprised if you see Gardner and a pitcher for Magglio Ordonez, as the White Sox have already expressed interest in the speedster.
My gut tells me number three is the most likely, though I hope I'm wrong. Regardless of what happens, I trust Cashman; I just wish I understood him.